Frank O’Hara as Pac-Man, Ingesting the World


In the current New Yorker, there’s an excellent review by Dan Chiasson of two recent books by Rachel Zucker that connects her work to, among other poets, Frank O’Hara. (I recently posted about Zucker and the influence of Alice Notley, who Chiasson also mentions).

Chiasson discusses Zucker as not only a poet of motherhood but also a city poet, “a conduit for things said, actions observed, behaviors noted,” and of gossip. And for Chiasson, she’s the latest in an interesting lineage or relay-race: he refers to “Walt Whitman, the New York poet behind O’Hara, the New York poet behind Zucker,” before drawing some intriguing distinctions between their work.

The whole review is great, but I particularly got a kick out of this passage:

“Her poems read like skin-of-your-teeth escapes from impending disaster. She learned her fleetness from Frank O’Hara, but O’Hara, one of the greatest poets of gratitude, was a little like Pac-Man: he moved forward only by ingesting the world. Zucker’s speed is used for actions of flight and evasion.”

What an apt image for O’Hara, happily, frenetically gobbling up the world he jets and darts through, joyfully, desperately trying to stay a step away from emergencies, monsters, and death.

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