Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Also a Poet, 50 Years Later

Frank O’Hara, Poet Among Painters, Marjorie Perloff
1998, University of Chicago Press, with a new introduction

O’Hara was about intense friendships.

Actually he was about many things: art, dance, classical music, travel, gay theater, movies. He was about the exclamation point. It is the singular fingerprint of his work.

How many of us grew up, in school being told the exclamation point was to be used rarely, in instances of the extreme. Indeed, I once sneaked a peek (okay, I was spying)at a roommate’s diary, a girl I didn’t like and liked even less when I saw the page covered in exclamation points. She was as shallow as I suspected, is what I told myself. The (exclamation) point is she probably was, exclamation points aside. So I planned to be careful, judicious, barely rising above a whisper. Early Jane Hertenstein work does not display an ounce of exuberance.

Then I discovered Frank O’Hara, and the fun began.

I could be playful, fey, charming, bantering about. Just like Frank.

All along he brought me inside his circle of friends. For once I felt as if I belonged. I was allowed to feel, to let my voice crack in enthusiasm, talk a little loud, eat noisily, sit with my legs spread. Life on the edge of exclamation.

Take a look at his poem, “Today,” included, along with the other poems in this essay, in the 2008 collection Selected Poems:
 Oh! Kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas!
You really are beautiful! Pearls,
Harmonicas, jujubes, aspirins! All
The stuff they’ve always talked about
Still makes a poem a surprise!
These things are with us every day

From the website: The Millions
The essay:
Frank O’Hara’s Lessons for Being Gay
By Christopher Richards, July 1, 2013
He’s so sincere, that as much as I admire him (and I really admire him!), I’d feel embarrassed to have written some of his poems. Not because it’s shameful, but because it’s just too, too much. But he means it.
O’Hara’s poems are an antidote to this feeling of shame over the tastes we find natural and immovable. James Schuyler, perhaps the most sublime poet of the small thing made infinite, in one of his many catty, bright, loving letters to his dear friend O’Hara put it best:

Your passion always makes me feel like a cloud the wind detaches (at last) from a mountain so I can finally go sailing over all those valleys with their crazy farms and towns. I always start bouncing up and down in my chair when I read a poem of yours like “Radio,” where you seem to say, “I know you won’t think this is much of a subject for a poem but I just can’t help it: I feel like this,” so that in the end you seem to be the only one who knows what the subject of a poem is.
But there’s joy in loving what you love, a purity in expressing it exactly in its unchecked, effusive and messy truth, and O’Hara felt no shame in putting that feeling out there with an exclamation!

At O'Hara's funeral, Larry Rivers said, 'Frank O'Hara was my best friend. There are at least sixty people in New York who thought Frank O'Hara was their best friend.' That sentiment was echoed repeatedly by those who knew him. Everyone he befriended felt the greatest intimacy with him, even as they recognized that his intimacy was exclusive only for the time that they were with him. As John Gruen wrote, 'When Frank talked to you he made you feel everything you did was of vital importance and interest - at least for the moment.'

The exclamation point never detracted from his seriousness, that he was seriously briliiant, an intellectual, could think and talk most people under the table. That sense of riding the wave of the present can be felt in much of O'Hara's best poetry; the urgency of his need to be right there, right now.

It has been 50 years since his untimely death on Fire Island (July 25, 1966) when he was hit by a dune buggy before succumbing to grievous internal injuries the next day.

He left us a legacy, an example of how to be a friend.

When I die, don’t come, I wouldn’t want a leaf
to turn away from the sun — it loves it there.
There’s nothing so spiritual about being happy
but you can’t miss a day of it, because it doesn’t last.

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