Frank O'Hara: Poems from the Tibor De Nagy Editions, 1952-1956 by Frank O'Hara
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Some otherwise unknown -- to me -- O'Hara. A very nice surprise, then. Interesting of itself as well for being contributions made to a long-running art-project, so that herein are poems from the poet's early days in NYC to his premature end, three separate pamphlets worth, and with all the variety of his work in a small and representative space. Here's "The Lover," for instance, from the first set, already delightfully, imperfectly disciplined in its sly, camp and sweaty images -- "He is a man like us, erect / in the cold dark night..." and so on -- completely modern, and still as metered and tightly made as some weird sonnet by Manley Hopkins. The whole enterprise, all three little "books," for want of a better word, are full of pretty, queerish things; little personal puzzles wrapped tight as nuts, some that can be picked out and other that I accept as so many inexplicable grits.
What is it in O'Hara that makes the whole delicious even as the ingredients are not always, or even often, immediately digestible? Wit, most obviously, and exuberance, and fierce kind of honesty, sometimes embarrassing in its earnest, almost naive belief in itself as a value to both poet and reader. Not always true, that. (Has any other American poet of roughly the same age inspired as much mundane, even dull verse from his enthusiasts and imitators? Well, Ginsberg, I suppose, but then Ginsberg was more boring than not, and that is not at all true of O'Hara.) I hesitate to suggest the word as definitive, but had I to pick one word for O'Hara? Charm.
Not that even here there aren't those stretches of shuffling narrative (see Oranges: 12 Pastorals, pretty much anywhere in it) wherein shit happens and is reported, and then interrupted by the kind of nonsense -- "Cease playing harmonicas, you lizards!" -- that must have sounded hilarious when everybody was high, or drunk, either, both.
Interestingly enough though, even anticipating the worst kind of O'Hara, I'll still read anything by him. And when he's good -- see many things here, like "Little Elegy for Antonio Machado" and "A City Winter," -- he's just bracing and wonderful and complex and fun.
That puts him on a very short list of American poets, my dear. A very short list indeed.
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