Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Frank O'Hara & Lady Day

Frank O'Hara could be called the Anti-Beat. Though he lived and worked alongside many of the Beat Poets and counted some among his friends, his personal and poetic elegance and carefully crafted poems set him apart. This elegy for Billie Holiday is among my favorites:

The Day Lady Died

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille Day, yes
it is 1959, and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in East Hampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don't know the people who will feed me
I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn't even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan's new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don't, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness
and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega, and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatere and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it
and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Robert said...

Ah, I know this one. Talk about an amazing angle on the elegy. Rapid fire mundane-ness followed not by an outpouring of emotion or shock - but all the white space around such pathos. A brilliant punch pulled.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

An astute commentary, Robert. It's the offhandedness of O'Hara that I really love.

1:23 PM  

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