From James Schuyler’s Diary (August 5, 1968)

James Schuyler, John Ashbery, and Kenneth Koch

Here is an excerpt from James Schuyler’s diary on August 5, 1968, 48 years ago today, at Fairfield Porter’s home on Great Spruce Head Island in Maine:

Blue, with a few sharp streaks of white.  The water is making its knitting noise, Lizzie [Porter] and Katherine [Koch] are talking on the floor in front of the fireplace, where they slept on quilts after Bruno woke them up at 6 and they in turn woke me.  Kenneth is in the kitchen asking Anne [Porter] for advice and favors.  Fairfield is painting a new view from his porch looking east, an intimate one of a little, wild enclosure (that which is enclosed being, of course, nothing)…

Went for a long walk with Kenneth [Koch] yesterday noon and swam at Skokey (sp?) Beach, lying naked in the cold water that was a little warm on top and looking at the pebbles and snails and tiny shrimp-like creatures. Hot sun, air and no clothes: a recipe from the “classic cuisine.”

Fairfield Porter

Fairfield Porter, “The Table on the Porch” (1971)


Posted in Fairfield Porter, James Schuyler, Kenneth Koch, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On Ashes’s Birthday — Frank O’Hara Writes “To John Ashbery”

Today is John Ashbery’s 89th birthday, and for the occasion, here are two poems Ashbery’s close friend Frank O’Hara wrote for him over 60 years ago.

Over the nearly twenty years of their friendship, O’Hara wrote many poems dedicated to and about Ashbery, whom he affectionately called “Ashes.”  First, here is “Ashes on Saturday Afternoon,” which O’Hara wrote in 1952 (with the original title “Poet to Poet”). In it, he begs his friend and fellow poet to provide him with some inspiration — “you, dear poet,” he says, “must save me from the void’s external noise.”

Ashes on Saturday Afternoon

The banal machines are exposing themselves
on nearby hillocks of arrested color: why
if we are the anthropologist’s canapé
should this upset the autumn afternoon?

It is because you are silent. Speak, if
speech is not embarrassed by your attention
to the scenery!  in languages more livid than
vomit on Sunday after wafer and prayer.

What is the poet for, if not to scream
himself into a hernia of admiration for all
paradoxical integuments: the kiss, the
bomb, cathedrals and the zeppelin anchored

to the hill of dreams?  Oh be not silent
on this distressing holiday whose week
has been a chute of sand down which no
factories or castles tumbled: only my

petulant two-fisted heart.  You, dear poet,
who addressed yourself to flowers, Electra,
and photographs on less painful occasions,
must save me from the void’s external noise.

And here is the tender 1954 poem “To John Ashbery,” in which O’Hara imagines himself and Ashbery reading their “new poems to each other / high on a mountain in the wind,” like a pair of ancient Chinese poets.

To John Ashbery

I can’t believe there’s not
another world where we will sit
and read new poems to each other
high on a mountain in the wind.
You can be Tu Fu, I’ll be Po Chü-i
and the Monkey Lady’ll be in the moon,
smiling at our ill-fitting heads
as we watch snow settle on a twig.
Or shall we be really gone? this
is not the grass I saw in my youth!
and if the moon, when it rises
tonight, is empty —a bad sign,
meaning “You go, like the blossoms.”

If you’re interested, I discuss both of these poems, and what they suggest about Ashbery’s friendship with O’Hara, in my book Beautiful Enemies: Friendship and Postwar American Poetry.

Happy 89th birthday to John Ashbery, who has been saving so many of us from the void’s external noise for many decades now!


Posted in Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Poems, Uncategorized

The Day Frank Died: O’Hara’s New York Apartments

It’s the 50th anniversary of Frank O’Hara’s death, 11 days after Bastille day, yes, “so I go for a walk among the hum-colored cabs,” and visit 3 of the 4 apartments O’Hara lived in during his time in New York.

First, 90 University Place, where O’Hara lived from 1957 to 1959. Here’s the door and the plaque that adorns it:

(I wrote a bit about this apartment and the plaque a while back, here).

Next, the apartment in the East Village, at 441 E. 9th St., just off Avenue A and Tompkins Square Park.  In 2014, this apartment was given its own plaque as well, as I discussed a couple of years ago.

