Tuesday, June 9, 2020


Frank O'Hara is a significant poet for many reasons that can be and are in fact argued when poetry lovers of different loyalties get together to dispute reality and slice up their share of the muse's lavishly set the table. What that last sentence means precisely, especially the last flourish, is unknown even to me, and this is not the place to speculate or suggest subtext or subversion. Frank O'Hara is a favorite of mine because he is, after all, A MAJOR POET   who wrote masterfully about the momentary thrills and anxieties of being a nervous, fretful, art-loving man in love with the city who, likewise, could make his discomfort unavoidable urban annoyances--traffic jams, bad waiters, boring posers--into occasions to elevate himself with the joys he knows he, in fact, possesses, As in the song, a moan is turned into music, the idea of being stuck and uncertain turns into succinct, near haiku meditations on eroticism, companionship, the nearness of another. 


I am stuck in traffic in a taxicab
which is typical

and not just of modern life

mud clambers up the trellis of my nerves

must lovers of Eros end up with Venus

muss es sein? es muss nicht sein, I tell you

how I hate disease, it's like worrying

that comes true

and it simply must not be able to happen

in a world where you are possible

my love

nothing can go wrong for us, tell me

 O'Hara did this constantly--hundreds of short lyrics, or half lyrics, as it were, Sapphoesque scraps. The flush of dread over the nervous system becomes the rush of anticipated delight in friends, talk, drink, love. This, we may judge, is not the best O'Hara could do as a writer,  but that is precisely the point for its composition; much can be made too much of an artist's process as it relates to a larger body of work and the community it resides, but the charm here, the beauty itself, is what I'd call an excellent attempt to express a sensation that defies anyone's ability to capture. O'Hara's poem, simply called "Song" with no other words of grandiose teasing, falls short as well,  ultimately. But it is a terrific near miss, successful enough to get one thinking about why one keeps reading again after thirty years since one first sat down with the Collected Poems of this modern master. 

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