O Hara Construct The Illusion Of Immediacy English Literature Essay


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What is perhaps one of the most striking features of Frank O'Hara's poetry, a key member of The New York School of Poets, is the immediacy of his poetic voice. His work is filled with everyday life, as he captures instants of perception in New York City and "images of life, vitality, animation, motion." A fast pace is created as we journey through a succession of moments that continually move forward and change. However, it is important to note that this immediacy is an illusion. As we read his poetry after the events have occurred, it is impossible for it to be immediate. O'Hara is instead offering us an edifice of experience, not the experience itself.

O'Hara founded his own movement called 'Personism', producing a manifesto in 1959. He stated that he "puts the poem squarely between the poet and the person," believing in this immediacy. This is evident throughout his work, "The Day Lady Died" begins "It is 12:20 in New York a Friday/ three days after Bastille day, yes/ it is 1959." His style immerses the reader in his thoughts and makes them feel the immediacy of the poetry. O'Hara cared very little for consciously using poetic techniques and held a particularly blasé attitude towards them. He commented, in relation to technique, that "you just go on your nerve" (Personism, p.xiii). His employment of enjambment generates speed and pace alongside non-sequiturs, unfinished sentences and a distinct lack of punctuation, all maintaining a constant stream of action. The extensive use of line breaks creates fragmentation, which is a reflection of the rush of the city. This disconnected series of moments in quick succession can be jarring. However, while O'Hara cared little for technique, some argue that "proper names, gestural painting and collage all show themselves in some way to be mediated". So, although there is immediacy, it is one that has been created and purposed.

New York is often the subject culture of O'Hara's poetry. This allows him to create immediacy as he brings the city to life, delivering vibrant imagery from the "hum-coloured/cabs" to "skirts [that] are flipping/above heels" (ASAFT ll.9-10). Alongside this, his poems are scattered with proper names. Location and individuals are often specified such as "GOLDEN GRIFFIN" (TDLD l.14) and "I get a little Verlaine/ for Patsy" (l.14). This allows him to reconstruct his day to day experiences. This layering of details brings the reader into his work as he creates constantly changing pictures. However, this movement shows a lack of depth, as one feels that he is merely skimming the surface. O'Hara states that he is to go to dinner but does not "know the people who will feed [him]" (TDLD, l.6). The reader is so concentrated on assimilating these images, which the poet tries to draw in his mind, that he is forced to remain on the surface. Thus, his true feelings seem to remain veiled, covered by the banality of the juxtaposed images.

O'Hara often marks the passage of consciousness through time. This produces an immediate effect as the present constantly changes and evolves. We, as readers, move through with it, his work scattered with "I go", "I do" and "I get". His work could almost be described as cinematic as we pass through moment after moment. These are often assembled together without logical order. There is also a lack of reflection or explanation of the events that he describes. In "Personal Poem" he simply states "Miles Davis was clubbed 12/ times last night" without any contemplation. The use of stream of consciousness means we sense that O'Hara himself barely has time to think about what he is writing. While O'Hara presents us his thoughts and actions, the immediacy is detached as he is writing after these events occurred.

His work as an art critic also impacted upon his poetry and the immediacy of his voice, as Richard Gray has stated "O'Hara felt at odds with most of the poetry that was being written in America in the 1950s." His work in comparison to that of pre-WW2 lacks a seriousness and depth which encourages a feeling of immediacy. The New York School of Painters believed in abstract expressionism and spontaneity. Artists such as Jackson Pollock were described as 'action painters' and O'Hara himself is often referred to as an 'action poet'.

In conclusion, O'Hara can be seen to construct immediacy within his work, created in different ways. The subject matter of an ever moving modern day city, coupled with lack of any real structure within these poems, ensures that they are fast paced. The way in which he uses time, also creates immediacy, as we follow his own consciousness, which continues to move and change. Russell Ferguson stated that "O'Hara often strove to preserve in his writing the spontaneity and lightness of touch in his speech." However, it is vital to note, as Marjorie Perloff has commented, that "in O'Hara's imaginative reconstruction of New York, everything is there for a purpose." His poems are simply recreations of experience rather than an exact description of the events themselves, they are an illusion as well as artificial.

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