The building is being renovated and these are the notices on the front door:

The entrance to O’Hara’s apartment is about 3 doorways down, towards the end of the large white building on the right side of the street:

Lastly, I walked by the ghost of the final place O’Hara lived in New York, the apartment he was living in when he died in 1966.  O’Hara lived at 791 Broadway, between E. 10th and E. 11th, across from the beautiful Grace Church.  A few years ago the building was torn down and replaced by a luxury condo building.  It’s the smaller white building in this photograph:

And here, for good measure, is the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, which has done so much to keep O’Hara’s memory and legacy alive:

Posted in Frank O'Hara, New York, Poetry Project at St. Marks, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Frank O’Hara, 50 Years On: “The Wings of an Extraordinary Liberty”

O'Hara Tombstone 2

Frank O’Hara died 50 years ago today, on July 25, 1966, after being struck by a dune buggy on Fire Island.  The Poetry Foundation has published a piece of mine that traces the rather remarkable arc of O’Hara’s posthumous reputation. Though it may seem surprising now, when he died, O’Hara was better known as a museum curator and artworld figure. Today, he is one of the best-loved and influential poets of the 20th century, one of who feels “ubiquitous as weather,” in both poetry and pop culture. In an early poem, O’Hara said “I must live forever,” and in the piece, I talk about how delighted O’Hara would be to find that his own work has lived on, just as he’d wished.  At the end of one poem, O’Hara imagined a heroic poet figure who would inspire and even liberate those who’ve come in his wake, using an image that resonates with the kind of afterlife he and his work have had: “and one alone will speak of being / born in pain / and he will be the wings of an extraordinary liberty.”

In previous years on this date, I have posted about how the New York Times covered O’Hara’s death and funeral (here) and about the host of elegies O’Hara’s friends wrote for him after he died (here).

Today, I thought it’d be fitting to post a poem O’Hara wrote in 1958, “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island,” which offers an uncanny premonition of his own tragic end, that would occur on Fire Island eight years later:

The Sun woke me this morning loud
and clear, saying "Hey! I've been
trying to wake you up for fifteen
minutes. Don't be so rude, you are
only the second poet I've ever chosen
to speak to personally
                                  so why
aren't you more attentive? If I could
burn you through the window I would
to wake you up. I can't hang around
here all day."
                    "Sorry, Sun, I stayed
up late last night talking to Hal." 

"When I woke up Mayakovsky he was
a lot more prompt" the Sun said
petulantly. "Most people are up
already waiting to see if I'm going
to put in an appearance."
                                       I tried
to apologize "I missed you yesterday."
"That's better" he said. "I didn't
know you'd come out." "You may be
wondering why I've come so close?"
"Yes" I said beginning to feel hot
wondering if maybe he wasn't burning me
              "Frankly I wanted to tell you
I like your poetry. I see a lot
on my rounds and you're okay. You may
not be the greatest thing on earth, but
you're different. Now, I've heard some
say you're crazy, they being excessively
calm themselves to my mind, and other
crazy poets think that you're a boring
reactionary. Not me.
                                 Just keep on
like I do and pay no attention. You'll
find that people always will complain
about the atmosphere, either too hot
or too cold too bright or too dark, days
too short or too long.
                                 If you don't appear
at all one day they think you're lazy
or dead. Just keep right on, I like it.

And don't worry about your lineage
poetic or natural. The Sun shines on
the jungle, you know, on the tundra
the sea, the ghetto. Wherever you were
I knew it and saw you moving. I was waiting
for you to get to work.

                                    And now that you
are making your own days, so to speak,
even if no one reads you but me
you won't be depressed. Not
everyone can look up, even at me. It
hurts their eyes."
                          "Oh Sun, I'm so grateful to you!"

"Thanks and remember I'm watching. It's
easier for me to speak to you out
here. I don't have to slide down
between buildings to get your ear.
I know you love Manhattan, but
you ought to look up more often.
always embrace things, people earth
sky stars, as I do, freely and with
the appropriate sense of space. That
is your inclination, known in the heavens
and you should follow it to hell, if
necessary, which I doubt.
                                          Maybe we'll
speak again in Africa, of which I too
am specially fond. Go back to sleep now
Frank, and I may leave a tiny poem
in that brain of yours as my farewell." 

