The Coca-Cola Company Discovers Frank O’Hara’s “Having a Coke with You,” Uses It for Promotion

A couple years ago, when I was musing on the connections between Frank O’Hara and the finale of Mad Men — which notoriously ended with Don Draper having an epiphany in the form of a famous Coke commercial — I wrote “while we’re on the subject of O’Hara, soda, and advertising, count me as one of those who thinks Coke owes the O’Hara estate some serious royalties for its very successful recent “Share a Cokecampaign…”

Well, I don’t think Coke is paying any royalties to O’Hara’s estate yet, but the company is at least now using his work to flog their brand.  Yesterday — in surely what is one of the stranger and perhaps more depressing moments in the recent reception history of Frank O’Hara — the Coca-Cola Company posted an article called “The Story of Frank O’Hara’s ‘Having a Coke with You'” on their website.  Apparently, Coke hosts a series called “Stories” — who knew? — featuring pieces on things like “Why Sprite has Sported Green Since 1961” and “‘What is Coca-Cola?’ Why the Brand Has Appeared on Jeopardy! 200+ Times.”

As part of that ongoing series, Coke posted this new story by Jac Kuntz that provides Coke fans with an overview of O’Hara’s life, and a brief gloss on his best-known (though not only!) poem with a Coke cameo, “Having a Coke with You.”  I’m not totally surprised that Coke would’ve caught wind of this poem, as O’Hara’s charming love poem for Vincent Warren has recently found renewed life, becoming in recent years one of his most famous and most adored works — partly because it is such a tender and beautiful poem, partly because there happens to be a wonderful clip of O’Hara reading it on YouTube, which has helped the piece go semi-viral (or as viral as something poetry-related can get).

In the piece, Kuntz talks a little — though less than you might expect — about the role of Coke in O’Hara’s poem, which he wrote in 1960:

One poem in particular subtly marked the country’s cultural ascension with a classic American icon, while demonstrating O’Hara’s romantic intensity… Romance and tenderness aside, “Having a Coke with You” almost begs an interpretation that asserts the glory of the inherently American “every day” over Europe’s crown jewels of high culture. Though the author’s intention was arguably one of affection, Gooch pointed out how the classic soda replaced the traditional Italian or French red wine as the romantic drink of choice. A simple, corner store bottle of coke, sipped under the foliage of a tree with a loved one, far exceeded the visual marvels and rich tastes Europe once could offer—a reflection of the mid-century cultural shift.

One can only imagine how O’Hara might’ve felt upon learning that Coke was using his poem to promote its brand — ironic laughter?  eye-rolling?  disgust?  In any event, this unusual confluence of corporation and poem surely marks an interesting moment in the long debate about the role of consumer culture in O’Hara’s poetry, his insouciant dropping of brand names, his reveling in the pleasures and banality of pop culture and everyday consumption.  Is O’Hara a cheerleader for American capitalism at the height of its postwar triumph and expansion?  Is he an ironic commentator on its excesses and absurdities?  A savvy cultural critic gauging consumer culture’s charms alongside its insidious dangers and vapidity?

Although critics have been debating such questions about O’Hara for the past several decades, leaving them unresolved, it seems pretty clear how the Coca-Cola Corporation would answer them.

I eagerly await the next installment on the Coke website, this time perhaps on the heart-warming moment when O’Hara mixes booze and soda to drown his sorrows, early on a sad Sunday morning (“washing the world down with rye and Coca-Cola and the news”).  Or maybe they could do a piece on the product’s appearance in “A Step Away from Them,” where “the classic American icon” is being guzzled by some hot construction workers O’Hara ogles on his lunch break in midtown Manhattan:

First, down the sidewalk
where laborers feed their dirty
glistening torsos sandwiches
and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets
Can’t beat the feeling — have a Coke and a smile!
Posted in Frank O'Hara | Leave a comment

Frank O’Hara and Bunny: A Tribute to V. R. Lang in new issue of “SpoKe”

spoKe 4

The new issue of the Boston-based journal SpoKe has just appeared and it features “A Tribute to V. R. Lang,” an excellent special feature devoted to the writer Violet Lang, known simply as “Bunny” to fans of Frank O’Hara — a.k.a., the one who appears at that crucial moment in one of O’Hara’s most famous poems, “A Step Away from Them,” when he writes “First / Bunny died …”

One of O’Hara’s closest friends and first muses, Lang was a poet, playwright, and creative force who swept through the Cambridge and Harvard literary and theater world like a dynamo before her early death from Hodgkin’s disease in 1956.

