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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Number 222: Frank O'Hara "Why I Am Not A Painter"

Why I Am Not a Painter

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
"Sit down and have a drink" he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. "You have SARDINES in it."
"Yes, it needed something there."
"Oh." I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. "Where's SARDINES?"
All that's left is just
letters, "It was too much," Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven't mentioned
orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike's painting, called SARDINES.

-- Frank O'Hara

Hap Notes: Here's O'Hara gently pulling our leg about the "differences" between poetry and art, which, as you can see from the poem are really quite few. Again it's all about language and what it can and cannot do.

If you were blind, O'Hara's poem would be much more "visual" than Goldberg's painting. If you could not read English, then Goldberg could speak to you without words. That, in essence, is about the only difference there is to a casual observer/reader of art and poetry.

O' Hara is describing the processes of art. He wrote the poems he describes in graduate school long before he visited Goldberg- he's making a point about the work. He is constructing this scenario very carefully, despite its casual look and tone. O'Hara is adept at this– making careful construction seem casual. As does Goldberg, in his painting, as O'Hara observes the painter at work.

As we have seen, over the course of the last two days with William Carlos Williams, so much depends on the "little red wheelbarrow" full of impressions, denotations and connotations (both yours and the poet's) of each word in modern poetry. Poets select their words as carefully as an artist selects his/her brush or colors. What occurs after that is a combination of work, happy accident, more work, thought and inspiration. When they merge together for you- so that you get feelings and thoughts from them- well, that's art, er, poetry, er, you get the drift.

The masthead today features the Goldberg painting O'Hara was talking about, on the right.

Here's where we've talked about O'Hara before:

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