Episode 2 – Frank O’Hara

In this episode Drake and Pedro discuss Frank O’Hara, who says Meditations in an Emergency: “I am the least difficult of men. All I want is boundless love.”

Frank O’Hara was an American writer, born on 27 March, 1926 in Baltimore, Maryland. Though he is widely recognized as a prolific (thanks in part to Donald Allen’s collection of Frank O’Hara’s poems) and influential poet, he also had an active life in the arts as a curator in New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and a writer of the New York School. He befriended many important artists, including painters such as Pollock and De Kooning (both Willem and Elaine) and musicians such as Feldman. With all the activity happening in New York, it was a wonderful time to be an artist.

After the TV show Mad Men featured some of Frank O’Hara’s poetry, sales of O’Hara’s book Meditations in an Emergency grew and O’Hara began to gain somewhat of a cult following on the Internet. We came to know him after stumbling across his reading of Having a Coke With You, which is available to watch on YouTube.

A good way to summarize Frank O’Hara’s take on poetry is to quote part of a statement he made for The New American Poetry:

It may be that poetry makes life’s nebulous events tangible to me and restores their detail; or conversely that poetry brings forth the intangible quality of incidents which are all too concrete and circumstantial. Or each on specific occasions, or both all the time.

Here are a few of his poems:

From The sad thing about life

The sad thing about life is
that I need money to write poetry
and If I am a good poet
nobody will care how I got it
and If I am a bad poet
nobody will know how I got it

From 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.

From My Heart:

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 gray 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.

Here are some good resources about Frank O’Hara:

http://www.frankohara.org/
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/articles/detail/90078
https://newyorkschoolpoets.wordpress.com/?s=Frank+O%27Hara. This blog is excellent and has great resources not only about O’Hara and the New York School of poets, but also on the Beats Poets and the New York School of arts. We can’t recommend it enough.

 

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Episode 1 – Fernando Pessoa

In this episode Drake and Pedro discuss Fernando Pessoa.

Fernando Pessoa was a Portuguese writer, born on 13 June, 1888 in Lisbon, Portugal. Although a prolific poet and writer, little of his writing was published during his lifetime, eventually finding success posthumously with his poems and the most famous of his works, The Book of Disquiet. Having always been interested in literature since childhood, Pessoa wrote in several languages, English, French, and Portuguese. In most of his works Pessoa wrote under a heteronym, a literary concept, differing from pen-names and pseudonyms as he felt they were too reductive, that embodied imagination in the creation of several narrators, each with different backgrounds, motives, lifestyles, languages, etc. Pessoa wrote under his first heteronym at the age of six, and wrote under several heteronyms, throughout his life, as the writings he left is still being studied, there isn’t a exact number of heteronyms, however there are four that are widely read and studied, and were the subject of the podcast episode, Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis and Bernardo Soares, whose writings are in Portuguese.¹

According to the literary critic Harold Bloom in The Western Canon:

Pessoa was neither mad nor a mere ironist; he is a Whitman reborn, but a Whitman who gives separate names to “my self”, “the real me” or “me myself”, and “my soul”, and writes wonderful books of poems for all three of them as well as a separate book under the name of Walt Whitman. The parallels are close enough not to be coincidences, particularly since the invention of the “heteronyms” (Pessoa’s term) followed an immersion in Leaves of Grass. Walt Whitman, one of the roughs, an American, the “myself” of Song of Myself, becomes Álvaro de Campos, a Portuguese Jewish ship’s engineer. The “real me” or “me myself” becomes the “keeper of the sheep”, the pastoral Alberto Caeiro, while the Whitmanian soul transmutes into Ricardo Reis, an Epicurean materialist who writes Horatian odes.

Alberto Caeiro is a simple man, a shepherd, who is in touch with nature and without formal education. According to Octavio Paz, he is “everything that Pessoa is not and more”, and according to Ricardo Reis, “The only entirely sincere poet in the world.”

Ricardo Reis is a physician influenced by the classics, the most heavily educated of Pessoa’s heteronyms, and who became a disciple of Alberto Caeiro. According to Pessoa, “Reis writes better than I, but with a purism I find excessive.”

Álvaro de Campos is a naval engineer. According to Pessoa, he is “the most hysterically hysterical of me”. Campos eventually was influenced by Caeiro, but drifted more to isolation and melancholy. After a decadent phase, he wrote free-verse and writes in a manner  similar to Walt Whitman, and instead of influence by nature, De Campos focuses on the industrial civilisation, machinery, and movement.

Bernardo Soares is a semi-heteronym, according to Pessoa, “who in many ways resembles Álvaro de Campos, always appears when I’m sleepy or drowsy, so that my qualities of inhibition and rational thought are suspended; his prose is an endless reverie. He’s a semi-heteronym because his personality, although not my own, doesn’t differ from my own but is a mere mutilation of it. He’s me without my rationalism and emotions. His prose is the same as mine, except for certain formal restraint that reason imposes on my own writing, and his Portuguese is exactly the same”. He is the author of The Book of Disquiet.

Octavio Paz, a mexican diplomat and writer, brilliantly summarize these four heteronyms.

Caeiro is the sun in whose orbit Reis, Campos and Pessoa himself rotate. In each are particles of negation or unreality. Reis believes in form, Campos in sensation, Pessoa in symbols. Caeiro doesn’t believe in anything. He exists

From the Ode I in The Keeper of Sheep, by Alberto Caeiro (Richard Zenith’s translation):

I have no ambitions nor desires.
To be a poet is not my ambition,
It’s simply my way of being alone.

From the Ode XXIV in The Keeper of Sheep, by Alberto Caeiro (Nuno Hipólito’s translation):

The essential thing is to be able to see,
To know how to see without thought,
To know how to see when we’re seeing,
And not even think about it
Nor see when we think.

From I love what I see because one day, by Ricardo Reis (Richard Zenith’s translation)

I love what I see because one day
I’ll stop seeing it. I also
Love it because it is.
In this calm moment when I feel myself
By loving more than by being,
I love all existence and myself.
No better thing could the primitive gods
Give me, were they to return—
They, who also know nothing.

From Tobacco Shop by Álvaro de Campos (Richard Zenith’s Translation)

I’m nothing.
I’ll always be nothing.
I can’t want to be something.
But I have in me all the dreams of the world.

From the Book of Disquiet (which has 481 entries in Richard Zenith’s organization) by Bernardo Soares

I was born in a time when the majority of young people had lost faith in God, for the same reason their elders had had it — without knowing why. (From 1)
Decadence is the total loss of unconsciousness, which is the very basis of life. Could it think, the heart would stop beating. (From 1)
To know nothing about yourself is to live. To know yourself badly is to think. (From 49)
We worship perfection because we can’t have it; if we had it, we would reject it. Perfection is inhuman, because humanity is imperfect. (From 287)