15 may. 2003

To make some disparaging comment on Frank O'Hara is an affront "to humanity in general."

That is one of those hyperboles that, once you think about it a moment, is dead-on accurate. Its exaggerated nature is what makes it true (in the poetic sense, I don't mean literally).



The idea that O'Hara didn't know how to make non-arbitrary line breaks, that he somehow couldn't tell where the phrases should end, is absurd on the face of it. He has plenty of poems where short lines correspond to phrases: "Who'd have thought / that snow falls / it always circled / swirling / like a thought / in the glass bowl / around me and my bear." He also has the other kind of long free verse lines that end pretty much in a logical fashion.

So the odd, abitrary seeming line-divisions in many of his poems are highly deliberative. They are artfully designed to SEEM casual and spontaneous. They are surprising, catching us off guard. They don't have a Wiliamsian or Creeleyesque theory to back them up. All the better! O'Hara hated pretentious theory.

By the way, I thought the two most famous O'Hara poems were "The Day Lady Died" and "A True Account of Talking to the Sun on Fire Island." My personal favorites are "On Rachmaninoff's Birthday." "A True Account," "Getting Up Before Someone," "Who'd have thought," "Poetry," "Personal Poem," and "Mr. O'Hara's Sunday Morning Service." (Why does nobody seem to know that poem? It's in "Poems Retrieved."