Frank O’Hara

September 27, 2006


Russel Joseph O’Hara
Poetry is provocative and provoking
Work was immediate and quickly typed out: ‘Lunch Poems’ was typed during his lunch break
Notoriously disorganized: legend states that before publishing O’Hara’s poems City Lights publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti had to fly from San Francisco to New York and search through all of O’Hara’s coat pockets to find them
Collaborated with the painters in the New York School to make “poem-paintings”
Poetry combines impromptu lyrics, a jumble of witty talk, journalistic parodies and surrealist imagery
Served in the South Pacific and Japan as a sonarsman on the destroyer USS Nicholas during World War II
Attended Harvard, where he roomed with artist Edward Gorey
Died in an accident on Fire Island: was struck and injured by a beach buggy
He died at age 40 the following day: is buried in Springs Cemetery on Long Island

Frank reading “Metaphysical Poem”, “Poem (Lana Turner has collapsed”, “Political Poem on a Last Line of Pasternak’s”, and “Poem (Hoopla! yah yah yah)”


Did you see me walking by the Buick Repairs? / I was thinking of you / having a Coke in the heat it was your face / I saw on the movie magazine, no it was Fabian’s / I was thinking of you / and down at the railroad tracks where the station / has mysteriously disappeared / I was thinking of you / as the bus pulled away in the twilight / I was thinking of you / and right now

-Song (Did you see me walking by the Buick Repairs?)  (in whole) 

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

-Animals (in whole)

I am stuck in traffic in a taxicab / which is typical / and not just of modern life
mud chambers 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

-Song (I’m stuck in traffic) (in whole)

Oh! kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas! / You really are beautiful! Pearsl, / harmonicas, jujubes, asprins! all / the stuff they’ve always talked about
still makes a poem a surprise! / These things are with us every day / even on beachheads and biers. They / do have meaning. They’re strong as rocks.

-Today (in whole)

When do you want to go / I’m not sure I want to go there / where do you want to go / any place / I think I’d fall apart any place else / well I’ll go if you really want to / I don’t particularly care / but you’ll fall apart any place else / I can just go home / I don’t really mind going there / but I don’t want to force you to go there / you won’t be forcing me I’d just as soon / I wouldn’t be able to stay long anyway / maybe we could go somewhere nearer / I’m not wearing a jacket / just like you weren’t wearing a tie / well I didn’t say we had to go / I don’t care whether you’re wearing one / we don’t really have to do anything / well all right let’s not / okay I’ll call you / yes call me

-Metaphysical Poem (in whole)

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 / LANA TURNER HAS COLLAPSED! / 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

-Poem (Lana Turner has collapsed) (in whole)
 see Poetry Speaks

How funny you are today New York / like Ginger Rogers in Swingtime / and St. Bridget’s steeple leaning a little to / the left
here I have just jumped out of a bed full of / V-days  / (I got tired of D-days) and blue you there still / accepts me foolish and free / all I want is a room up there / and you in it / and even the traffic halt so thick is a way / for people to rub up against each other / and when their surgical appliances lock / they stay together / for the rest of the day (waht a day) / I go by to check a slide and I say / that painting’s not so blue
where’s Lana Turner / she’s out eating / and Garbo’s backstage at the Met / everyone’s taking their coat off / so they can show a rib-cage to the bib-watchers / and the park’s full of dancers with their / tights and shoes / in little bags / who are often mistaken for worker-outers at / the West Side Y / why not / the Pittsburgh Pirates shout because they / won / and in a sense we’re all winning / we’re alive
the apartment was vacated by a gay couple / who moved to the country for fun / they moved a day too soon / even the stabbings are helping the / population explosion / though in the wrong country / and all those liars have left the UN / and Seagram Buildin’s no longer rivalled in / interest / not that we need liquor (we just like it)
and the little box is out on the sidewalk / next to the delicatessen / so the old man can sit on it and drink beer / and get knocked off it by his wife later in the / day / while the sun is still shining
oh god it’s wonderful / to get out of bed / and drink too much coffee / and smoke too m any cigarettes / and love you so much

