Monday, April 14, 2008

O'Hara in New Yorker

There was an awful review of O'Hara's selected poems in the New Yorker the other day (week? month? year?). But the funny thing was when I was over at Jonathan Mayhew's blog and read what he wrote about it. Funny because Mayhew is the ultimate anti-johannes; we can't agree on anything, not even on why to despise that review of O'Hara's selected poems. Mayhew blew up over a statement that suggested that O'Hara was undisciplined and frivolous, arguing that indeed O'Hara's work was very formally rigorous etc. The problem for me was that the article then went on to argue in favor of the selected (as opposed to the collected) because in the selected the editor gets rid of all the occasional and emepheral poems and focuses in on O'Hara's true nature: an elegiste - and indeed a formally very rigorous poet. In other words, Mayhew's O'Hara, the O'Hara that is acceptable to Dan Chiasson's (the reviewer) neo-new-critical aesthetics. So I find the opposite problem with the review: the reviewer makes O'Hara into another serious, rigorous poet. While I love O'Hara's elegies and Grand Central Station and the more poemy poems, I am ultimately more interested in the epehemeral "lunch poems" and, most of all, I love the collected poems because it breaks down such easy distinctions. It goes back to my interest in avant-garde poetics and the breaking of the wellwrought urn.

Further, if all we had of O'Hara was the poem-y poems, would we have Bean Spasms? Or for that matter Lungfull? Or for that matter me.I would be a very different poet had I never scrapped around in the Collected O'Hara.


Blogger Jordan said...

Pardon me, but you have misread Jonathan Mayhew's post. That's fine, that's how blogs are read, but still -- form enters into it for a sentence, barely, and then as an aside.

Mayhew took issue with Dan Chiasson's take on O'Hara and introspection, and the comparison Chiasson made between O'Hara's contemporaries, who "deposited words with an eyedropper" where O'Hara "sprayed them through a firehose."

The firehose remark is obviously a schoolyard comparison of girth, and as such my spam folder and I think the point does not go to the eyedroppers.

As for introspection, while it's certainly present in poems such as "Hate is only one of many responses" it is not unfair to O'Hara to point out that his insistence on the present moment served to screen out irritating memories of his feelings. I would argue that O'Hara's work is the continuously spontaneous result of a series of insights he had from his teens into his mid-20s. The introspection happens offstage, in the past. There are moments of endearing vulnerability, but they're deployed sparingly.

I agree completely with you that O'Hara is a much more interesting poet in the aggregate than comes through in any selection, even one as solid as the first Selected from Vintage.

11:17 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Well, maybe I mischaracterized Jonathan's response a bit. But ultimately I get the impression that he agrees with Chiasson on what is good art, but he disagrees with Chiasson's assesment of O'Hara using those parameters (introspection, elegy etc). While I would say I find the grading rubric pretty nauseating. But I can say that it is possible that I misunderstood Jonathan; I've done it before.

I totally didn't understand the firehose metaphor.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

I doubt very seriously that Mayhew and Chiasson agree on what is good art. They do share a belief in the general categories "good" and "art." And you're dead on when you point to the red grading pencil as something they both use. (When Mayhew marks a paper up, I read a lot more qualifying resignation about being the one who's supposed to know than I do when I read Chiasson, but then I'm coming late to that party, and maybe he's got his doubts too.)

It sounds like we both lack patience for criticism that exists to grant and deny approval, rather than to narrate and analyze reading experiences. Good for us. What's critique for, though, but to say 'Hey come see what this is/does/feels like.'

6:19 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yeah, it's not their canons that I think are similar - but a general grading-pen attitude towards art.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Jordan said...

Ah well I must have a bit of the grading pencil about me too. Invidious comparisons!

5:43 PM  

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