The tribute in SpoKe features previously unpublished poems and a play by Lang, along with reflections on Bunny and her importance by Susan Howe, Bill Corbett, Kevin Killian, Alison Lurie, and Allison Vanouse, along with an essay that I contributed about the intense personal and literary relationship between Frank O’Hara and Bunny Lang.

Here’s the start of my essay:

The poet and playwright V. R. “Bunny” Lang roared like a comet through the post-World War II literary worlds of Boston and New York.  Lang burned brightly and quickly disappeared, dying tragically young at the age of 32 of Hodgkin’s disease.  In her wake, she left behind not only an enduring, if relatively modest, body of writing, but also a deep and lasting impression on the lives and the work of those she touched — or perhaps scorched would be a better term.

Undoubtedly one of the most significant figures to have been singed in this manner, to have been forever altered by his fateful brush with Bunny, was Frank O’Hara.  Lang and O’Hara met in 1947 during his time at Harvard and quickly became inseparable.  As he recalled in an essay written in 1957, shortly after her death: “I first saw Bunny Lang 10 years ago at a cocktail party in a book store in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  She was sitting in a corner sulking and biting her lower lip – long blonde hair, brown eyes, Roman-striped skirt.  As if it were a movie, she was glamorous and aloof. The girl I was talking to said: ‘That’s Bunny Lang. I’d like to give her a good slap.'”

My essay traces the connection between O’Hara and Lang, including poems and plays O’Hara wrote for and about Bunny.  It also argues that Lang’s shocking death at such a young age had a profound effect on O’Hara, leaving a deep impression on his poetry and his worldview.  As I write in the piece, “the shadow cast by her death actually causes a darker side of O’Hara’s work to emerge, sparking the painful recognition of loss, transience, and mortality that shade O’Hara’s most powerful work in the later 1950s and early 1960s.  The loss of the youthful Lang deepened O’Hara’s ever-present awareness of death and his sense of the ephemeral nature of life and friendship, which was there from the start but becomes increasingly prominent as his work develops.  If David Lehman is right when he notes that O’Hara’s ‘distinctive tone’ is ‘two parts melancholy, three parts joy,’ it is the death of Bunny Lang that helps make this ratio so characteristic of his work.”  You can see the rest of my essay here.

The issue also contains Corbett’s “Notes on Bunny Lang,” Killian’s essay “The Beat Energy of V. R. (‘Bunny’) Lang,” a piece by Jean Fawkes-Lewis on Lang and the artist Edward Gorey (O’Hara’s college roommate), a short play by Gorey himself, photographs, and much else.

Elsewhere in the issue, fans of the New York School will also want to take note of an excerpt from Bill Berkson’s memoirs and a piece by Ron Padgett.

You can find ordering information for SpoKe 4 here.

Posted in Bill Berkson, Bunny Lang, David Lehman, Edward Gorey, Frank O'Hara, Ron Padgett, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Note on Robert Lowell and Frank O’Hara


Today is the 100th birthday of Robert Lowell, which has sparked a little flurry of attention to Lowell and his legacy, as has a new book by Kay Redfield Jamison on Lowell’s struggles with bipolar illness and its relationship to his poetry, which is reviewed in today’s New York Times.  Coincidentally, I happened to teach Frank O’Hara’s “Poem (Lana Turner has collapsed!” in my graduate seminar yesterday, which, naturally, entailed some discussion of the famous story surrounding O’Hara’s writing and delivery of that poem.

As I wrote in this earlier post on the poem, O’Hara composed it while he was on the way to give a reading with Robert Lowell at Wagner College on Staten Island.  O’Hara didn’t care much for Lowell’s poetry, and as David Lehman tells it in The Last Avant-Garde, “O’Hara regarded the event as something of a grudge match; his close friend Bill Berkson remembers it as a ‘mano/mano’ duel.  February 9, 1962, was a cold, snowy day in the city.  On the way to the Staten Island Ferry, O’Hara bought the New York Post and on the choppy half-hour ride he wrote an instant meditation on the tabloid revelation that Hollywood actress Lana Turner had collapsed… O’Hara read the poem that afternoon, making it clear that he had written it in transit.  The audience loved it; Lowell looked put out.”  When it was his turn to read, a peeved Lowell told the crowd that he was very sorry, but he hadn’t written a poem on the way to the reading.

