Sunday, March 17, 2013

Poet Frank O'Hara

When I took my first poetry-writing class in college when I was 20 in 1985, just about the only poet I truly knew deeply and loved was Sylvia Plath. (Discovered in high school after reading "The Bell Jar" and then learning that she "also" wrote poetry.)

I'd read stuff in high school like Wordsworth and Dickinson, of course, but I never really FELT them. (Dickinson, I later in grad school, age 28, finally properly "got" psychologically.)

In that first writing class in 1985, my professor, David Wevill, assigned as an accompanying textbook to our own student writing "Contemporary American Poetry" (edited by A. Poulin, Jr.).

I had no context whatsoever. All of the people within were complete strangers to me. (Only years later was I to learn that a "lifestyle" or a "school" or a "political angle" accompanied these shamans.)

One of the poems that I remember most to this day from the book is "POEM" by Frank O'Hara. There I was in the class, a young, stupid kid seeking truth-n-beauty, stuff I'd always assumed was weighty and serious. And here was Frank O'Hara, capturing a personal moment in time inspired by a tabloid headline...

At 20, from an extremely restricted upbringing in a town of 5000 in rural Texas pre-cable or Internet, I didn't even know what "tabloid headlines" were (we got the "Fort Worth Star-Telegram" and "Time" and "Reader's Digest" and four channels in my home); I just knew that I'd FELT like that before... (and been mocked for how much, say, the Bay City Rollers and "Gone With the Wind" meant to me psychologically/emotionally when I was 12; or how much the Beatles, and then John Lennon's murder, affected me when I was 15).

Frank O'Hara, and specifically this Lana Turner poem, also opened up to me, an ignoramus, just how much ANYTHING GOES in poetry. And also how joyful a poem can be! This poem made me smile then and still does. I'm so grateful for it.


Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky and suddenly I see a headline
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up

---Frank O'Hara, 1964


A p.s.: I also especially love another poem of O'Hara's, "Autobiographia Literaria":

When I was a child
I played by myself in a
corner of the schoolyard
all alone.

I hated dolls and I
hated games, animals were
not friendly and birds
flew away.

If anyone was looking
for me I hid behind a
tree and cried out, "I am
an orphan."

And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!

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