Frank O'Hara, Valentine

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Frank O'Hara




Frank O'Hara, Valentine by Matthew Zapruder

February 14th, 2013 reset - +

FRANK O'HARA’s “Having a Coke With You” always seems to me like a good poem to read at a wedding, until I read it again. After which I love it even more, and realize once again how unsuitable it actually is for such an occasion. The poem is about the distance one lover feels toward another in the first, uncertain times of a relationship. Its lines are full of hope and intense attraction to the lover, and the world the lover moves through, and also the things we know, but don’t yet want to know we know, about how we are really feeling with this new person. This state of new love fills the poet with an energy that allows him in turn to fill the lines with what can be called mundane nobility:

            it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still

            as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it

            in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth 

            between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles.

Whenever I read those lines I think it was entirely in the hope of having such moments that I moved to New York and had experiences. But the seeds of the anxiety are there, as they are in the whole poem. They reside in the difficulty of phrases like “it is hard to believe” and “unpleasantly definitive.” The fact that “thank heavens” this person has not gone to the Frick yet is just like that experience of listening to your friend explain how great it is that a new boy/girlfriend doesn’t share your interests or talk much because it helps you “recognize the way I’ve been taking for granted my own enthusiasms.” You smile and nod and think two months max if the sex is pretty good.

In this video (below) of him reading the poem I love the way he looks up when he reads the “spectacles” line. He knows how good it is, it’s not even arrogant, it’s the completely objective recognition of the presence of poetry. He just happened to write it. But the reason why this wonderful, beautiful poem is not a good one to read at weddings is right there in the last line.

and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them

when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank

or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully as the horse
 

it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience

which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it

Great relationships and marriages are not made out of people telling each other things, in a kind of strenuous overdetermined attempt to connect and find commonality. True love begins and continues with a lifetime of a different kind of telling and listening. I feel so sorry for O’Hara here, in his loneliness, and even sorrier that he died only a year older than I am now in a stupid tragic accident. He was one of the greatest poets who lived in our time, so let us read his poem on Valentine’s Day and remember him.

— Matthew Zapruder

 

 

Frank O'Hara, "Having a Coke with You"

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne

or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona

partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian

partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt

partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches

partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary

it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still

as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it

in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth

between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

 

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint

you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them

 

I look

at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world

except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick

which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time

and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism

just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or

at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me

and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them

when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank

or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully

as the horse

 

it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience

which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it

[more Valentine's Day poems]

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