O’Hara’s distaste for Lowell’s work (and all it seemed to represent, as the epitome of the postwar poetry establishment) is well-known.  In a 1965 interview, O’Hara offered a scathing assessment of Lowell’s famed “Skunk Hour” and the poet’s supposedly groundbreaking turn to the personal in Life Studies:

Lowell has . . . 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.  I don’t think that anyone has to get themselves to go and watch lovers in a parking lot necking in order to write a poem, and I don’t see why it’s admirable if they feel guilty about it. They should feel guilty. Why are they snooping? What’s so wonderful about a Peeping Tom? And then if you liken them to skunks putting their noses into garbage pails, you’ve just done something perfectly revolting. No matter what the metrics are. And the metrics aren’t all that unusual. Every other person in any university in the United States could put that thing into metrics.

What’s less well-known, however, is that O’Hara and Lowell weren’t always so dismissive of each other.  In fact, one can see a rather surprising sign of this in a little-discussed 1954 letter O’Hara wrote to Karl Shapiro, who was at the time the editor of Poetry magazine.  In sending along some work for Shapiro to consider, O’Hara mentions that Lowell, of all people, had recently praised some of his work:

It was kind of you to write me good luck in that Iowa Fellowship thing.  I didn’t get one but Robert Lowell wrote me about my manuscript of poems which was even better.  He liked, with reservations, the long poem I’ve included in this batch, which is why I’m sending it; it isn’t anything you’ll want to print, so if you are very busy you may want to skip it (Second Avenue).

The most striking thing about this passage is not that Lowell wrote O’Hara to compliment his poems, or that O’Hara would draw on Lowell’s cultural capital to sway Shapiro in his role as editor, but that Lowell particularly liked the long, wild Second Avenue, one of O’Hara’s most experimental, disjunctive, and surrealist poems.  (In an unpublished letter from 1962, O’Hara also mentions that John Hollander was fond of Second Avenue, another head-scratcher).  The poem begins in rather un-Lowell-like fashion:

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 …

Not surprisingly, Shapiro passed on the poem for Poetry, but the fact that a poet like Lowell (and Hollander) liked it, even with reservations, just goes to show, perhaps, that our rigid categories and definitions of American poetry — for example, everyone knows Robert Lowell and Frank O’Hara belong in enemy camps! — are not so simple when you look closely at the messy history of poetry itself.

Robert Lowell (left) and Frank O’Hara (2nd from right) at Wagner College (1962)


Posted in Frank O'Hara, Robert Lowell, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Harry Mathews (1930-2017) and the New York School of Poets

Biographical note from An Anthology of New York Poets (1970)

Very sad news for lovers of the New York School and contemporary literature: the novelist and poet Harry Mathews passed away this week at the age of 86.  Mathews is best-known as an experimental fiction writer who was one of the only American members of the Oulipo, the avant-garde French movement devoted to the use of playful procedures, mathematical games, and constraints, whose most famous members were Georges Perec, Italo Calvino, and Raymond Queneau.

Mathews also played a central role in the formation of the New York School of poets: after meeting John Ashbery in France in 1956, Mathews became a key figure in the New York School orbit.  Meeting Ashbery proved to be a crucial moment for his life as a writer – as Mathews recalled in his interview with the Paris Review:

What I think of as my writing life began when I met him. He had already published his first book. But he never spoke much about poetry. He was very proper, though he led another life at night, when he drank and carried on. He told me about modern French poets like Pierre Reverdy and Henri Michaux. I hadn’t read any of them. A couple of weeks later, I gave him a poem. He read it and said, I see you read all those poets that I recommended to you. But I hadn’t. His mentioning them and briefly describing them were enough to transform my writing.

