Poetry Turnstile: Frank O’Hara



Frank O’Hara and Grace Hartigan†


Frank O’Hara (1926 – 1966) was an American poet and writer, who I discovered only recently. I couldn’t decide which of his poems to share, so after a series of meetings and an excruciating conflict-resolution process, I decided to share three.

To The Harbormaster, is the first poem in the collection entitled, Meditations in an Emergency (1957). I’m not sure that I would have fallen in love with this poem as I did, had it not reminded me so much – in a ‘like-unlike’ sense – of Invictus, which I’ve posted hereon before.



To the Harbormaster


I wanted to be sure to reach you;

though my ship was on the way it got caught

in some moorings. I am always tying up

and then deciding to depart. In storms and

at sunset, with the metallic coils of the tide

around my fathomless arms, I am unable

to understand the forms of my vanity

or I am hard alee with my Polish rudder

in my hand and the sun sinking. To

you I offer my hull and the tattered cordage

of my will. The terrible channels where

the wind drives me against the brown lips

of the reeds are not all behind me. Yet

I trust the sanity of my vessel; and

if it sinks it may well be in answer

to the reasoning of the eternal voices,

the waves which have kept me from reaching you.



The following poem is hard not to love. I especially lub’ it because it reminds me of ee cummings, for obvious reasons.



Les Etiquettes jaunes


I picked up a leaf

today from the sidewalk.

this seems childish.


Leaf! you are so big!

How can you change your

color, then just fall!


As if there were no

such thing as integrity!


You are too relaxed

to answer me. I am too

frightened to insist.


Leaf! don’t be neurotic

like the small chameleon.



Third and finally, For Grace, After A Party. I distinctly remember muttering an audible, “huh . . .” when I first read this poem. While it is not ‘dazzling,’ it did make me sit up and take Frank’s poetry seriously in a small “p” political sense. There is a certain earnest responsibility to this poem, which is something that I still find myself searching for with ee cummings. There is something about the unaesthetic honesty that completely makes this poem. If that makes sense.



For Grace, After A Party


You do not always know what I am feeling.

Last night in the warm spring air while I was

blazing my tirade against someone who doesn’t


me, it was love for you that set me


and isn’t it odd? for in rooms full of

strangers my most tender feelings

writhe and

bear the fruit of screaming. Put out your hand,

isn’t there

an ashtray, suddenly, there? beside

the bed? And someone you love enters the room

and says wouldn’t

you like the eggs a little

different today?

And when they arrive they are

just plain scrambled eggs and the warm weather

is holding.




† I found this photograph on a lovely page, Memories of Frank.




Filed under Poetry turnstile

4 responses to “Poetry Turnstile: Frank O’Hara

  1. One day, WordPress formatting and I will make friends #Faaaaaarrrrouuwt

  2. “Put out your hand,
    isn’t there
    an ashtray, suddenly, there? beside
    the bed?”

    Wonderful. Here’s one to bounce off those lines.

    The Best Cigarette
    Billy Collins

    There are many that I miss
    having sent my last one out a car window
    sparking along the road one night, years ago.

    The heralded one, of course:
    after sex, the two glowing tips
    now the lights of a single ship;
    at the end of a long dinner
    with more wine to come
    and a smoke ring coasting into the chandelier;
    or on a white beach,
    holding one with fingers still wet from a swim.

    How bittersweet these punctuations
    of flame and gesture;
    but the best were on those mornings
    when I would have a little something going
    in the typewriter,
    the sun bright in the windows,
    maybe some Berlioz on in the background.
    I would go into the kitchen for coffee
    and on the way back to the page,
    curled in its roller,
    I would light one up and feel
    its dry rush mix with the dark taste of coffee.

    Then I would be my own locomotive,
    trailing behind me as I returned to work
    little puffs of smoke,
    indicators of progress,
    signs of industry and thought,
    the signal that told the nineteenth century
    it was moving forward.
    That was the best cigarette,
    when I would steam into the study
    full of vaporous hope
    and stand there,
    the big headlamp of my face
    pointed down at all the words in parallel lines.

  3. So beautiful ! really!- it carries so beautifully between the second and third stanza and then captures just exactly so perfectly [obliquely] that sense of pause and animation that smoking (esp rolling tobacco) affords the writer.
    One to pen into my notebook for sure.
    Thank you so much xB

  4. Pingback: Poetry Turnstile: Frank O’Hara | Fieldnotes & Footnotes

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