Frank O’Hara for Charles
So it is 10.03 (this is when I still had my watch on)
and Charles and I are on our way through the rain
to Bill’s Frank O’Hara lecture and Charles says
but anyone could write a Frank O’Hara poem, why
bother? And he sits through the lecture
in his black leather jacket, his trainers
up on the metal ring bit of his chair,
his arms folded against his linen shirt,
and when I accidentally yell ‘goody’ when Bill
says he’ll play Frank O’Hara’s recording
of ‘Song’ he says ‘try and be a bit
more academic, Anna.’ Then Frank O’Hara
in a sweet and Ginsberg-like voice is repeating
his refrain, ‘you don’t refuse to breath
do you,’ and I am thinking, if anyone
can write a Frank O’Hara poem, isn’t that
a good thing? Doesn’t that make us all
potentially good people? As if Ginsberg
had got it right and ‘we’re all golden
sunflowers inside,’ as I try and tell Charles
who tells me to pipe down and listen
to the lecture, and I have to admit that later, in our
tutorial class, after listening to Ginsberg
giving a most elegaic and O’Hara-like rendition
of ‘America’ on the computer with Windows
Media Player, when we start looking at Plath,
she does seem to keep her inner sunflower
pretty much hidden although I try
and make a case for reading the poems
as a literary exercise and the suicide
as an accident and Frank O’Hara poetry
as what she could have been writing
if she weren’t so determined
to think up something new and different
to do to interest the critics. I still think
she could have. Anyone could! So let’s!
Who knows what it might save us from?
After all, anyone can talk,
and you don’t refuse to talk, do you?
- Anna Jackson, from Thicket, Auckland University Press, 2011.
“Song”, Frank O’Hara (audio and text)
“America,” Allen Ginsberg: audio, text
“Sunflower Sutra”, Allen Ginsberg (text)
Sylvia Plath @ Wikipedia; Tulips; a totally illegal collection of most of her work (you already know “Mad Girl’s Love Song”).
I had a different poem planned for today but it went out of the window when I read this for the first time; it gave me such a giggle. It’s a bit of a mean pick in a book which isn’t out yet and so can’t speak for itself, because it’s a little out of synch with the rest of the poems in the book – serious, or clever, or funny, or thoughtful – not that this poem isn’t those but, well, it’s a bit of fun, isn’t it? Other poems in the book are witty, but, as both the cover and title of Thicket suggest, they mostly have a little more darkness, either literal or metaphorical.
“Frank O’Hara for Charles,” though, I loved because it is screamingly spirited and has that perfect ability to sketch people out quite exactly in a few words that is one of my favourite things in poetry. I sometimes get the feeling that everyday people are one of the least appreciated topics in poems, which are after all supposed to be about the big things, serious weighty matters, or at least things that are somehow out of the quotidian: seriously miserable people, dramatic people, hypnotically compelling people. Ordinary people are just, well, you know. But a favourite thing of mine is the sketch, the clever wordplay that describes precisely the quotidian which somehow elevates it (Jenny Bornholdt’s “Being a Poet” springs to mind (and also my fave, “Women and Men”); so do William Carlos Williams’ “This is just to say” and Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro”, all of course extremely different poems [and very famous, because it's late and I'm too lazy to go poking through books for examples that won't be immediately accessible anyway]).
So can’t you just hear Charles saying “‘try and be a bit / more academic, Anna’”? And the fantastic meandering flow of the poem from Bill Manhire to Frank O’Hara to Allen Ginsberg (not himself a notable inner sunflower type, tbqh) to Sylvia Plath. Oh, it’s just a lot of fun.
The rest of Thicket, which comes out in July (a friend of mine worked on the book and therefore got a readers’ copy, which I borrowed like a sneaky sneak and unfortunately have to return tomorrow), is really really good. I liked several good fairytale retellings (“Red Riding Hood’s mother”, “Red Riding Hood”, “Hansel in the house” which has a killer last couplet, and “My brother, twelve swans”) and “Giving up” . I loved “It’s just glass”: “but if it’s really all up / for grabs I’m believing / in the Greek gods. Narrative / gods I’m looking for, / who’ll take an interest”. The book is packed with jokes and references, including a number of neat poems which bring out threads from the Aeneid, but it’s not inaccessible and it’s not snobbery. The careful lively images are a real delight.
I plan to run out and buy Thicket the second I can. You can too, or you can preorder it from AUP ($25), who describe Thicket thusly:
In Anna Jackson’s fifth collection of poetry, a rich and leafy life is closing in on the poet. ‘These are our thicket days’, she writes, ‘and it does seem darker, / though the sun is at its peak / over the crown of leaves.’ But a thicket is also something to walk out of, and Jackson offers us fairytale bread-crumb tracks to follow, through poems that consider badminton at dusk, Virgil at bedtime, theory over wine; shimmering, multi-faceted poems of swans and puppets, sons and brothers, a woman who has become a tree. Thicket is an accomplished book from a poet of unease, who constantly turns her attention to the brambled path, the track-less-followed, the subterranean presences in everyday life.
And that did a much better job than I could, so I’ll leave it at that. Even though it isn’t technically Tuesday any longer. Well, somewhere it is.