Ashbery also fortuitously introduced Mathews to the work of the eccentric French writer Raymond Roussel, who would exert an enormous influence on his work:

Yes, thanks to John I began reading Raymond Roussel. Roussel had methodical approaches to writing fiction that completely excluded psychology. In the American novel, what else is there? If you don’t have psychology, people don’t see the words on the page. What was really holding me up was this idea that you had to have character development, relationships, and that this was the substance of the novel. Indeed, it is the substance of many novels, including extraordinary ones. But I had tried writing works involving psychology and characters and all that, and the results were terrible. In Roussel I discovered you could write prose the way you do poetry. You don’t approach it from the idea that what you have to say is inside you. It’s a materialist approach, for want of a better word. You make something. You give up expressing and start inventing.

When Mathews received a large sum of money in 1959 upon his grandfather’s death, Ashbery suggested that he put some of the money towards a new literary journal.  Together, they founded the journal Locus Solus, naming it after Roussel’s strange and wonderful novel of that name.  As Mathews told the Paris Review:

My grandfather died in 1959 and left me twenty thousand dollars, which is like a hundred and forty thousand now. John said, Why don’t you use some of the money to do a magazine? So I agreed to put five thousand into Locus Solus, little knowing what I was getting into.

In founding Locus Solus, Ashbery and Mathews deliberately set out to create a space that would showcase the work of those in their circle, New York School writers like Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, Kenneth Koch, Barbara Guest, as well as Ashbery and Mathews themselves.  Mathews later recalled the origins of the magazine in an interview with Lynne Tillman:

It came about because we, all of us, wanted to be published more.  We did this sort of self-centered thing, we published ourselves and our friends. I hadn’t yet found a publisher for The Conversions, my first book. I’d published a few poems here and there, John had published his first book, Kenneth had published one or two books and Jimmy had published, I think, a novel and a book of poems. But we were all anxious to see more of what we wanted, not only in terms of publishing ourselves, but of seeing writing we liked published.

Mathews acknowledges creating a journal for this purpose may have been a risky and self-centered venture, but as he wryly noted in the Paris Review interview: “Of course, it turned out this little circle had three future Pulitzer Prize winners.  Don’t look at me!”  Locus Solus was to last just four issues (over the course of 1961-1962), only folding because, as Mathews explained, “the five thousand dollars were gone.”

In his Paris Review interview, Mathews also reflected on the utility of the “New York School” as a label, and made some helpful comments on what these writers shared, even if they weren’t a school with a coherent program:

We were all categorized as belonging to the New York School, but there was no school. There was little in common between the writing of John, Kenneth, Jimmy, and me. But I do think that what Mallarmé invented—deliberately putting the locus of meaning in the effect rather than in the sense of words—is a notion that we all would have subscribed to. And there was a kind of unavowed doctrine amounting to: no aesthetic bullshit. Stay clear of cute embellishments, like the onomatopoeia of “the moan of doves in immemorial elms, / And murmur of innumerable bees.” By extension, pay no respect to traditional rules. John and Jimmy wrote a novel called A Nest of Ninnies in which they violated much received opinion. For instance, Auden had once said that it’s impossible to describe meals in contemporary fiction. So there is an endless number of meals in the book.

The first two issues of Locus Solus featured lengthy excerpts from Mathews’s Roussellian first novel, The Conversions, alongside work by O’Hara, Schuyler, Koch, Ashbery, William S. Burroughs, and many others.

Upon receiving that first issue, O’Hara wrote (in an unpublished letter) to Ashbery “I love the contents. Your own poems are divine and I loved reading Harry’s prose – I do hope the (I) after the title means that it will be continued in future issues… That piece of his is really extraordinary, it’s so nice to have something really interesting and peculiar going on in prose that one can look forward to seeing more of, jaded jade that I am.”

Although Mathews went on to gain renown as an experimental novelist and member of Oulipo (with books like Cigarettes, Tlooth, and The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium), he continued to write poetry as well.  Although he was always on the periphery of the New York School of poets, he did consider himself an “honorary member,” as he told one interviewer.  Indeed, Mathews’ work was included in one of the first gatherings of New York School poetry, An Anthology of New York Poets, edited by David Shapiro and Ron Padgett in 1970 (see photo above), and his poems often shared his fellow New York poets’s love for artifice, arbitrary rules, surrealism, and humor.

