The Anatomy of Pleasure
What a delight to see on Poetry Daily yesterday that Knopf has put out a Selected Frank O’Hara, edited by Mark Ford. I have about eight copies of Lunch Poems, and a Meditations in an Emergency, and a Poems Retrieved, and two copies of the Collected, but it is certainly time for a new Selected, and Ford seems like a great person to have edited it. The Collected is often too much, and reading a new Selected O’Hara should be like seeing a museum show of your favorite artist, hung in an all new way by a passionate curator.
O’Hara reminds me every time I read him how dull taxonomies and endless discussions of poetry camps really are. Nothing against criticism, intellectuality, theory, scholarship, etcetera. I’m all for those things. I’m also for remembering that art’s a primary experience—you and the poem and pleasure.
I haven’t seen the Selected yet, but naturally, Ford has included “Why I Am Not a Painter.” The poem always amazes me—a poem about abstraction in painting and the abstract art of signs that poetry is—and the poem is so full of orange-ness, and sardines. It’s a poem I feel I understand everything and nothing about each time I read it—which is, to me, the sign of a great poem. I hate greatest lists; you have to pretend you actually think there’s an objective standard for greatness, that some uber-poem exists out there that all poems are aspiring to be, when of course there are only poets trying to get words to stick together or fall apart in exciting ways. Still, O’Hara must be in the top 200 of every thinking person’s 10 greatest poets of the 20th Century list. Certainly he’s one of my 50 top 5 greatest poets.
“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 how glorious, of course.
What I mean is, if you can’t appreciate Frank O’Hara—if he doesn’t bring you great pure reading and living pleasure—honestly, what’s wrong with you?
Daisy Fried is the author of Women's Poetry: Poems and Advice (2013), My Brother is Getting Arrested Again (2006) and She Didn’t Mean to Do It (2000), all from University of Pittsburgh Press. She was awarded the Editors' Prize for Feature Article from Poetry magazine in 2009.