Once a year I try to do some poetry exploration and buy one or two collections for my Poetry Corner (as I call it) on my bookshelf. Last year I got collections by Thomas Merton, Galway Kinnell, Wendell Berry, Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, Hilda Doolittle, and two anthologies of World poetry.
This year I felt I definitely needed Al Purdy’s collection to come to my house, and I discovered that I liked some of American Frank O’Hara’s work, but he also seems a bit uneven for my taste.
I am torn about Frank. I have one of his poems in the Staying Alive anthology, and a few others in The Portable Beat Reader. I printed out two of them that immediately struck me, and the more I read them, the more I’m confused about Frank. Is he too much New York and his own clique of the 50s and 60s, or does he have something else to say?
These two poems really got to me though. He had a way of turning things in his mind I like.
Why I Am Not a Painter
by Frank O’Hara
I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,
for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.
But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.
by Frank O’Hara
Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth
it’s no use worrying about Time
but we did have a few tricks up our sleeves
and turned some sharp corners
the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn’t need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water
I wouldn’t want to be faster
or greener than now if you were with me O you
were the best of all my days.