For What Its Worth

3 Jul
Frank O'Hara in 1965 (Mario Schifano / Wikimedia)

Frank O’Hara in 1965 (Mario Schifano / Wikimedia)

City Lights, the now venerable, former bastion of the advance guard in literature, has reissued Frank O Hara’s Lunch Poems. In reference to this (dare I USE THIS WORD) IMPORTANT happenstance I noted one headline referred to the poems as “21st century poetry written in 1964”. Now I know less than “shit from shinola”, as they say in the gentler precincts of Chicago( I even contributed an awful personal statement on poetics in an issue of The Drunken Boat) but that book is worth noting.

Sometime in my crazy making romantic youth(years coinciding with Watergate, Gerald Ford, energy crisis panic,long gas lines, the downfall of the shah of Iran, Henry Kissinger’s glory days the a malaise afoot in the land) I glommed on to O Hara. Lady Day was the first poem that ever moved me:

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

Lunch Poems by Frank O"Hara

Lunch Poems by Frank O”Hara

Lunch Poems

And then “To The Harbormaster”

To the Harbormaster
BY FRANK O’HARA
I wanted to be sure to reach you;
though my ship was on the way it got caught
in some moorings. I am always tying up
and then deciding to depart. In storms and
at sunset, with the metallic coils of the tide
around my fathomless arms, I am unable
to understand the forms of my vanity
or I am hard alee with my Polish rudder
in my hand and the sun sinking. To
you I offer my hull and the tattered cordage
of my will. The terrible channels where
the wind drives me against the brown lips
of the reeds are not all behind me. Yet
I trust the sanity of my vessel; and
if it sinks, it may well be in answer
to the reasoning of the eternal voices,
the waves which have kept me from reaching you.

Brad Gooch wrote a splendid and perhaps the only biography of O’Hara that worth reading.I spoke with Gooch when I came out and that chat could be on the internet somewhere(its 20 years old)

City Poet by Brad Gooch [image purloned form the internet

City Poet by Brad Gooch [image purloined from the internet

Currently reading Wiliiam Giraldi’s forthcoming novel (WW Norton)

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