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.