One of my favorite Mathews poems is an elaborate sestina called “Histoire,” which pulls off the remarkable feat of using “militarism,” “Marxism-Leninism,” “fascism,” “Maoism,” “racism,” and “sexism” as sestina endwords.  Here are the opening two stanzas, which you can also hear Mathews reading here:

Tina and Seth met in the midst of an overcrowded militarism.
“Like a drink?” he asked her. “They make great Alexanders over at the Marxism-Leninism.”
She agreed. They shared cocktails. They behaved cautiously, as in a period of pre-fascism.
Afterwards he suggested dinner at a restaurant renowned for its Maoism.
“O.K.,” she said, but first she had to phone a friend about her ailing Afghan, whose name was Racism.
Then she followed Seth across town past twilit alleys of sexism.

The waiter brought menus and announced the day’s specials. He treated them with condescending sexism,
So they had another drink. Tina started her meal with a dish of militarism,
While Seth, who was hungrier, had a half portion of stuffed baked racism.
Their main dishes were roast duck for Seth, and for Tina broiled Marxism-Leninism.
Tina had pecan pie a la for dessert, Seth a compote of stewed Maoism.
They lingered. Seth proposed a liqueur. They rejected sambuca and agreed on fascism.

In 2014, Poetry magazine published another dazzling sestina by Mathews, which indicates just how playful and subversive and New York School-esque he was to the end.  As I wrote in an earlier post on this poem, Mathews’s poem gave an Oulipean twist to the sestina’s already byzantine requirements.  In “Cool gales shall fan the glades,” he adds a letter to each end word, each time it reappears, so that “at” becomes “fat,” “fast,” “feast,” and so on as the poem progresses.

Harry Mathews, an endlessly creative, prolific, and enigmatic force within contemporary literature, will be sorely missed.  For more on Mathews’s passing, see here (from the Paris Review), here (the TLS), and here (the Poetry Foundation).  I’m sure more tributes and obituaries are to come.

Posted in Barbara Guest, French poetry, Harry Mathews, James Schuyler, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Locus Solus, Raymond Roussel, Uncategorized, William S. Burroughs | Leave a comment

Ron Padgett talks about his Sundays with the New York Times

The New York Times has just posted a little feature on Ron Padgett, in conjunction with Jim Jarmusch’s new movie Paterson.  As I noted recently, Padgett collaborated with his friend Jarmusch, composing poems for the movie:

For the movie “Paterson,” about a poet named Paterson who lives in Paterson, N.J., the director Jim Jarmusch asked his old friend Ron Padgett, a poet from Oklahoma who lives in the East Village, for a few poems. Both men had studied poetry with Kenneth Koch at Columbia College, although not at the same time. Mr. Padgett, 74, who wrote three poems and provided four old ones for the movie’s main character, said the words flowed easily. “I realized I’ve been writing poems as one character or another for more than 50 years,” he said.

The piece provides us with some charming little glimpses into Padgett’s everyday life in New York, as he discusses his daily routine — for example, we learn that he likes to have “a cup of jasmine tea and a slice of toast,” watch “Judge Judy” and “Wheel of Fortune,” and eat dinner at 6:00 sharp, as he always did growing up in Tulsa.

He also reflects on how his East Village neighborhood has changed over the course of the 50 years he has lived in the same apartment:

I don’t really mind that N.Y.U. kids and investment bankers have taken it over. That’s New York. Neighborhoods change. I’ve been here 50 years. It’s a lot safer, it’s a lot quieter, it’s a lot cleaner, and it’s a lot more boring, too. It’s a trade-off. To hear gunfire outside was not that uncommon. I’m glad those days are gone.

You can check out the rest here.

Posted in Film, Jim Jarmusch, Kenneth Koch, New York, Ron Padgett, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Jim Jarmusch as “the Cinematic Extension of the New York School”

Jim Jarmusch, Ron Padgett, and Adam Driver

Paterson, the new movie by the celebrated indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, has been receiving a lot of buzz and praise ever since it debuted this summer at the Cannes Film Festival, “where it was feted as the best film the 63-year-old Jarmusch had made.”

