Meditations in An Emergency: New American Poetry Gems By Frank O’Hara


Meditations in an Emergency is a collection of poetry by Frank O’Hara published in 1957. Together with Lunch Poems (1964) is considered O’Hara’s most original volumes of verse, impromptu lyrics, a jumble of witty talk, journalistic parodies, and surrealist imagery.

Frank O’Hara’s poetry does not have to wait–quietly or otherwise. It is always beautiful and interesting. And, sixty years later, it still seems modern too.

“Am I to become profligate as if I were a blonde? Or religious as if I were French?

          Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous (and how the same names keep recurring on that interminable list!), but one of these days there’ll be nothing left with which to venture forth.

          Why should I share you? Why don’t you get rid of someone else for a change?

          I am the least difficult of men. All I want is boundless love.           Even trees understand me! Good heavens, I lie under them, too, don’t I? I’m just like a pile of leaves.

          However, I have never clogged myself with the praises of pastoral life, nor with nostalgia for an innocent past of perverted acts in pastures. No. One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes—I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life. It is more important to affirm the least sincere; the clouds get enough attention as it is and even they continue to pass. Do they know what they’re missing? Uh huh.

          My eyes are vague blue, like the sky, and change all the time; they are indiscriminate but fleeting, entirely specific and disloyal, so that no one trusts me. I am always looking away. Or again at something after it has given me up. It makes me restless and that makes me unhappy, but I cannot keep them still. If only I had grey, green, black, brown, yellow eyes; I would stay at home and do something. It’s not that I am curious.

On the contrary, I am bored but it’s my duty to be attentive, I am needed by things as the sky must be above the earth. And lately, so great has their anxiety become, I can spare myself little sleep.

          Now there is only one man I love to kiss when he is unshaven. Heterosexuality! you are inexorably approaching. (How discourage her?)

          St. Serapion, I wrap myself in the robes of your whiteness which is like midnight in Dostoevsky. How am I to become a legend, my dear? I’ve tried love, but that hides you in the bosom of another and I am always springing forth from it like the lotus—the ecstasy of always bursting forth! (but one must not be distracted by it!) or like a hyacinth, “to keep the filth of life away,” yes, there, even in the heart, where the filth is pumped in and courses and slanders and pollutes and determines. I will my will, though I may become famous for a mysterious vacancy in that department, that greenhouse.

          Destroy yourself, if you don’t know!

          It is easy to be beautiful; it is difficult to appear so. I admire you, beloved, for the trap you’ve set. It’s like a final chapter no one reads because the plot is over.

          “Fanny Brown is run away—scampered off with a Cornet of Horse; I do love that little Minx, & hope She may be happy, tho’ She has vexed me by this Exploit a little too. —Poor silly Cecchina! or F:B: as we used to call her. —I wish She had a good Whipping and 10,000 pounds.” —Mrs. Thrale.

       I’ve got to get out of here. I choose a piece of shawl and my dirtiest suntans. I’ll be back, I’ll re-emerge, defeated, from the valley; you don’t want me to go where you go, so I go where you don’t want me to. It’s only afternoon, there’s a lot ahead. There won’t be any mail downstairs. Turning, I spit in the lock and the knob turns.”

Frank O’Hara, “Meditations in an Emergency” from Meditations in an Emergency. Copyright © 1957 by Frank O’Hara. Reprinted with the permission of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

Mad Man

O’Hara’s poetry seems to tamper with the sense of time itself.

The AMC’s Mad Men movie series has mentioned, discussed, or alluded to a considerable amount of classic literature. Season 2, Episode 1 “For Those Who Think Young” featured a poem by O’Hara.

The main character Don picks up the book “Meditations in an Emergency” after seeing a man reading it in a bar.

Don Draper’s reading aloud from O’Hara’s poem Mayakovsky during this pivotal scene in Mad Men evokes the period – and his identity crisis – effortlessly, while also speaking to today’s readers:

Mayakovsky
4

Now I am quietly waiting for
the castastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern. 

The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.

It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.

 
catastrophe o hara poem

“Endless Present”

O’Hara is New York. Intelectually charged, ecstatic, manifold, important, tiring, but never tired.

O’Hara’s influence on generations of younger poets has grown over the years, says poet and critic Stephen Burt. “He is turning out to be one of the most widely influential poets of his era – certainly canonical, someone whom poets admire and imitate, and someone whom casual fans, people who don’t read that many recent poets, also read.”

Why is that? “He’s fun!” says Burt. “He chronicled a life that at least looks attractive, and in language as agile as the social scene he depicted. He wrote well about love and friendship and even good sex – and he also wrote well about the loneliness and the weirdness and the frustration underneath even an apparently successful life.”

Sleeping On The Wing

Curiosity, the passionate hand of desire. Dead,
or sleeping? Is there speed enough? And, swooping,
you relinquish all that you have made your own,
the kingdom of your self sailing, for you must awake
and breathe your warmth in this beloved image
whether it’s dead or merely disappearing,
as space is disappearing and your singularity.

Modern poetry is for advanced people. If you’re not advanced, put this slim volume of “fractured”, “delicate”, “touched” poems down. These are not for you. You best stick with your “prose.”

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