-Steps (in whole)

So we are taking off our masks, are we, and keeping / our mouths shut? as if we’d been pierced by a glance!
The song of an old cow is not more full of judgement / Than the vapors which escape one’s soul when one is sick,
so I pull the shadows around me like a puff / and crinkle my eyes as if at the most exquisite moment
of a very long opera, and then we are off! / without reproach and without hope that our delicate feet
will touch the earth again, let alone ‘very soon.’ / It is the law of my own voice I shall investigate.
I start like ice, my finger to my ear, my ear / to my heart, that proud cur at the garbage can
in the rain. It’s wonderful to admire oneself / with complete candor, tallying up the merits of each
of the latrines. 14th Street is drunken and credulous, / 53rd tries to tremble but is too at rest. The good
love a park and the inept a railway station, / and there are the divine ones who drag themselves up
and down the lengthening shadow of an Abyssinian head / in the dust, trailing their long elegant heels of hot air
crying to confuse the brave ‘It’s a summer day, / and I want to be wanted more than anything else in the world.’

-Homosexuality (in whole)

I think you’re wonderful and so does everyone else.
Just as Jackie Kennedy has a baby boy, so will you- even bigger.
You will meet a tall beautiful blonde stranger, and you will n ot say hello.
You will take a long trip and you will be very happy, though alone.
You will marry the first person who tells you your eyes are like scrambled eggs.
In the beginning there was YOU- there will always be YOU, I guess.
You will write a great play and it will run for three performances.
Please phone The Village Voice immediately: they want to interview you.
Roger L. Stevens and Kermit Bloomgarden have their eyes on you.
Relax a little; one of your most celebrated nervous tics will be your undoing.
Your first volume of poetry will be published as soon as you finish it.
You may be a hit uptown, but downtown you’re legendary!
Your walk has a musical quality which will bring you fame and fortune.
You will eat cake.
Who do you think you are, anyway? Jo Van Fleet?
You think your life is Pirandello, but it’s really like O’Neill.
A few dance lessons with James Waring and who know? Maybe something will happen.
That’s not a run in your stocking, it’s  hand on your leg.
I realize you’ve lived in France, but that doesn’t mean you know EVERYTHING!
You should wear white more often- it becomes you.
The next person to speak to you will have a very intriguing proposal to make.
A lot of people in this room wish they were you.
Have you been to Mike Goldberg’s show? Al Leslie’s? Lee Krasner’s?
At times, your disinterestedness may seem insincere, to strangers.
Now that the election’s over, what are you going to do with yourself?
You are a prisoner in a croissant factory and you love it.
You eat mean. Why do you eat meat?
Beyond the horizon there is a vale of gloom.
You too could be Premier of France, if only… if only…

-Lines for the Fortune Cookies (in whole)

Mothers of America / let your kids go to the  movies! / get them out of the house so they won’t know what you’re up to / it’s true that fresh air is good for the body / but what about the soul / that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images / and when you grow old as grow old you must / they won’t hate you / they won’t criticize you they won’t know / they’ll be in some glamorous country / they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or playing hookey / they may even be grateful to you / for their first sexual experience / which only cost you a quarter / and didn’t upset the peaceful home / they will know where candy bars come from / and gratuitous bags of popcorn / as gratuitous as leaving the movie before it’s over / with a pleasant stranger whose apartment is in the Heaven on Earth Bldg / near the Williamsburg  / oh mothers you will have made the little tykes / so happy because if nobody does pick them up in the movies / they won’t know the difference / and if somebody does it’ll be sheer gravy / and they’ll have been truly entertained either way / instead of hanging around the yard / or up in their room / hating you / prematurely since you won’t have done anything horribly mean yet / except keeping them from the darker joys / it’s unforgivable the latter / so don’t blame me if you won’t take this advice / and the family breaks up / and your children grow old and blind in front of a TV set / seeing / movies you wouldn’t let them see when they were young

-Ave Maria (in whole)

