Listen: haven’t you always been alone, and haven’t you always been okay with that? Because it is what it is: people are together alone, or are they alone together?

But listen: poetry offers you a space to be, and a space to be here, and maybe right now that’s what matters.

Listen: these poems are where everything started — the creation of your languaged self! And how astonishing. How right. How true.

Autobiographia Literaria
Frank O’Hara

When I was a child
I played by myself in a
corner of the schoolyard
all alone.

I hated dolls and I
hated games, animals were
not friendly and birds
flew away.

If anyone was looking
for me I hid behind a
tree and cried out “I am
an orphan.”

And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!

This is from The Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara, edited by Donald Allen, published by Vintage Books, 1974.

Honest question, says K., while we’re having late lunch. And I need an honest answer, she continues. Why do you stay? I stared at my Cuban sandwich, knowing that it was more than just a query about my current state, more than just about my work and my client. I can’t remember what I said now, to be honest. There might be some truth there, but I know for a fact that I haven’t figured it all out yet. How long do we figure things out, do you think?

But I am here now. I got on a plane and landed somewhere else, an hour and a half later. Hoping I’ll meet the pieces of myself that I left here last year. Or perhaps hoping that those pieces will meet me and discover what changed and not changed.

Material, material, material, I tell her, snapping my fingers. We were talking about something else, although it could still be the same thread of conversation. It always arrives on the same path anyway—the world, life, poetry.

Frank O’Hara

Oh! kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas!
You really are beautiful! Pearls,
harmonicas, jujubes, aspirins! all
the stuff they’ve always talked about
still makes a poem a surprise!
These things are with us every day
even on beachheads and biers. They
do have meaning. They’re strong as rocks.

This is from The Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara, edited by Donald Allen, published by Vintage Books, 1974.

The other day, M. told me: Breathe. Nothing about you is wrong.

I’m still thinking about that.

Frank O’Hara

They say I mope too much
but really I’m loudly dancing.
I eat paper. It’s good for my bones.
I play the piano pedal. I dance,
I am never quiet, I mean silent.
Some day I’ll love Frank O’Hara.
I think I’ll be alone for a little while.

More than a year ago during class, my dear friend S. said, “When I read this poem, I have this wonderful, relaxed feeling of just walking around with O’Hara, happy to be aimless, happy to put a poem in my pocket, as he does with Reverdy.”

I said, Whenever I read O’Hara, I feel like I’m in his pocket, and he’s carrying me around with him during lunch time. I always like to imagine myself sitting in the dark, swaying as Frank moves gently through the crowd. And I am probably in the company of loose change, a handkerchief perhaps, or some cigarettes. I am unraveling a piece of paper maybe, or flipping open a book, and it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy, and I am whispering lines to myself, and Frank is writing his poems in his head.

A lot of poems out there tie the heart with romantic things, or people. I like how with Frank it is a book, it is poems, it is words (it is why he is a poet, and not a painter!). Ginsberg said Frank helped him see New York, and for me as a reader, Frank helped me realise, made me think, about what is important to people, individuals. That everything is relative. That for Frank it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy, and for my neighbour it is probably sweeping the canal in front of her house every morning, and for my father it is perhaps polishing the silverware every other weekend for a whole afternoon.

I’ve been thinking about where my heart is. How it keeps me anchored, even as I open myself to everything around me.

I’ve been thinking about pockets. How intimate it is, to place your heart in your pocket—as opposed to wearing your heart on your sleeve, which to me means being exposed and vulnerable. It’s like an inside joke, a secret. I am thinking of what we put in pockets—essentials and things we forget, both. I am thinking of the phrase, emptying out your pockets, and how it seems full of meaning now.

I’ve been thinking about the way the line breaks between my and pocket. The drop from one word to the next almost seems like a gesture, like a hand falling down to the pocket, as if feeling for it, as if to remind himself of what’s there.

Today it’s Christmas Eve. It is two in the morning. I’ve woken up suddenly around midnight, feeling like I have forgotten to do something, and now I’m sat here on my desk writing. Maybe I’ll take a walk. Or go back to bed. Read a book. Dream. Gather my life closely to my chest. Marvel at the passing days.

A Step Away From Them
Frank O’Hara

It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk
where laborers feed their dirty
glistening torsos sandwiches
and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets
on. They protect them from falling
bricks, I guess. Then onto the
avenue where skirts are flipping
above heels and blow up over
grates. The sun is hot, but the
cabs stir up the air. I look
at bargains in wristwatches. There
are cats playing in sawdust.
to Times Square, where the sign
blows smoke over my head, and higher
the waterfall pours lightly. A
Negro stands in a doorway with a
toothpick, languorously agitating.
A blonde chorus girl clicks: he
smiles and rubs his chin. Everything
suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of
a Thursday.
                 Neon in daylight is a
great pleasure, as Edwin Denby would
write, as are light bulbs in daylight.
I stop for a cheeseburger at JULIET’S
CORNER. Giulietta Masina, wife of
Federico Fellini, è bell’ attrice.
And chocolate malted. A lady in
foxes on such a day puts her poodle
in a cab.
             There are several Puerto
Ricans on the avenue today, which
makes it beautiful and warm. First
Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollock. But is the
earth as full as life was full, of them?
And one has eaten and one walks,
past the magazines with nudes
and the posters for BULLFIGHT and
the Manhattan Storage Warehouse,
which they’ll soon tear down. I
used to think they had the Armory
Show there.
                  A glass of papaya juice
and back to work. My heart is in my
pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.

