Attention Equals Life
I’m more than halfway through Attention Equals Life by Andrew Epstein, also the blogmaster at https://newyorkschoolpoets.wordpress.com/, where he explores the connections between poetry, attention, and the everyday/period between the 1950s and 1970s.
The first few pages are devoted to distractions. Today, more than ever, it is almost impossible to focus because of the influx of media and advertising. Yeah, I hate it too. The technology I turned to a few years ago to avoid commercials is now saturated with them. Pandora, YouTube, Facebook. And, what’s worse, the commercials look like content!
So even if you are paying attention it does almost no good. We’re faked out by fake news, alt facts, and reality TV stars in the White House.
Andrew specializes on the New York School (of poets) where—and I think he’ll agree with me—the poets of the New School were easily unashamedly distracted.
Here is one of my favorite pictures:
Frank O'Hara, John Button, James Schuyler, and Joe LeSueur, 1960. Photo by John Button.
Distractions only made Frank O’Hara MORE engaged. He loved to fly off to the ballet and the symphony. He listened to the radio. He tuned into the news: The Day Lady Died, Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed!] He poeticized brand names, names of streets, the places he shopped or stopped off to buy cigarettes: references to Park Avenue, Times Square, Pennsylvania Station, liver sausage sandwiches, the Five Spot, the Seagram Building, the opening of the American Folk Art Museum, the New York Post, and much more. His friends: in “Personal Poem,” he recounts his lunch with Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), “Chez Jane,” “Jane Awake”=Jane Freilicher. “A Step Away From Them” references Edwin Denby, Federico Fellini, the Armory Show, and Pierre Reverdy, and New York locations like Juliet’s Corner and the Manhattan Storage Warehouse. He talks about his friends Jackson Pollock, John Latouche, and Bunny Lang who have died and says, “Is the earth as full as life was full, of them?” Acts of consumption were part of his everyday art. Coca Cola! I’m pretty sure if alive today he’d be on Twitter and Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and what else?
He loved being connected socially. There are not a few paintings and photographs of him talking on the telephone.
HE WAS PAYING ATTENTION. He couldn’t walk down the street, watch TV, or eat a sandwich without taking note of it.
So as you hop on the subway to go downtown and pull out your phone—memo yourself a few lines, a minute couplet, an observation. Then go ahead and check your feed.