The eager note on my door said ‘Call me, / call when you get in!’ so I quickly threw / a few tangerines into my overnight bag, / straightened my eyelids and shoulders, and
headed straight for the door. It was autumn / by the time I got around the corner, oh all / unwilling to be either pertinent or bemused, but / the leaves were brighter than grass on the sidewalk!
Funny, I thought, that the lights are on this late / and the hall door open; still up at this hour, a / cahmpion jai-alai player like himself? Oh fie! / for shame! What a hose, so zealous! And he was
there in the hall, flat on a sheet of blood that / ran down the stairs, I did appreciate it. There are few / hosts who so throughly prepare to greet a guest / only casually invited, and that several months ago.

-Poem (The eater note on my door said “Call me,) (in whole)

It’s my lunch hour, so I go / for a walk among the hum-colored / cabs. First, down the sidewalk / where laborers feed their dirty / glistening torsos sandwiches / and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets / on. They protect them from falling / bricks, I guess. Then onto the / avenue where skirts are flipping / above heels and blow up over / grates. The sun is hot, but the / cabs stir up the air. I look / at bargains in wristwatches. There / are cats playing in sawdust.
On / to Times Square, where the sign / blows smoke over my head, and higher / the waterfall pours lightly. A / Negro stands in a doorway with a / toothpick, languorously agitating. / A blonde chorus girl clicks: he / smiles and rubs his chin. Everything / suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of / a Thursday.
Neon in daylight is a / great pleasure, as Edwin Denby would / write, as are light bulbs in daylight. / I stop for a cheeseburger at Juliet’s / Corner. Giulietta Masina, wife of / Federico Fellini, e bell’ attrice / And chocolate malted. A lady in / foxes on such a day puts her poodle in a cab.
There are several Puerto / Ricans on the avenue today, which / makes it beautiful and warm. First / Bunny died, then John Latouche, / then Jackson Pollock. But is the / earth as full as life was full, of them? / And one has eaten and one walks, / past the magazines with nudes / and the posters for bullfight and / the Manhattan Storage Warehouse, / which they’ll soon tear down. I / used to think they had the Armory / Show there.
A glass of papaya juice / and back to work. My heart is in my / pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.

-A Step Away From Them (in whole)

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 Hesoid, trans. Richmond Lattimore or / Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Negres / 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 Gaulosises 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

-The Day Lady Died (in whole)

About Billie Holiday’s death

The Sun woke me this morning loud / and clear, saying “Hey! I’ve been / trying to wake you up for fifteen / minutes. Don’t be so rude, you are / only the second poet I’ve ever chosen / to speak to personally
so why / aren’t you more attentive? If I could / burn you through the window I would / to wake you up. I can’t hang around / here all day.”
“Sorry, Sun, I stayed / up late last night talking to Hal.”
“When I woke up Mayakovsky he was / a lot more prompt” the Sun said / petulantly. “Most people are up / already waiting to see if I’m going / to put in an appearance.”
I tried / to apologize “I missed you yesterday.” / “That’s better” he said. “I didn’t / know you’d come out.” “you may be / wondering why I’ve come so close?” / “Yes” I said beginning to feel hot / wondering if maybe he wasn’t burning me anyway.
“Frankly I wanted to tell you / I like your poetry. I see a lot / on my rounds and you’re okay. You may / not be the greatest thing on earth, but / you’re different. Now, I’ve heard some / say you’re crazy, they being excessively / calm themselves to my mind, and other / crazy poets think that you’re a boring / reactionary. Not me.
Just keep on / like I do and pay no attention. You’ll / find that people always will complain / about the atmosphere, either too hot / or too cold too bright or too dark, days / too short or too long.
If you don’t appear at all one day they think you’re lazy / or dead. Just keep right on, I like it.
And don’t work about your lineage / poetic or natural. The Sun shines on / the jungle, you know, on the tundra / the sea, the ghetto. Wherever you were / I knew it and saw you moving. I was waiting / for you to get to work.
And now that you are making your own days, so to speak, / even if no one reads you but me / you won’t be depressed. Not / everyone can look up, even at me. It / hurts their eyes.”
“Oh Sun, I’m so grateful to you!”
“Thanks and remember I’m watching. It’s / easier for me to speak to you out / here. I don’t have to slide down / between buildings to get your ear. / I know you love Manhattan, but / you ought to look u more often.
And / always embrace things, people earth / sky stars, as I do, freely and with / the appropriate sense of space. That / is your inclination, known in the heavens / and you should follow it to hell, if / necessary, which I doubt.
Maybe we’ll / speak again in Africa, of which I too / am specially fond. God back to sleep no / Frank, and I may leave a tiny poem / in that brain of yours as my farewell.”
“Sun, don’t go!” I was awake / at last. “No, go I must, they’re calling / me.”
‘Who are they?”
Rising he said “Some / day you’ll know. They’re calling to you / too.” Darkly he rose, and then I slept.