"Sun, don't go!" I was awake
at last. "No, go I must, they're calling
        "Who are they?"
                                  Rising he said "Some
day you'll know. They're calling to you
too." Darkly he rose, and then I slept.
Posted in Frank O'Hara, Poems, Uncategorized

Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner and his Love for (and new Recording of) Frank O’Hara

The poetry of "Mad Men": When Matthew Weiner first read Frank O’Hara, “it was just like total time travel”

As I’ve mentioned a few (well, maybe more than a few) times before, the beloved TV show Mad Men surprised and delighted poetry fans everywhere when it incorporated Frank O’Hara’s poetry into the show’s second season in 2008.  Over the past couple years, the show’s creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner has discussed several times how he came to discover O’Hara’s writing and why it seemed so well-suited for the story of Don Draper.

Yesterday, in a new interview with Scott Timberg at Salon, Weiner went in to greater depth about his fascination with O’Hara.  The piece also revealed some interesting news for O’Hara fans: next week Audible Studios will release a recording of Weiner himself reading O’Hara’s “Lunch Poems.”

Weiner, who studied poetry at Wesleyan University, mentions that his training in poetry had for some reason excluded O’Hara, and goes on to describe his first exposure to an O’Hara poem, which happened several years ago, after Mad Men was already underway: “It was just like total time travel, and he writes in a voice that you could say is conspiratorial, but it’s really more than that. It’s very present and it’s hard to believe that someone like that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s very alive.”

Weiner also explains how he came to use the book Meditations in an Emergency and its last poem, “Mayavovsky,” in the show’s second season:

“So when I got back to do the show for that season, which I believe is the beginning of Season Two, we had left Don in a kind of terrible place at the end of Season One where he was filled with regret, and Jon Hamm had talked to me about how this guy is probably going to get bored. So we had him go and get his physical and mix with people out in the street. I found out that “Lunch Poems” had not come out yet, so the rules of the show made it harder, but it still allowed me to get into Frank O’Hara, because “Meditations in an Emergency” had come out, which ended up being very fruitful and related to what I was doing and one of those coincidences that you can’t replicate. The show knows more than you do. It’s almost mysterious. I’m not kidding.

So that was my first interaction with him. And then I just really ate everything that I could find of his. I just read every single thing I could find. “Lunch Poems” was the book I bought and ripped my way through it, and then I found some recordings of him. Just his sense of humor, and he had such a large role at the Museum of Modern Art, so there’s an intellectual part of him also that’s not even in the poems …

Frank really had that quality of, “This is what life is like. This is what’s on my mind. This is what I think is funny. This is what’s ironic.” And the whole process of writing “Lunch Poems,” which is what I liked about it, was that he was turning the necessity of doing his job into a poetic experience because he was compelled to write. That, to me, was related to Don at that time, and of course it became closely related to me.”

Weiner goes on to discuss other poets he encountered in his poetry education, including T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, and Sylvia Plath (who, he explains, “is all over Mad Men”).  

Even if he stumbles over which actress O’Hara famously begs to “get up” — rather than Lana Turner, Weiner refers to O’Hara’s well-known poem as “Greta Garbo has Collapsed” — it’s great to see his affection for O’Hara and exciting to learn that an audio version of Lunch Poems, read by Matthew Weiner, will soon be available.

Read the whole interview here, and for previous posts on Mad Men and Frank O’Hara, see here, here, here, here, here, and here.




Posted in Frank O'Hara, Mad Men, Television, Uncategorized

James Schuyler’s “June 30, 1974” and the Poetics of Everyday Life

In honor of today’s date, I thought I’d post “June 30, 1974,” a poem by James Schuyler which was written 42 years ago today.  The poem describes an early summer morning in the Hamptons at the home of his close friend, the painter Jane Freilicher, and her husband Joe Hazan, where Schuyler had spent the previous night, along with another dear friend, John Ashbery.

