Samples About Frank O’Hara

From http://nieveroja.colostate.edu/issue4/ohara.htm

O’Hara’s attempt to dismantle dominant ideologies about life and dominant assumptions about art, is, in a sense, a deconstructive mode. In other words, by working within the realm of the ordinary, with the language that we all think, act, construct and communicate with, but somehow outside of convention (by virtue of its slang and colloquialism and therefore critical of it), O’Hara finds and reveals the extraordinary. He is eccentric, yet entirely common; he is outside of ‘approved’ language, yet completely immersed in the language of everyday life. This is not to suggest that deconstruction is some kind of methodology, which is used by O’Hara, but rather that he actively engages in an investigation of language, culture and reality that parallels (and possibly precedes and foreshadows) Foucauldian-analysis and Derridean-deconstruction. In a sense, O’Hara seems to wear a similar “lens” that correlates to ideas similarly put forth in contemporary literary criticism that undermines and subverts metaphor, meaning, and originary/natural conceptions of reality. For example, in another poem, titled Poem, he writes the following:

All the mirrors in the world
don’t help, nor am I movedby the calm emergence of my
image in the rain, it is not

I who appears or imagines. See,
if you can, if you can make

the unpleasant trip, the
house where shadows of my own

childhood are watered and forced
like overgrown blugeons, you

must look, for I cannot. I
cannot face that fearful usage (Poems 39)

Like no other poet, he makes the seemingly mundane, day to day, conversations, images, behavior, and activities something that are worth not only art, but something to keep us living, day in and day out. In a statement for The New American Poetry, O’Hara writes, “I am mainly preoccupied with the world as I experience it, and at times when I would rather be dead the thought that I could never write another poem has so far stopped me. I think this is an ignoble attitude. I would rather die for love, but I haven’t.” (Poems 500) In the simplicity of daily things, actions and interactions, O’Hara finds beauty, solace, despair, truth, anguish, and love, but, again, in a form which remains ‘consistently inconsistent’ (sic Aristotle). “Lunch is as important as love,” to O’Hara, suggests Ashbery.  Kenneth Koch has similar sentiments when he writes the following about O’Hara, “You get the feeling, reading Frank O’Hara, that anything and everything you think or see or feel can be put in a poem and it will work out right. He seems to write from the middle of all these things, before they have been divided into subjects and ideas, while they are still a part of ordinary unsorted-out days.”

O’Hara’s poems sound so much like conversation that you cannot help but be engaged. What is also interesting, in Koch’s assessment, is the idea of writing “in the middle” of things. O’Hara is interested, in a Derridean sense, in that which exists between the meaning of words and the word itself, between word and word, and finally between sign and signified. His poetry is a provocation for this reason; his words are like the everyday rambling mind, i.e. existing without cognition of the differences that create the words as they are being spoken/written, but are produced nonetheless, and with a consistent voice that seems to belong in every moment, space and gesture it occupies. O’Hara’s poems are controlled distraction or conscious digression. O’Hara’s trick, in a Derridean sense, problemitizes representation and the entire issue of the origins of meaning, and, in fact, any concept of the originary. O’Hara does not reject the Romantic sensibility of Coleridge and others, but rather, works within it and thereby subverts it. Charles Jencks defines postmodernism in a way that reflects almost precisely this strategy that is so prevalent in O’Hara’s work: “Post-Modernism . . . (is, in part) double coding – the combination of modern techniques with something else” (Jencks 29). Jencks stresses how this connects to Derrida’s notion of differance and the intense commitment to pluralism, which again is clearly evidenced in O’Hara’s work.

Screen Shot from Micha Mattix's book: Frank O'Hara and the Poetics of Saying 'I'

Screen Shot from Micha Mattix’s book: Frank O’Hara and the Poetics of Saying ‘I’

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