2012 Book #17: Lunch Poems

2012 Book #17: Lunch Poems

Yeah, it’s a book of poetry. And it counts.

I picked up a copy of Frank O’Hara‘s Lunch Poems in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts after walking through an Alex Katz exhibition. Alex Katz, by the way, is very cool.

Anyway, I forget what the relation is, but there is one.

So I picked up Lunch Poems because I’d already spent at least five hours in the museum, and it seemed like a nice idea, exhausted as I was, to sit outside and read some poetry. I’d heard of Frank O’Hara, of course, but I don’t think I’d read any of his poetry. I read through the slim book once, then did some research (airplane wifi is the best thing ever) and read it again. I liked it better the second time.

Frank O’Hara wrote mainly in the 1950s and ’60s (he died in his forties in an accident involving a dune buggy). He was in what was called the New York School with poets like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Kenneth Koch. Ferlinghetti’s publishing house is responsible for Lunch Poems.

O’Hara’s poetry isn’t very personal – it’s a more objective view of what he saw in New York, chronicling the people he knew and the places he went. I don’t get most of the references, but if you’re interested, you can find a list on the internet. Most of the poems are short, some written in a lunch hour. I’ll share a couple of my favorites:

From “Steps”:
oh god it’s wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much

“Memoir of Sergei O”
My feet have never been comfortable
since I pulled them out of the Black Sea
and came to your foul country
what fatal day did I dry them off for
travel loathsome travel to a world
even older than the one I grew up in
what fatal day meanwhile back in France
they were stumbling towards the Bastille
and the Princess de Lamballe was
shuddering as shudderingly as I
with a lot less to lose I still hated
to move sedentary as a roach of Tiflis
never again to go swimming in the nude
publicly little did I know how
awfulness could reach such perfection abroad
I even thought I would see a Red Indian
all I saw was lipstick everything
covered with grass or shrouds pretty
shrouds shot with silver and plasma
even the chairs are upholstered to a
smothering perfection of inanity
and there are no chandeliers and there
are no gates to the parks so you don’t
know wheter you’re going in them or
coming out of them that’s not relaxing
and so you can’t really walk all you can
do is sit and drink coffee and brood
over the lost leaves and refreshing scum
of Georgia Georgia of my heritage
and dismay meanwhile back in my old
country they are renaming everything so
I can’t even tell any more which ballet
company I am remembering with so much
pain and the same thing has started
here American Avenue Park Avenue South
Avenue of Chester Conklin Binnie Barnes
Boulevard Avenue of Toby Wing Barbara
Nichols Street where am I what is it
I can’t even find a pond small enough
to drown in without being ostentatious
you are ruining your awful country and me
it is not new to do this it is terribly
democratic and ordinary and tired

The more I read Frank O’Hara, the more I like him. Not as much as Ferlinghetti, whose A Coney Island of the Mind just might be my favorite collection of poetry ever. But it’s really accessible, and if you’re intimidated by poetry, O’Hara’s a good one to read.

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Indices, etc, coming soon!