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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Number 132: Frank O'Hara "Poem (Lana Turner has Collapsed)"

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
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

--Frank O'Hara

Hap Notes: Three things about this poem that make it extraordinary. (Well, there may be more than three but I'll mention three.)

First, the conversational tone of O'Hara talking to someone else contrasts brilliantly with how we also think he is talking to us- he wrote us the poem, didn't he? Think of this tone as someone talking on the phone and yet, looking at you, including you in their remarks to the person on the other end of the line. It's very intimate, isn't it?

Second, O'Hara wants you to laugh at this poem. Lana Turner has collapsed! Oh, no! Whatever shall we do? Get up. Lana! He's trivializing both our obsession with pop icons and our own troubles, whatever they might be. Getting through the rain and snow in New York and it's so dramatic and just calm down, for heaven's sake-- you think you got trouble? Lana Turner has collapsed! Your trouble is as serious or silly as a tabloid headline.

Third, this is one of O'Hara's famous "Lunch Poems" (poems he wrote during his hour lunchtime in New York) even though it was actually not written at lunch. O'Hara said he wrote it on the ferry on his way to a poetry reading. The reading included Robert Lowell. O'Hara got up and read the poem at the reading, telling the audience that he'd written the poem on the way there. Lowell, when his turn came up, apologized (ironically) that he had not written any poem on the way there. (As we know, Lowell labored over his words.) We can see this without commenting can't we?

O'Hara developed (along with LeRoi Jones, later known as Amiri Baraka) a somewhat tongue-in-cheek "movement" called Personism. You can read his short, bright "manifesto" here:

Sometimes, when things go a bit sideways for me I remember LANA TURNER HAS COLLAPSED! Seems to make me feel a bit better to put it in perspective. Everybody is running through the rain and snow somewhere- everybody sees the the contrasting tabloid lives (especially on cable, now) and we all make the choice of how to respond. I favor the laugh. I think O'Hara does, too.

I suppose I should mention for younger readers that Lana Turner was a huge Hollywood star who appeared in dozens of great movies like The Postman Always Rings Twice, Imitation of Life, Madame X, Peyton Place and my personal favorite, The Bad and the Beautiful. She was "found" at Schwab's, a Hollywood drug store/ soda fountain when she was 16 years old. (She looked good in a sweater and it gave rise (no pun intended) to the term "sweater girl" which you can look up if you want to later.) Notorious also because her daughter stabbed and killed her gangster-type lover in the the late 50s. Here's a quick run-down on Turner for the uninitiated:

Here's an audio of O'Hara reading the poem aloud:

You can find more O'Hara here:

Here is where we have already talked about O'Hara:

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