Starting my morning over coffee by looking for clips of Frank O’Hara reading his own work. Wound up getting sucked down a rabbit hole of Man Men blogs. (Getting ready to teach O’Hara today has been more fun than getting ready to teach most things. Maybe it’s just that I don’t teach this stuff all that often and so it still feels fresh.)
First, O’Hara on O’Hara:
If you want to start making sense of O’Hara’s poetry, you could do worse than to think about his tongue-in-cheek manifesto “Personism” (1959).
Two: I found something sweet about the idea of a 15-year-old Jim Carroll dogging O’Hara’s steps one afternoon in an attempt to see everything he was seeing, so as to be able to identify, at some future date, the poem O’Hara was about to go home and write:
And finally, the Mad Men episode. I had forgotten the use of Meditations in an Emergency at the opening of Season 2. Don encounters someone in a bar reading the poems over lunch (heh, heh: lunch poems, get it?). He later winds up sending the volume to an unspecified lover, probably Midge, his bohemian girlfriend from the first season who had finally blown him off. (Too bad, too — I kind of liked the midtown/downtown tension of that relationship more than the similar function of Paul Kinsey’s beard or the pot-smoking punks brought in to help the firm reach a younger demographic.) The actual sequence from the end of the first episode of the second season has been disabled by request. Here’s the voiceover with a fan montage of scenes, which has the over-the-top effect of making the poem even try harder to get at Don’s particularly shifty interiority, but also extends the “emergency” to the rest of the cast:
“Grey” in the poem calls up the idea of “grey flannel suits” quite effectively.
For kicks, here’s where the Man Men blogs took me. One post noted that in the commentary track for the DVD release of the season, the series creator described how accidental his encounter with O’Hara was, and how chance the use of that specific poem (“Mayakovky”) was as well:
Matthew Weiner was at an exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York where there were snippets from Frank O
Thanks so much for taking the time to pull this all together and share it in the blog, rather than just the classroom.
In the mid-70’s, I did my own version of Jim Carroll’s exercise. NY was a daunting place to find your identity as a writer. The euphoric inspirations of historic New York writers were all around you. You’d read the work and wonder how these writers, from Melville to Whitman, to O’Hara, to Ginsburg, to Carroll and on and on had found the mainline to a truth that seemed to suspend the conscious and set you free into the stream of humanity.
I think that had something to do with how they read their work. I got to spend a year in Kenneth Koch’s reading class and he was viscous with the lugubrious or cynical voice. Even in pain or tragedy, the voice needed to reach for sincere song. They wanted to be pure. The act of writing and reading wasn’t votive; it was witnessing. You witnessed the experiences of the soul.
The New York School searched for a Blakesian innocence: educating, informed, but unadorned and celebratory.
Enough of that though. You put together a great compendium here and I really enjoyed it.
Thanks, drmstream! I’m glad you enjoyed the clips. I loved your description of Koch’s class, too. Thanks for reading — bw
Regarding the episode of MadMen you cited, Don Draper (real name – Dick Whitman) sends the book of Frank O’Hara’s poetry to the wife of the man whose identity he assumed -Anna Draper. We see it in her house on a later episode.
Thanks, Laura — I forgot he sees the book again in California. Good call!