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Court Green - 2011

The “dossier” section of every issue saves Court Green from falling in with, and being hopelessly lost among, the more run-of-the-mill fair getting churned out among MFA programs. It’s a pretty classy way to get around having “themes” for issues while actually having different themes for each issue, and offers the editors a good chance at a shot of overall cohesion. Once the “dossier” covered Lorine Niedecker, next year it’s going to be “The Short Poem,” but this year it’s Frank O’Hara.

Frank O’Hara’s poetry pounces in on readers, awash with offhanded aplomb. More than may be good for them, chances are when poets read O’Hara they write a poem in response. His poems are a natural and easy stimulant, yet nonetheless it’s a challenging task. To be as breezy as O’Hara and not be milking about in the worst of ways is difficult; however, it's not impossible, and when done well, brings sheer joy:

When will you see me as I am
as industrious with grief as you are
clever at hiding your tiredness.
In poems we shine,
and though we say them with conviction,
The words are never really ours for keeps.
(“Monologue: Frank O’Hara” by Elaine Equi)

There’s a sleight of hand delicacy that accompanies responding to O’Hara that can’t always come off as fine as… well, as fine as a poem of O’Hara’s:

That first flush of,
What nervy balm to
Carry me through that
Room, that I carried you
In my pocket, Frank
And for the first time
Really saw.
(“Flowers, for Frank” by Larry Sawyer)

Many readers of O’Hara realize such moments. Suddenly taken aback that, yes, the world might really be so looked at, so accepted, so pushed back at in response:

Everywhere there’s hair blowing
(brown mostly)
and the bushes huddle together
animated in conversations about the sea,
what it might be.
(“Arkansas Landscape: Wish You Were Here” by Karl Tierney)

Among many of the trademarks found in an O’Hara poem is the opportunity for the poem to be a site where the poet’s thoughts and actions engage with each other, endlessly mixing together, each reference leading to the next. This often lends itself to a styled chattering on in an offhanded rather breathless manner, making connections about friends or even historical personalities and artists only read about. The art of poetic gossipy digression, call it:

he mistook Leonora for Dora. But while Dora
is long dead, Leonora is, remarkably, alive and still painting
in Mexico City, and Dora loved Lytton-Strachey who was gay
and didn’t love her back (though he was extremely fond of her)
while Leonora loved Max Ernst who loved
her back, at least for a while. Leonora spent time in an
insane asylum, and Dora did not, though she did have an affair
with a woman who called herself Valentine but whose
real name was Gladys and who
later became the lover of Sylvia Townsend Warner.
(“Eminent Victorians” by Elizabeth Robinson)

O’Hara out-drank, out-talked, out-sexed, out-wrote everybody. Myth or not, we love him for it: “Untie your muse / for an hour and stay with me” (“Monologue: Frank O’Hara” by Elaine Equi). Stay with us Frank. We’ll be as honest as honesty allows us to be.

And not that the O’Hara “dossier” takes the space of the whole issue, it’s only about half, but O’Hara’s influence pops up elsewhere too, his influence being arguably everywhere you might look:

He breaks off, goes
into a lengthy mono-
logue, tongueing
the blind hedge
sublime: preposterous
crime sheet folded
prank insist priest
privy wire hide
august merriment.
T-shirts we can sell,
but monomints?!
I ‘on’ think so.
(“The Paper Unicorn” by Vincent Katz)

After O’Hara, New York is his New York. But any city is a Manhattan all to itself, site of rich language at play. The everyday dialogue of people going about their business buzzes with newfound clarity. Poetry’s everywhere, in everything, in surprising circumstances of delight.

It’s to be found again and again in the lure of a favored poet’s voice, so often now recorded and available for listening:

The limbo of promising blacktop.
            Through the darkness
your erudition echoes up the California coast.
The mystery of legendary patterns
            awaken in the feeble homage
of a humble ear hungry for
            the “trued” voice.
To get that slight twist in the word
            “homosexual” (as only you knew to say it)
preserving the thrilling failure of it.
How can it be wrong to outwit
            the devil,
even if drawn down below
            in the act?
(“The Conjuring (on listening to Duncan talk)” by Jennifer Moxley)

The call to poetry is ever present, ever tempting future poets.

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Review Posted on November 14, 2011

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