This quiet, lovely poem is one of Schuyler’s countless poems of daily life, and it’s one that I write about in my just-published book, Attention Equals Life: The Pursuit of the Everyday in Contemporary Poetry and Culture.  Here is the poem, followed by an excerpt from my book about it, which can maybe serve as a little preview of the book as a whole:

June 30, 1974
for Jane and Joe Hazan

Let me tell you
that this weekend Sunday
morning in the country
fills my soul
with tranquil joy:
the dunes beyond
the pond beyond
the humps of bayberry –
my favorite shrub (today,
at least) – are
silent as a mountain
range: such a
subtle profile
against a sky that
goes from dawn
to blue. The roses
stir, the grapevine
at one end of the deck
shakes and turns
its youngest leaves
so they show pale
and flower-like.
A redwing blackbird
pecks at the grass;
another perches on a bush.
Another way, a millionaire’s
white chateau turns
its flank to catch
the risen sun. No
other houses, except
this charming one,
alive with paintings,
plants and quiet.
I haven’t said
a word. I like
to be alone
with friends. To get up
to this morning view
and eat poached eggs
and extra toast with
Tiptree Goosberry Preserve
(green) -and coffee,
milk, no sugar. Jane
said she heard
the freeze-dried kind
is healthier when
we went shopping
yesterday and she
and John bought
crude blue Persian plates.
How can coffee be
healthful? I mused
as sunny wind
streamed in the car
window driving home.
Home! How lucky to
have one, how arduous
to make this scene
of beauty for
your family and
friends. Friends!
How we must have
sounded, gossiping at
the dinner table
last night. Why, that
dinner table is
this breakfast table:
“The boy in trousers
is not the same boy
in no trousers,” who
said? Discontinuity
in all we see and are:
the same, yet change,
change, change. “Inez,
it’s good to see you.”
Here comes the cat, sedate,
that killed and brought
a goldfinch yesterday.
I’d like to go out
for a swim but
it’s a little cool
for that. Enough to
sit here drinking coffee,
writing, watching the clear
day ripen (such
a rainy June we had)
while Jane and Joe
sleep in their room
and John in his. I
think I’ll make more toast.

(An excerpt adapted from Attention Equals Life, p. 106-109):

In an essay on Schuyler, Douglas Crase zeroes in on the author of The Morning of the Poem as a poet of the morning: “Fairfield Porter said that in the history of the arts an afternoon sensibility of reflection was common, but a morning sensibility of observation was unusual. Among morning sensibilities he included Sisley. Jimmy’s poems, too, are like urgent morning experience.” As Lee Upton has observed of Schuyler, “it is not surprising that this poet favors mornings. Repeatedly, he enacts qualities associated with mornings: newness and energy of awakening.”

Before closing, I would like to consider briefly another hymn to an ordinary morning, Schuyler’s “June 30, 1974” (Collected, 228). The poem, one of Schuyler’s many “date” poems, is also about morning as a state of mind, a mode of wakefulness and receptive attention to daily life. Crase refers to the poem as “an American ode to happiness,” which it certainly is. It also feels like a deliberate rewrit­ing of Wallace Stevens’s great hedonistic hymn to the here and now, “Sunday Morning.” Schuyler speaks rather directly about the deep, simple pleasures of a “weekend Sunday / morning in the country,” which “fills my soul / with tranquil joy.” As he so often does, Schuyler describes his immediate surround­ings: the view of the dunes beyond the pond, his “favorite / shrub (today, / at least),” the roses, “a millionaire’s/ white chateau” next door, and, most of all, his friends’ “charming” house, so “alive with paintings.” But most of all, he pays tribute to the pleasurable experience of spending a quiet morning alone while his good friends sleep late, where he— like Stevens’s woman with her “late coffee and oranges in a sunny chair”— can sit and “eat poached eggs / and extra toast with / Tiptree Gooseberry Preserve / (green)— and coffee.”

The poem turns into a meditation on change when the speaker reflects on the strange fact that the dinner table where he sat laughing with friends the night before is also the exact same place as this quiet breakfast table: “Discontinuity / in all we see and are: / the same, yet change, / change, change.” The lines seem to encapsulate the paradox at the cen­ter of Schuyler’s work— the recognition that human experience is founded, simultaneously, upon sameness and discontinuity in all one sees and is, each day so alike and yet unique.

As is so typical of Schuyler’s poetry, the poem closes by happily accepting the day as it is and all it brings:

to sit here drinking coffee,
writing, watching the clear
day ripen (such
a rainy June we had)
while Jane and Joe
sleep in their room
and John in his. I
think I’ll make more toast.

Just as it was “enough” in “Hymn to Life” to simply look at the unfolded daf­fodils in the garden, here Schuyler says it is “enough” to sit and watch the day, June 30, 1974, “ripen.” By doing so, Schuyler further expounds on what might be thought of as a philosophy of “enough,” a poetics of what will suffice— a worldview that again shades into a matter of ethics, of how to live.

