Monday, November 27, 2006

Frank O'Hara, "Having A Coke With You"

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluoresent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I'm with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o'clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it's in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven't gone to yet so we can go together the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn't pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvellous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it


From: Love Poems (Tentative Title) (1965)

I've picked this as the first poem of The Poetic Quotidian, partly because of my having recently moved to New York, partly because of its vitality, and partly because it anecdotally illustrates the everyday and social aspects of poetry to which this site is dedicated.
Frank O'Hara (1926-1966) is a champion of spontaneity in poetry. Many of his poems were dashed off as notes to friends or, as in his collection Lunch Poems, were written during his lunch hour (he worked for many years at the Museum of Modern Art), incorporating whatever he saw and did and felt.
This particular poem was introduced to me by my friend (and fellow poet) Lewis. It's still Lewis' voice that I hear when I read the poem. Read it to someone else, and perhaps it will be your voice that will forever speak the words of O'Hara in their head!
I don't see how anyone can help but be won over by the manic enthusiasm of this oddball profession of love: "partly because of my love of you, partly because of your love of yoghurt". I also find the poem exceptionally vivid, both utterly original and true in its engagement with the world: "the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary" ... "as still / as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary".
As when one is in love, he sees the details of the world afresh - I've often since encountered "a tree breathing through its spectacles". The poem is a frenzied exaltation of the vitality of love, of living things, in juxtaposition with the static stoniness of statuary and perhaps even art - the poet himself frenetic in trying to capture something that is antithetical to being captured: "some marvelous experience / which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it". Poetry is much like love - it causes us to see the wonder of the everyday world, and we feel compelled to share it.

(More on Frank O'Hara: - with audio)

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