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The back cover of a Carcanet book reads these days with something of the authority which Faber books used to possess in Eliot's prime. Their authors are a roll-call of achievement and promise.
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Review of Selected Poems
Kate North,The North, 8th December 2005Next review of 'Selected Poems'... To the 'Selected Poems' page...
The chronological arrangement of a selection of Frank O'Hara's work must have been a joy to compile. Not only considered 'among the most delightful and radical poets of the twentieth century' O'Hara is also recognised as a champion of dynamic artists such as Jackson Pollock, as well as a descendent of the traditions of W C Williams and Apollinaire.
For those familiar with O'Hara's work, you will find the classic staples such as 'Personism: A Manifesto' and 'The Day Lady Died'. He is largely known for his casual, everyday attitude, in his language and his approach to writing which is apparent when we remember that he only published two collections during his lifetime. Further work had to be salvaged posthumously from sock drawers and discovered in notebooks. Many of his poems were left untitled, which further underlines his relaxed attitude.
However, I also think that the point carries with it a nod towards the energetic and eager way he continually looked to the next new experience, the next moment in his life. Two stanzas that sum this up for me are also to be found in this collection at the beginning of one of his nameless pieces,
The eager note on my door said 'Call me,
call me when you get in!' so I quickly threw
a few tangerines into my overnight bag,
straightened my eyelids and shoulders, and
headed straight for the door. It was autumn
by the time I got around the corner, oh all
unwilling to be either pertinent or bemused, but
the leaves were brighter than grass on the sidewalk!
O'Hara is seen as a writer who was highly influential to many poets who came after him, both American and British. His experimental approach displays a singular passion for the acoustic and spoken undulations of syntax and language. Many poems in the collection reflect this, as here for instance in 'Second Avenue':
Quips and players, seeming to vend astringency off-hours,
celebrate diced excesses and sardonics, mixing pleasures,
as if proximity were staring at the margin of a plea...
For an authoritative review of O'Hara's work, or for an introduction into his world, this book is a first choice.
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