Whereas Stevens’s own “Sunday Morning” reverie closes with the humble yet lyrical image of pigeons making “ambiguous undulations as they sink, / Downward to darkness, on extended wings” (Stevens, Collected, 70), Schuyler’s poem ends in a deliberately anti- climactic fashion— can one imagine a less lofty close to a powerful poem than “I / think I’ll make more toast”? This is a far cry from how poems that depend on what I have called the “transformation trope” usu­ally operate, like those I discussed earlier by James Wright, Edward Hirsch, or Mary Oliver. These lines seem designed to “strike through sentimental­ity,” something the poem certainly flirts dangerously with at its start (writing that the morning “fills my soul with tranquil joy” is about as sentimental as Schuyler ever gets). The conclusion yanks the poem back down to earth, keeps it firmly tied to the late coffee and sunny breakfast table with its poached eggs and gooseberry jam. The nod to his plan to “make more toast” also brings Schuyler back to the simple, saving ability one has to “make” (and to make more of) something one enjoys, and finally, back to the day and the daily itself.

Earlier in the poem, after Schuyler catches himself referring to coming back to this house, which belongs to his friends, as “driving home,” he turns to reflect on the concept itself:

Home! How lucky
to have one, how arduous
to make this scene
of beauty for
your family and

Schuyler’s celebration of the domestic— even the work that goes into making the scene of the domestic— almost feels like a tribute to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and its portrayal of Clarissa as an artist whose specialty is the cre­ation and appreciation of the domestic everyday. Again, we see how Schuyler’s poems keep coming back to those aspects of the daily Rita Felski called our atten­tion to: home, habit, repetition.

As a tribute to someone else’s ability to make a home, it also reflects on Schuyler’s unusual, tenuous relationship to the very idea of home, as one who never fully had one of his own, both literally and figuratively, who relied so much on his friends for shelter and support. But given the tenor of the rest of the poem, and where it ends, it feels as if Schuyler is also suggesting that the day, the everyday itself, is our home; in a sense, the poem acknowledges just how lucky we are to be able to make ourselves at home in daily life, to respect it for what it is. As the philosopher Stanley Cavell argues, “the everyday is ordinary because, after all, it is our habit, our habitat.” For Schuyler, and many other explorers of the everyday I discuss in this book, the recovery of the ordinary depends on this hard-won realization: a recognition of what Cavell refers to as “everydayness as home,” as the only home we truly have.

If you’re interested in hearing more about Schuyler and the everyday, and much else, please check out my book Attention Equals Life: The Pursuit of the Everyday in Contemporary Poetry and Culture, which you can find out more about here and here.


Posted in Criticism, Fairfield Porter, James Schuyler, Jane Freilicher, John Ashbery, Poems, Uncategorized

Today is Sort of Frank O’Hara’s Birthday

Today is sort of Frank O’Hara’s birthday, or at least the day he always thought of as his birthday.

Nowadays, the world celebrates O’Hara’s birthday on March 27, which is the day he was actually born in 1926.  But as I’ve noted before, that was not the day he thought of as his birthday.  His parents told him, and the world, that he was born on June 27 in order to cover up the fact that his mother was already pregnant with him at the time his parents got married — which would’ve been scandalous to their Irish-Catholic families and community.  As O’Hara’s biographer Brad Gooch explains, O’Hara’s “birth certificate — found twenty-five years after his death — recorded his real birth as three months earlier, on March 27, 1926, at Maryland General Hospital.  The presiding physician: Maurice Shamer, M.D.”

In the long autobiographical poem called “Ode to Michael Goldberg (‘s Birth and other Births),” O’Hara wrote:

I hardly ever think of June 27, 1926,
when I came moaning into my mother’s world
and tried to make it mine immediately
by screaming, sucking, urinating
and carrying on generally
it was quite a day

O’Hara also deliberately choose this date — 60 years ago today — to begin his long poem “In Memory of My Feelings,” on the day he thought was his 30th birthday, June 27, 1956.

This strange fact about O’Hara’s birthday presents us with a conundrum: which date should we celebrate as his big day — the day he would’ve considered his birth day, or the actual day he was born?  The world, or at least the world represented by anthology headnotes and Twitter posts, seems to have chosen March 27, but I’m not so sure.

In any event, happy sort-of birthday to Frank O’Hara!




Posted in Frank O'Hara, Uncategorized