-A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island (in whole)

Inspired by “And Extraordinary Adventure which Befell Vladimir Mayakovsky in a Summer Cottage” which describes the Russian avantgarde poet’s own conversation with the sun

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 days 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.

-Why I Am Not a Painter (in whole)

Personism: A Manifesto (1959)

O’Hara parodically deflates the pretensions of other poetic manifestos and offers a valuable point of entry into his poetry
Turned down as too frivolous by “New American Poetry”, first appeared in “Yugen”
Claims the poet must be witty, never boring; the poet must communicate the spontaneity of imaginative creation; the poet must be effortlessly allusive; and the poet must convey a robust sense of pesonal immediacy and yet not be dully confessional


“Everything is in the poems, but at the risk of sounding like the poor wealthy man’s Allen Ginsberg I will write to you because I just heard that one of my fellow poets thinks that a poem of mine that can’t be got at one reading is because I was confused too. Now, come one.  don’t believe in god, so I don’t have to make elaborately sounded structures. I hate Vachel Lindsay, always have; I don’t even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t trun around and shoult, ‘Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep.'”

“The only good thing about it is that when I get lofty enough I’ve stopped thinking and that’s when refreshment arrives.
But how can you really care if anybody gets it, or gets what it means, or if it improves them. Improves them for what? For death? Why hurry them along? Too many poets act like a middle-aged mother trying to get her kids to eat too much cooked meat, and potatoes with drippings (tears). I don’t give a mean whether they eat or not. Forced feeding leads to excessive thinness (effete). Nobody should experience anything they don’t need to, if they don’t need poetry bully for them. I like the movies too. And after all, only Whitman and Crane and Williams, of the American poets, are better than the movies. As for measure and other techincal apparatus, that’s just common sense: if you’re goiing to buy a pair of pants you want them to be tight enough so everyone will want to go to bed with you. There’s nothing metaphysical about it. Unless, of course, you flatter yourself into thinking that what you’re epxeriencing is ‘yearning.'”

“Abstraction (in poetry, not in painting) involves personal removal by the poet. For instance, the decision involved in the choice between ‘the nostalgia of the infinite; and ‘the nostalgia for the infinite’ defines an attitude towards degree of abstraction. The nostalgia of the infinite representing the greater degree of abstraction, removal, and negative capability (as in Keats and Mallarme). Personism, a movement which I recently founded and which nobody knows about, interests me a great deal, being so totally opposed to this kind of abstract removal that it is vergin on a true abstraction for the first time, really, in the history of poetry.”

“But to give you a vague idea, one of its minimal aspects is to address itslef to one person (other than the poet himself), thuis evoking overtones of love without destroying love’s life-giving vulgarity, and sustaining the poet’s feelings towards the poem while preventing love from distracting him into feeling about the person.”

“It puts the poem squarely between the poet and the person, Lucky Pierre style, and the poem is correspondingly gratified. The oem is at last between two persons instead of two pages.”

“What can we expect of Personism? (This is getting good, isn’t it?) Everything, but we won’t get it. It is too new, too vital a movement to promise anything. But it, like Africa, is on the way. The recent propagandists for tenchique on the one hand, and for content on the other, had better watch out.”


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