Frank O'Hara, Poems Retrieved
City Lights Books, May 2013
Scholars and first-time readers will delight in this previously uncollected volume of O’Hara’s poems, many of which, as editor Donald Allen notes, O’Hara had sent “to friends, to composers, to editors, often without bothering to retain a copy.” In part these poems fascinate because we can see O’Hara beginning to define the voice for which he is admired. “Think of all the flowers you’ve ever seen,” he writes in “A Pathetic Note,” “and remember me to your mother, or be kind / to some white-haired blue-eyed old lady / who might remind me of Grandaunt Elizabeth / were I with you.” Elsewhere O’Hara tries out the suddenly serious, breathless stop that ends several of his most-loved poems, and an untitled poem’s valediction that “love dies in the bright praise of its double” is all the more moving for the fact that O’Hara utters it to a street full of children. The familiar details of O’Hara’s poems are all here—the parties, the friends, the painters, the hangovers—but this collection, through its unfinished poems and fragments alike, culminates in a melancholy that deepens our understanding of O’Hara’s body of work. A stanza like “soon my life will be the moon / I will be far from horses and arguments / and the air will obscure tomorrow” leaves a profound mark when followed by a short, unfinished poem whose first line has to provide the title: “[How Wonderful It Is That The Park Avenue Viaduct is Being Rehabilitated].”
This review was originally published in American Poet, Fall-Winter 2013, Volume 45.