I haven’t seen the movie yet (it’s slated for release on December 28), but can’t wait to.  Paterson is the rare critically-acclaimed movie that is both about and inspired by poetry.  Building on William Carlos Williams’ modernist epic Paterson — which takes as its subject the unlikely locale of Paterson, New Jersey — Jarmusch’s film tells the story of a week in the life of a bus driver and poet, played by Adam Driver, who lives in the city and is himself named Paterson.  The main character spends his days driving a bus around town and scribbling poems about daily life in his notebook.  When asked what drew him to Paterson, Jarmusch explains that “William Carlos Williams was a doctor there, Allen Ginsberg grew up there and there are still poets there. So that seems very odd to me. And interesting.”

Jarmusch fans will probably not be surprised that the director has made a movie so intently focused on a poet, because he has always been effusive in talking about his love for poetry.  As Stephanie Zacharek notes in Time, “Jarmusch has drawn on that love, and more, to make a picture that shows how art—maybe even especially art made in the margins—can fill up everyday life.”  (For more on this movie, poetry, and its connection to Williams, especially, see Virginia Heffernan’s recent piece at the Poetry Foundation, which rightly notes that that Paterson, NJ, is “an unassuming industrial town whose name means poetry to just about 250 living people”).

But Paterson is not only unusual for being a film about poetry – it is an even rarer (perhaps unheard of) specimen: a movie that grows out of, and contributes to, the lineage of New York School poetry in particular.  While a student at Columbia, Jarmusch studied poetry with poets of the New York School, Kenneth Koch and David Shapiro, and fell deeply under the spell of their aesthetic.  He also grew close with Ron Padgett, who actually wrote the poems we see the protagonist writing in Paterson.  Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems makes an appearance in the movie as well and in recent interviews, Jarmusch has explained that one goal of the movie was to channel some elements of the New York School aesthetic.  Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a more New York School-saturated movie coming soon to a theater near you.

It’s been striking to see Jarmusch making the rounds talking about Koch, O’Hara, Padgett, and the New York School of poets in the mainstream media.  For example the Guardian notes that Jarmusch “calls the New York School poets his ‘aesthetic godfathers’ and is full of praise for Frank O’Hara’s Personism manifesto. ‘They said: ‘Make a poem to one other person, don’t make a poem to the world. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Allow humour,’ he explains. ‘Their poems are very funny and have so much exuberance. Why shouldn’t poetry be that way?’”

In a conversation in Interview, Jarmusch elaborates further on his profound connection to the poetry of the New York School and how it fueled his new movie:

JARMUSCH: The New York School poets are my godfathers creatively, and I studied with Kenneth Koch and David Shapiro when I was younger. Ron Padgett, along with David Shapiro, in 1975, they put together an anthology of New York Poets, a book that became the kind of bible for what is now the New York School. Frank O’Hara wrote a manifesto called Personism about how, “Just write a poem as if you’re writing a note to one other person.”  In our film, Paterson reads a beautiful small poem by William Carlos Williams [This is Just to Say] that is exactly that. It’s just a note left on the table, “I ate the plums you were saving for breakfast,” you know? So, Ron Padgett, he partly introduced me, before I ever knew him, to the New York School. Because of that anthology, he has always been one of my favorite poets of the New York School. Really the big guns are Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch and James Schuyler, but Ron Padgett and David Shapiro are also very important to me. I got to know Ron for the past 15 years or so as well, but I knew his work before I ever met him. When I first met him, I used to annoy him by quoting his poems to him all the time. [chuckles] He put up with it, and we’re friends, but I was so honored that he would contribute some poems to the film: both poems that existed, and write new ones as well. I was so thrilled. From the very start writing the script, my idea was to go to Ron Padgett.

KELSEY: Who wrote the poem that the young girl reads to Paterson?

JARMUSCH: Oh, I wrote that one, and I asked Ron to write a better one and he said, “No, I like this one. I’m not going to do it. You have to use this one.” So, yes, I wrote that one, but I wrote it to be written by a young person. Kenneth Koch, man, he taught children to write the most incredible poems. There’s a book called, Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? He taught kids in public schools in New York City to write poems without rhymes or any of that, just try to write these little poems about these things, these little details, and, man, they wrote some beautiful poetry.

