Monday, August 8, 2016

Frank O’Hara, a Millennial




At this blog I frequently quote from the New York School of Poets (which wasn’t a school at all—see Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Fiction). Frank O’Hara was born in 1926 and died July 25, 1966, on Fire Island (NY) from a freakish dune buggy accident. He was a true Millennial.

Just fifty years before the technology.

If O’Hara were alive today he’d be tweeting and Instagramming, and Tumblr-ing and posting all over Facebook. He’d be one for the Snapchat.

Frank O’Hara was a conduit for his friends. He was constantly reaching out to people. It sounds shallow to say he was the life of the party, and truthfully I’ve never read that in print, but he brought people together. He also had his snappish, snippy side where he could cut friends off. He collected people. Bu sending them letters, poems, telegrams. I could easily see him writing for Tin House or Barrelhouse, or a gossip column for AWP. He had a sense of humor and a sardonic wit. A hedonist, maybe. Running headlong into the waves. Schuyler described O’Hara as having a “black ear” from talking on the phone so much. Today Frank would have totally had a cellphone in his hand, keeping up with all his contacts, typing in witty texts, and captions to pics.

Then as now, we’d all be amazed at how much writing he’d be able to accomplish.


Frank O’Hara, by Alex Katz oil on wood cutout


Joe’s Jacket
Entraining to Southampton in the parlor car with Jap and Vincent, I
see life as a penetrable landscape lit from above
like it was in my Barbizonian kiddy days when automobiles
were owned by the same people for years and the Alfa Romeo was
only a rumor under the leaves beside the viaduct and I
pretending to be adult felt the blue within me and light up there
no central figure me, I was some sort of cloud or a gust of wind
at the station a crowd of drunken fishermen on a picnic Kenneth
is hard to find but we find, through all the singing, Kenneth smiling
it is off to Janice’s bluefish and the incessant talk of affection
expressed as excitability and spleen to be recent and strong
and not unbearably right in attitude, full of confidences
now I will say it, thank god, I knew you would
an enormous party mesmerizing comers in the disgathering light
and dancing miniature-endless, like a pivot
I drink to smother my sensitivity for a while so I won’t stare away
I drink to kill the fear of boredom, the mounting panic of it
I drink to reduce my seriousness so a certain spurious charm

can appear and win its flickering little victory over noise
I drink to die a little and increase the contrast of this questionable moment
and then I am going home, purged of everything except anxiety and self-distrust
now I will say it, thank god, I knew you would
and the rain has commenced its delicate lament over the orchards
an enormous window morning and the wind, the beautiful desperation of a tree
fighting off strangulation, and my bed has an ugly calm
I reach to the D. H. Lawrence on the floor and read “The Ship of Death”
I lie back again and begin slowly to drift and then to sink
a somnolent envy of inertia makes me rise naked and go to the window
where the car horn mysteriously starts to honk, no one is there
and Kenneth comes out and stops it in the soft green lightless stare
and we are soon in the Paris of Kenneth’s libretto, I did not drift
away I did not die I am there with Haussmann and the rue de Rivoli
and the spirits of beauty, art and progress, pertinent and mobile
in their worldly way, and musical and strange the sun comes out
returning by car the forceful histories of myself and Vincent loom
like the city hour after hour closer and closer to the future I am here
and the night is heavy through not warm, Joe is still up and we talk
only of the immediate present and its indiscriminately hitched-to past
the feeling of life and incident pouring over the sleeping city
which seems to be bathed in an unobtrusive light which lends things
coherence and an absolute, for just that time as four o’clock goes by
and soon I am rising for the less than average day, I have coffee
I prepare calmly to face almost everything that will come up I am calm
but not as my bed was calm as it softly declined to become a ship
I borrow Joe’s seersucker jacket though he is still asleep I start out
when I last borrowed it I was leaving there is was on my Spanish plaza back
and hid my shoulders from San Marco’s pigeons was jostled on the Kurfurstendamm
and sat opposite Ashes in an enormous leather chair in the Continental
it is all enormity and life it has protected me and kept me here on
many occasions as a symbol does with the heart is full and risks no speech
a precaution I loathe as the pheasant loathes the season and is preserved
it will not be need, it will be just what it is and just what happens.

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