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Happy Birthday (more or less) Frank O’Hara!

March 20, 2014
frank-ohara-portrait11

Frank O’Hara 1926 – 1966
Portrait by Alice Neel

Frank O’Hara‘s birthday isn’t really today. It falls on March 27th, but in his case, inaccuracy is the longstanding tradition. He grew up believing he was born in June because his parents took elaborate pains to disguise the fact that he’d been conceived out of wedlock.

I thought of this urbane, postmodern poet  because a Salvador Dali exhibit is currently taking the Memphis Brooks Museum by storm, and Frank O’Hara served as a curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Both Dali and O’Hara loved to lampoon convention and human frailties and in doing so were wickedly, candidly funny.

Dali’s life was long. O’Hara’s was cut short. He was struck and killed by a dune buggy on fire island in the summer of 1966. Fortunately, for us, he was prolific.

Why I Am Not A Painter

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 day 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.
— Frank O’Hara

Poem

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
— Frank O’Hara

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