This is from Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara, published by City Lights Books, 1964.

Ah, but it is the new year now, where I am. And we are alive. I am here. You’re here. I have wishes. I believe in second chances. Kissing. I am hugging a wine bottle. I may be a little drunk. Life’s good. I am a mess, but I will be stronger. You, reader, are amazing.

Frank O’Hara

How funny you are today New York
like Ginger Rogers in Swingtime
and St. Bridget’s steeple leaning a little to the left

here I have just jumped out of a bed full of V-days
(I got tired of D-days) and blue you there still
accepts me foolish and free
all I want is a room up there
and you in it
and even the traffic halt so thick is a way
for people to rub up against each other
and when their surgical appliances lock
they stay together
for the rest of the day (what a day)
I go by to check a slide and I say
that painting’s not so blue

where’s Lana Turner
she’s out eating
and Garbo’s backstage at the Met
everyone’s taking their coat off
so they can show a rib-cage to the rib-watchers
and the park’s full of dancers with their tights and shoes
in little bags
who are often mistaken for worker-outers at the West Side Y
why not
the Pittsburgh Pirates shout because they won
and in a sense we’re all winning
we’re alive

the apartment was vacated by a gay couple
who moved to the country for fun
they moved a day too soon
even the stabbings are helping the population explosion
though in the wrong country
and all those liars have left the UN
the Seagram Building’s no longer rivalled in interest
not that we need liquor (we just like it)

and the little box is out on the sidewalk
next to the delicatessen
so the old man can sit on it and drink beer
and get knocked off it by his wife later in the day
while the sun is still shining

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

This is from Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara, published by City Lights Books, 1964.

A lot of people have been coming here lately to read Frank O’Hara’s Having A Coke With You. I’ll be honest: it surprised me, as I was perfectly content to be here in my corner and keep quiet. I’ve been posting his work for years and it’s always just the two of us. I can’t deny that it unsettled me a little bit, enough to think I should pack up and move elsewhere (I try to keep everything intensely small), but I also like how there’s a surge of interest in a poet I have loved all these years. It wasn’t until a few comments later when I realized that the said poem had been read in a movie recently (well, a few months ago I think; yes, I’m always late to the party, apparently).

So, answers to your questions: No, I haven’t seen it. No, I don’t think I will see it. No, poetry is not dead! I’m sorry, but I think the people who assume and say that are the people who don’t read it, are not actively seeking it, or just don’t understand how poetry works, and its role in our lives. No, I’m not particularly satisfied at O’Hara’s poem’s ‘mainstream appearance’ (your words, not mine), but from what I’ve read of him, he will probably be a bit amused at the attention (I could be wrong though; but in my head we are friends). Yes, he is one of my favourite poets. Yes, I am glad that the movie has made you discover him, and that it brought you here. No, I don’t enjoy the spike in traffic, but now that you’re here, I want to interest you into reading some more poetry.

If you ask me, one should see (instead) Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête – it is a masterpiece and has inspired one of my favourite composers, Philip Glass to write an opera. (Hey, it inspired Stevie Nicks, too.) Also, I loved the old Beauty and the Beast TV series, starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman; the theme song, The First Time I Loved Forever, includes spoken verses from e.e. cummings’ somewhere i have never travelled. Listen to that here.

I’ve been meaning to write about this for quite awhile, but have no motivation to do so until someone finally declared abomination, which made me laugh. I hope the interest doesn’t stop there, with just one poem, and I hope you discover that Frank O’Hara has a lot more beautiful work than the one you heard in the movie theater. Here, let me show you something very dear to me:

For Grace, After A Party
Frank O’Hara

You do not always know what I am feeling.
Last night in the warm spring air while I was
blazing my tirade against someone who doesn’t
me, it was love for you that set me

and isn’t it odd? for in rooms full of
strangers my most tender feelings
writhe and
bear the fruit of screaming. Put out your hand,
isn’t there
an ashtray, suddenly, there? beside
the bed? And someone you love enters the room
and says wouldn’t
you like the eggs a little

different today?
And when they arrive they are
just plain scrambled eggs and the warm weather
is holding.

This is from The Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara, edited by Donald Allen, published by Vintage Books, 1974.

I have also dug up a few more from the archives, so here you go.

Home, finally. Taking a deep breath. Settling in my bed. Good night.

My Heart
Frank O’Hara

I’m not going to cry all the time
nor shall I laugh all the time,
I don’t prefer one “strain” to another.
I’d have the immediacy of a bad movie,
not just a sleeper, but also the big,
overproduced first-run kind. I want to be
at least as alive as the vulgar. And if
some aficionado of my mess says “That’s
not like Frank!”, all to the good! I
don’t wear brown and grey suits all the time,
do I? No. I wear workshirts to the opera,
often. I want my feet to be bare,
I want my face to be shaven, and my heart—
you can’t plan on the heart, but
the better part of it, my poetry, is open.

This is from The Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara, edited by Donald Allen, published by Vintage Books, 1974.