All-star reading of seminal City Lights pocket volume at McRoskey Mattress Factory, Fri/6.

50 years of Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems

 

By Marke B. 

FEBRUARY 3, 2015 — More than a half century ago, that grand literary lion Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Books started badgering a slight, impish gay man with a pugilist’s nose named Frank O’Hara to produce a volume of poems for his publishing house.

Five years later, in 1964, O’Hara (whose literary star had risen with the New York School) delivered Lunch Poems. The 37 breeze yet profoundly affecting poems within, many supposedly written off-the-cuff on a window display typewriter during O’Hara’s lunch breaks from curating at the Museum of Modern Art, were as discursive as any Beat poetry, but reveled in all the ironic humor, intellectual playfulness, and pop culture ecstasy that earlier trend mostly shunned.

Now, after publishing a hardcover 50th anniversary reissue of this beloved little volume last year, City Lights and the SFSU Poetry Center are giving it the celebration it deserves, with an all-star congregation of local poets reading all the poems at McRoskey Mattress Factory, Friday February 6.

The poems in Lunch Poems primarily come off as exquisite little time capsules of a very specific time in American history, not seen from some aloof, philosophical point of view, but from actual street level. Most of them capture perfect moments of ephemera that may have seemed inconsequential when they were published, but that passing time and O’Hara’s sharp wit have polished to a glow of breathless permanence. Here’s “Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed!]”:

————

Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
LANA TURNER HAS COLLAPSED!
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up

————

Or here’s an absolute personal favorite, “Poem [Kruschev is coming on the right day!]

————-

Krushchev is coming on the right day!
                                                                      the cool graced light
is pushed off the enormous glass piers by hard wind
and everything is tossing, hurrying on up
                                                                             this country
has everything but politesse, a Puerto Rican cab driver says
and five different girls I see
                                                   look like Piedie Gimbel
with her blonde hair tossing too,
                                                           as she looked when I pushed
her little daughter on the swing on the lawn it was also windy

last night we went to a movie and came out,
                                                                                Ionesco is greater
than Beckett, Vincent said, that’s what I think, blueberry blintzes
and Khrushcev was probably being carped at
                                                                         in Washington, no
                                                                                                        politesse
Vincent tells me about his mother’s trip to Sweden
                                                                                                Hans tells us
about his father’s life in Sweden, it sounds like Grace Hartigan’s
painting Sweden
                              so I go home to bed and names drift through my
                                                                                                                  head
Purgatorio Merchado, Gerhard Schwartz and Gaspar Gonzales,
               all unknown figures of the early morning as I go to work

where does the evil of the year go
                                                            when September takes New York
and turns it into ozone stalagmites
                                                             deposits of light
                                                             so I get back up
make coffee, and read François Villon, his life, so dark
         New York seems blinding and my tie is blowing up the street
I wish it would blow off
                                        though it is cold and somewhat warms
                                                                                                     my neck
as the train bears Krushchev on to Pennsylvania Station
         and the light seems to be eternal
         and joy seems to be inexorable
         I am foolish enough always to find it in 

————–

So it’s going to be really cool. Check out this massive lineup and let’s get Lunched. (Frank’s sister Maureen will also be on hand for a special dedication.)

• Kathleen Fraser, “Music”
• Crystal Sasaki & Alana Siegel, “Alma”
• Kit Robinson, “On Rachmaninoff’s Birthday”
• Clark Coolidge, “Poem (I watched an armory combing its bronze bricks)”
• Laura Moriarty, “On the Way to the San Remo”
• Paul Hoover, “2 Poems from the Ohara Monogatari”
• Hilton Obenzinger, “A Step Away from Them”
• Colter Jacobsen, “Cambridge”
• Elaine Katzenberger, “Poem (Instant coffee with slightly sour cream)”
• Elaine Kahn, “Three Airs”
• Garrett Caples, “Image of the Buddha Preaching”
• Alan Bernheimer, “Song (Is it dirty)”
• David Meltzer, “The Day Lady Died”
• Patrick Marks, “Poem (Wouldn’t it be funny)”
• Brent Cunningham, “Poem (Krushchev is coming on the right day!)”
• Mac McGinnes, “Naptha”
• George Albon, “Personal Poem”
• Norma Cole, “Adieu to Norman, Bon Jour to Joan and Jean-Paul”
• Bill Berkson, “Rhapsody”
• Donald Guravich, “Hôtel Particulier”
• Alli Warren, “Cornkind”
• Beverly Dahlen, “How to Get There”
• Ted Rees, “A Little Travel Diary”
• Joanne Kyger, “Five Poems”
• Michael Palmer, “Ave Maria”
• Jim Nisbet, “Pistachio Tree at Château Noir”
• Evan Kennedy, “At Kamin’s Dance Bookshop”
• C.S. Giscombe, “Steps”
• Cedar Sigo, “Mary Desti’s Ass”
• Dodie Bellamy, “St. Paul and All That”
• Duncan McNaughton, “Memoir of Sergei O….”
• Matt Gonzalez, “Yesterday Down at the Canal”
• Brandon Brown, “Poem en Forme de Saw”
• Micah Ballard, Sunnylyn Thibodeaux, Jason Morris, “For the Chinese New Year & for Bill Berkson”
• Michael McClure, “Poem (Lana Turner has collapsed!)”
• Ronaldo Wilson, “Galanta”
• Tinker Greene, “Fantasy”

Frank O’Hara’s LUNCH POEMS 50th Anniversary All-Star Reading
Fri/6, 7pm-10pm, $5-$10
McRoskey Mattress Factory
1687 Market, SF.
More info here