frank o'hara. you deceptive bugger.

Frank O’Hara is one deceptive guy. He’s like the friend you have that always goofs around and seemingly has no cares, until the moment he shocks you with something truly insightful, or beautiful, serious and perceptive. His poems often seem like conversations, laden with colloquial dialogue, references to coca-cola, to taxis, to shirtless construction workers. These are the poems of the everyday, the things that are unremarkable. And yet, through his wonderful constructions, the phrases in O’Hara’s poems seem to jump off the page, as if shouting, “I’m here! I’m beautiful! I live!” Perhaps I’ve constructed this image in a too-cartoony fashion, but I simply wish to express the dynamic of his lines that are not simple, that are unforgettable, that make me think.

“Poem (À la recherche d’ Gertrude Stein”)” (181) is a gorgeous poem. It is not difficult to connect the poem to the work of Stein, for it seemingly emulates the jumbled syntax of her work. For example, the lines, “that we are flesh and breathe and are near us / as you are really as you are I become as I” (4-5) are convoluted and take some thinking through to understand. Granted, O’Hara’s poem is in many ways “understandable,” in that it tells a story, while Stein’s work is a prime example of indeterminacy in poetry. I find her work delightful, as long as I do not search for meaning in it. I find the following lines delightfully beautiful and insistent:

The change in that is that read weakens an hour. The change has come. There is no search. But there is, there is that hope and that interpretation and sometime, surely any is unwelcome, sometime there is breath and there will be a sinecure and charming very charming is that clean and cleansing… (Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons, p.9.)

For Stein, a conventional identification of word meaning is not always necessary. Her work, perhaps, is intended to tweak our thinking. Many objects that are mundane have new life in her poetry. The line, “all the blisters are in the cup” is particularly intriguing in this manner. Of course, one cannot even conceive of blisters in a cup, and it’s simultaneously rather disgusting. O’Hara too is the poet of the “object”—many of his poems contain objects that are given new life. In his “A Step Away from Them,” O’Hara writes, “laborers feed their dirty / glistening torsos with sandwiches / and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets / on. They protect them from falling / bricks, I guess” (4-8). Nothing about these lines is particularly remarkable. However, the objects are elevated from their “object” status because of their association with the laborers’ “dirty glistening torsos.” The objects become interesting because the laborers do not feed themselves, but their torsos. The torso is such a large part of the body, one would likely equate it with the person, and not single out the torso as an object like O’Hara did. O’Hara, then, absorbed Stein’s method of diverting “object” status. Things like sandwhiches and Coca-Cola, objects of the everyday and mundane, become so much more interesting when associated with the nearly sexualized “torsos.” The undercurrent of attraction to these laborers makes the objects they “feed their . . . torsos” with all the more interesting.

This assessment makes the subtitle of the original poem I mentioned more interesting. The translation to English of “À la recherche d’ Gertrude Stein” is “to the research of Gertrude Stein” (at least, according to the free internet translator.) That could mean that this poem is written “to the research of Gertrude Stein”—working to the pattern of her intriguing work with object status. Perhaps not. The beauty of reading Stein and O’Hara is that interpretation is open. Stein’s work is too indeterminate to uncover “hidden meanings” and O’Hara’s work, with its deceptive “casualness,” leaves many interpretative paths to follow.

"À la recherche d' Gertrude Stein"

When I am feeling depressed and anxious sullen
all you have to do is take your clothes off
and all is wiped away revealing life's tenderness
that we are flesh and breathe and are near us
as you are really as you are I become as I
really am alive and knowing vaguely what is
and what is important to me above the intrusions
of incident and accidental relationships
which have nothing to do with my life

when I am in your presence I feel life is strong
and will defeat all its enemies and all of mine
and all of yours and yours in you and mine in me
sick logic and feeble reasoning are cured
by the perfect symmetry of your arms and legs
spread out making an eternal circle together
creating a golden pillar beside the Atlantic
the faint line of air dividing your torso
gives my mind rest and emotions their release
into the infinite air where since once we are
together we always will be in this life come what may

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