Jarmusch wishes for his work to be understood as a “cinematic equivalent” of New York School poetry:

I always wish that I could someday be considered, if there was a cinematic equivalent of the New York school. And the New York School is defined a lot by a little manifesto that Frank O’Hara wrote. He was also the curator of the Museum of Modern Art, so he had a real job and wrote poems on his lunch break, similar to Paterson. And he had a manifesto called Personism, in which he said, “Write a poem to one other person. Don’t write it to the world. Write it as if you’re writing a letter or a note.” William Carlos Williams’ great poem that is read in the film, This Is Just to Say, which is literally one note to one other person. The New York school of poets are also funny — they’re celebratory. Frank O’Hara used a lot of explanation marks. One poem started with, “New York, how beautiful you are today. Like Ginger Rogers in Swing Time!” They are my guides in many ways.

The movie’s star, the young actor Adam Driver, has also been doing the rounds, explaining that preparing for the role entailed a crash course in poetry, particularly the work of O’Hara, Padgett, and the New York School. “I had an elementary knowledge of poetry,” Driver recently said. “I knew of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and E.E. Cummings. I didn’t know about Ron Padgett’s poems that appear in Paterson, and the New York School. Jim also turned me on to Frank O’Hara.”

As the Hollywood Reporter notes,

To fit the part, Driver took a course in Queens to learn how to drive a bus and studied the work of one of Jarmusch’s other favorite poets, Ron Padgett, who composed Paterson’s three poems in the film.  “Jim told me that he went to Adam and said, ‘Here are the poems that are going to be used in the film,'” Padgett told THR at the Dec. 15 screening, where Driver was on hand to introduce the film with a humble wave and nod. “And Adam said, ‘Oh, yeah, I know.’ Adam had brought along my 800-page volume of Collective Poems and said, ‘I’ve already read all the guy’s other work.’ Adam is a very quick study and it was flattering to me, but I realized he has a really terrific work ethic.”  He added, “I think it’d be easier to learn to drive a bus than to read all my poems!”

 In this conversation with the actor Michael Shannon, Driver discusses his experience reciting poetry in the movie and touches on Ron Padgett, Kenneth Koch, and the New York School (from 5:30 to 7:30)

And in this press conference at Cannes, Jarmusch explains that Paterson shares William Carlos Williams’s interest in a “poetry of small details and things in daily life.”  Also, he mentions that the rapper and actor Method Man appears in the film and quotes Williams’s famous dictum “no ideas but in things” (which, Jarmusch explains, Method Man came up with on his own because he’d been reading Williams himself!).

Finally, here is a trailer for the movie:

If nothing else, the release of Jarmusch’s Paterson is notable because it has prompted what will likely be the only time you will ever see a quote from Frank O’Hara’s long experimental masterpiece “In Memory of My Feelings” in a venue like the Hollywood Reporter:

When introducing Paterson at the screening, Jarmusch used the first two lines of the Frank O’Hara poem “In Memory of My Feelings” to describe Driver’s performance. “My quietness has a man in it, he is transparent; and he carries me quietly, like a gondola, through the streets,” he quoted.

“Somehow it really struck me,” he added of the words. “Maybe you’ll get it after you see my movie.”

Jarmusch recently said “I would be so deeply honoured if one day someone said I was the cinematic extension of the New York School.” It may just be me, on this humble blog, but I’m happy to be the first to say it: Jim Jarmusch is the cinematic extension of the New York School.





Posted in Film, Frank O'Hara, Jim Jarmusch, Kenneth Koch, Ron Padgett | 1 Comment

James Schuyler’s “December”: “a calm secret exultation of the spirit”

“Each December! I always think I hate ‘the over-commercialized event,'” James Schuyler writes in his poem “December,” one of my favorite poems about this time of year.  Despite his reluctance, the season somehow always manages to win him over: “and then bells ring, or tiny light bulbs wink above the entrance / to Bonwit Teller or Katherine going on five wants to look at all / the empty sample gift-wrapped boxes up Fifth Avenue in swank shops / and how can I help falling in love?”

Schuyler’s poem is also one of the best “Christmas in New York” poems that I can think of, as it captures so vividly the distinctive feeling of a wintry December dusk in the city.

Here is “December” by James Schuyler, which appeared in his first book, Freely Espousing (1969).  You can also hear Schuyler read the poem himself in this audio recording at PennSound.

May you all enjoy that “calm secret exultation of the spirit that tastes like Sealtest eggnog” too — happy holidays!

Posted in James Schuyler, Poems, Uncategorized | Leave a comment