Saturday, August 6, 2011

Frank O'Hara on Contemporary American Poetry & the New York School

O'Hara, Frank. Standing Still and Walking in New York. Donald Allen, ed. Bolinas, CA: Grey Fox Press, 1971. Print.

"Edward Lucie-Smith: An Interview with Frank O'Hara"


"See, the general mistake, I think, is in thinking of these things in terms of nationalities. There is modern art" (7)

"...there's no reason to attack a culture that will allow it to happen, and even foster the impulse--and create it. Which is a change, you see, from the general idea of, that all avant-garde art has to be attacking the bourgeoisie, and the bourgeoisie has now been so completely absorbed by the rest of society that it can't even have its prejudices any more" (9).

"That is, the avant-garde has been made up, I think, completely, and all through history, with people who are bored by other people's ideas"(9).

"L-S: You think it's important to be new then?" O'H: No, I think it's very important not to be bored though" (9).

On "pop art" assumed to be "American":

"Since, if I remember correctly, as early abut 1952 or 3, pop art, as we know it today and as it was indicated, was already being done in England" (10).

O'Hara worked at the Museum of Modern Art in 1951 and and 1952, then again in 1955, where he stayed (11).

"L-S: Which angle to you see yourself from? You know the usual dichotomy which is put up for one now, arriving as one does all the innocent in America, is the dichotomy between the raw and the cooked or between the academic and the Black Mountain, or between Lowell and Olson.
O'H: Actually I don't really see what my relation is to them one way or the other except that we all live in the same time. I think that Olson is--a great spirit. I don't think he is willing to be as delicate as his sensibility may be emotionally and he's extremely conscious of the Pound heritage and of saying the important utterance, which one cannot always summon up and indeed is not particularly desirable most of the time. And I think Lowell has, on the other hand, a confessional manner which [lets him] get away with things that are really just plain bad but you're supposed to be interested because he's supposed to be so upset" (13).

"So I don't really associate very much with it. I would rather be the sort of poet who would do, you know, the great thing of, you know the story about Max Jacob leaning out his window when Picasso is passing by the Bateau-Lavoir and Picasso calls up and says 'Max, come out.' And he says 'I won't.' He says, 'Why won't you?' And he says, 'Because I'm in search of a style' And Picasso walks down the hill, and, as Max Jacob pulls his head back, says, 'There is no style.' That is the sort of thing that is, you know, like living and interesting" (13).

"L-S: ...what you're talking about quote a lot is the process of becoming. Of things becoming, of yourself becoming, of paintings becoming...And this seems to me a characteristically American thing.
O'H: Yeah. So that it isn't just a process of becoming because I don't think American art has to become anything now. It can add to itself.
L-S: Well, one of the thins which appear in, it seems to me to appear more and more in Europe, and I think in more concealed and veiled way in America, is that art is very much becoming...It's not becoming something you own, but it's becoming--an event which you go to experience in a museum. Museums are becoming more and more theatres of a certain kind of emotion" (15-16).
(*Move from the individual to the social/community)


"O'H:...So therefore the point is really more to establish one's own measure and breath in poetry, I think, than--this sounds wildly ambitious since I don't think I've done this before but I think that great poets do do it--rather that fitting your ideas into an established order, syllabically and phonetically and so on" (17).

"L-S: Well this is, to switch back to painting for a moment, this is something which is true of quite a lot of American painting: that it's trying to establish its on gesture apart from the established order. This is a parallel case, wouldn't you think?
O'H: Yes, and that's what I meant about being--that I think certain poets have been very much inspired by American painting. You know, not in the sense of subject matter, or anything like that, but in the ambition to be that, to be the work yourself, and therefore accomplish it" (17)

"L-S: ...That it seems to me that compared to Europeans, Americans have very much more rudimentary sense of themselves as--not as individuals--but as parts of the social whole, and the American sense of cohesiveness is much less, that a great deal of the American effort goes into being an individual and to placing oneself as an individual, but not into thinking...not sort of thinking if oneself as part of something.
That such collaborations as there are, like happenings, are improvised. Immediate collaborations. They're not deliberate things of the kind you've had in France and also to some extent in Germany recently" (18).

"O'H: ...So that you find that, in my experience , Europeans take him [Andy Warhol] much more seriously in relation to his subject matter as a painter. And the American audience takes him more seriously as a provocateur, almost--you knowlike a descendent of Marcel Duchamp, but not as a social critic in his work" (19).

Artists doing original work according to O'Hara: sculptors George Sugarman, Ronald Bladen, Barnett Newmanm Tony Smith, and Buchminster Fuller (20).
"O'H: It's only recently that young poets, who, like the young sculptors I was talking about, have made people see what was there, or is there should I say, by their own work and by the intensity of their interest" (21).

"O'H: Yes, I don't believe in reworking--too much. And what really makes me happy is when something just falls into place as if it were a conversation or something. As for instance, well to take Keats for examples, it doesn;t much matter if he did work very heard because it seems as if he didn't. And, you know, Yeats had that marvelous remark about if all the stitching and restitching does not seem to be the effort of the moment it is all in vain, or something like that" (22)

Upcoming American poets, according to O'Hara:
Tony Towle, Jime Brodey, Frank Lima (22).

"O'H: ...One of the most infuriating things in American literary life--which gets us back, as a matter of fact to what I was talking about, you know, the fact that painters have been such a marvelous audience for younger poets--is that in the rest of the literary life in America the work, the original work, the novel, the poem, the play, whatever it may be, is supposed, you know, is really tacitly assumed to be the raw material for a wonderful piece of criticism, in the tradition of R.P. Blackmur..."(25).

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