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2 - Frank O'Hara and free choice

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 February 2010

Michael W. Clune
Affiliation:
Case Western Reserve University, Ohio
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Summary

Personal Poem

Now when I walk around at lunchtime

I have only two charms in my pocket

an old Roman coin Mike Kanemitsu gave me

and a bolt-head that broke off a packing case

when I was in Madrid the others never

brought me too much luck though they did

help keep me in New York against coercion

but now I'm happy for a time and interested.

–Frank O'Hara (CPO'H 335)

How can a poem be personal? For O'Hara's early critics, the poetry's rigorous orientation towards the trivial, contingent, private details of a particular life presents a unique difficulty. Helen Vendlerremarks of the personal poems, “The wish not to impute significance has rarely been stronger,” and Charles Molesworth writes, “They make ‘confessional’ poetry seem alexandrine or allegorical by comparison.” These writers read the exact dates, particular streets and buildings, and proper names of friends in the poems as tombstones marking the inaccessibility of O'Hara's “particular consciousness,” the “antipoetic weight” from which the “imaginative transformations” of his really poetic lines must be extracted. The particularity of reference in the personal poems, what O'Hara calls their “dailiness,” paradoxically disables the poetic persona by which the literal and particular are presumably controlled, the extraliterary processed as literature. “Mike Kanemitsu,” “a bolt-head that broke off a packing case,” “now when I walk around at lunchtime”: these details stick in the critics' prose, they are both too personal and not personal enough to count as poetry.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2009

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  • Frank O'Hara and free choice
  • Michael W. Clune, Case Western Reserve University, Ohio
  • Book: American Literature and the Free Market, 1945–2000
  • Online publication: 23 February 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511674631.003
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  • Frank O'Hara and free choice
  • Michael W. Clune, Case Western Reserve University, Ohio
  • Book: American Literature and the Free Market, 1945–2000
  • Online publication: 23 February 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511674631.003
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Frank O'Hara and free choice
  • Michael W. Clune, Case Western Reserve University, Ohio
  • Book: American Literature and the Free Market, 1945–2000
  • Online publication: 23 February 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511674631.003
Available formats
×