10 November 2016

Poetry Thursday - Frank O'Hara (and oranges)

Fifty years after his death aged 40, Poets in the City and the Aurora Orchestra held a commemorative evening of words and music - and images - at King's Place.
Music by Rachmaninov, Feldman, Poulenc, Ravel, Billie Holiday, Cage
Today's poem wasn't on the programme, but at one point - amid a series of photos of O'Hara - Mike Goldberg's Sardines showed on the screen, and I wondered why -
Why I am not a painter

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 (1956)

There's a story behind this poem: it relates to "a series of twelve prose poems  written while he was home from Harvard during the summer of 1949 ... a decidedly anti-Arcadian surrealistic parody beginning: "Black crows in the burnt mauve grass, as intimate as rotting rice, snot on a white linen field." About twenty copies of the poems, with a painting by [Grace]Hartigan on the cover, were later published on the occasion of an exhibit of Hartigan's Oranges paintings. ...  Hartigan did twelve paintings for twelve O'Hara poems in the fall of 1952, and by so doing redefined her relationship to Abstract Expressionism and proposed a mode of "collaboration as a dialogue of multiple selves" between poets and painters that influenced poets and painters alike. The poems themselves do not even mention the word of the title, a cleverness the poet was well aware of. " (via)

Poet and artist were brought together in a 2011 exhibition: "With its Painters and Poets exhibition, New York’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery goes a long way in illuminating the relationship. How can poetry embody the painting? How can the painting encapsulate the essence of the poem? Two works featured in the exhibition — “Oranges no. 5” and “Oranges no. 11” (each work from 1952, oil on paper, 44 ½ x 35 inches) by painter Grace Hartigan with words from poet Frank O’Hara’s “Oranges: 12 Pastorals” — offer stimulating answers to those questions. " (via)

O'Hara was thoroughly enmeshed in the poetic, artistic, and musical scene of 1950s New York. He was able to multitask - in his early job as receptionist at an art museum, he would be reading Andre Breton and writing a poem at the same time, and presumably answering an enquiry now and then. My favourite anecdote is that on encountering a demonstration typewriter in a store he'd try it out - and leave a poem on it.

His life has become legend. And then there's his tombstone:

No comments: