I picked up Frank O’Hara’s book, Meditations In An Emergency at my local library and was very happy to read through it. Born June 27th, 1926 in Baltimore, Maryland, Frank O’Hara would move to Boston, Massachusetts to study piano and become a sonarman in World War II. Frank O’Hara’s first passion was music, which he majored in Harvard, but also began writing poetry for which he has become well-known, as well as his friendship with John Ashberry. He also became associated with painters such as Jackson Pollack and Jasper Johns to which he worked with collaboratively with his poetry.
In this collection of poems, published originally in 1957, it is obvious that he has a sense of rhythm in his lines without a need for rhyme and the structure of the lines can vary within a poem. There are countless enjoyable poems within the pages and of course I will only select two to mention.
The first one is very simple and almost childlike, but when you read it in context with all of his other poems the very reason I enjoy this one is because it has been stripped down to its childlike wonder. This poem is titled “Les Etiquettes juanes.” The poem is simply Frank O’Hara picking up a leaf and observing it. “Leaf! You are so big!/How can you change your/color, then just fall!” This stanza sounds exactly like how I thought as a child when playing in the leaves, and he accuses the leaf of being “too relaxed/to answer me.” I love the idea he places on personifying the leaf, another trait children have. He ends his poem with the lines “Leaf! don’t be neurotic/like the small chameleon.” Again, the personification of the leaf and the childlike view of it makes this poem just pure and simple pleasure to read. Also, it is a great poem for this time of year, since leaves are falling in beautiful showers of red, orange, and gold in different parts of the country.
Another poem I quite enjoyed is titled “On Rachmaninoff’s Birthday.” This poem showcases his passion for music as well as his admiration of Rachmaninoff, the composer. “Blue windows, blue rooftops/and the blue light of rain,/these contiguous phrases of Rachmaninoff/pouring into my enormous ears…” I like to think the word “blue” is used to explain O’Hara’s thoughts on the music and how it affects O’Hara’s view of his surroundings. Blue often can be used for seeming sad or somber but in this poem seems to connote more the idea of crisp and cool like water which is often described as blue in color. “…for without him I do not play, especially in the afternoon/on the day of his birthday.” O’Hara’s admiration being so great that he does not attempt to play Rachmaninoff’s music is a glimpse of O’Hara’s sentimental side and of his view of the importance of paying tribute to his favorite composer. “Only my eyes would be blue as I played/and you rapped my knuckles,/dearest father of all the Russias…” Again, O’Hara uses the word blue to explain his feelings toward his favorite composer, the desire to have been his pupil in the mention of rapped knuckles, and how their relationship would have been as well as the love mixed in with the pain of discipline when he says “dearest father,” all succinctly said in just a few lines. This is what I find remarkable about Frank O’Hara because he says so much with so few words and lines, even when it comes to his longer poems. His poetry is an ideal model for all poets.
I hope that you will find Frank O’Hara’s poems as beautiful and amazing as I do, and I hope you will pick up a copy of any of his collections and relish them all.
To find out more and to read poems by Frank O’Hara, visit the links below:
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