Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My Yatter

Coil and Pole

An unreasonably resolute electrical blackout, inexplicably sans tonnerre, blew a hole in my tiny quotidian writing slot (early evening), so I tuddle’d about in bougie-light, repudiating all my former selves, and thought hard (“for us all”) about the eight-year-old Colette, the way she got enamour’d with the French word for “presbytery”—presbytère—“with its harsh and spiky beginning and the brisk trot of its final syllables.” A private word, a curse word, a maledict, a spell—though it, too, apparently lost is luster (the way any Toledo-made jeep will): “I began to suspect that ‘presbytery’ might very possibly be the scientific term for a certain little yellow-and-black striped snail.” Truth is, I welcomed the blackout, sip’d a vermouth and ate a turkey sandwich, and consider’d how I’d lost my way. How, say, I am beginning to suspect the considerable efforts of daily utterance might possibly be idiot-work, a jumble or a growl for the merest jumble-Effekt, growl-Effekt. Or is it just August dog days condensing out into the usual autumnal morass, that annual degradation of service prior to winter. Verlaine: Les sanglots longs / Des violons / De l’automne / Blessent mon coeur / D’une langueur / Monotone. Enough long sobbing o-sound to make one go itchy with grief, or echt-grief. (LeRoi Jones’s report of Frank O’Hara, heckled at a reading by Kerouac, walking off stage “singing / ‘My silence is as important as Jack’s incessant yatter.’”) Or, O’Hara’s self-assessment (prognosis), regarding the work: “Mine is full of objects for their own sake, spleen and ironically intimate observation which may be truthfulness . . . but is more likely to be egotistical cynicism masquerading as honesty.” (I can get behind that, in a kind of historickal memoirs of the late fight at Piggwacket kind of way.) What I mean is what’s beckoning (always beckoning) is a dissolving (see Ronald Johnson):
to white cloud,

& swan, & clod.
Though, imperturbably, that, too, gets its invariable comeuppance, in what follows:

one river running . . .
The old agonizing fix of merger and conglomerate mud, it’s all one “writing” . . . Yeah.

Finish’d Andrew Epstein’s Beautiful Enemies. At the risk of sounding like “some aficionado of [O’Hara’s] mess” by saying it, I question whether Epstein is correct in assigning “Finding Leroi a Lawyer” to O’Hara. I say, “‘That’s not like Frank!’” with the merest whiff of evidence, and no way of ascertaining it. (I do note that Kevin Killian calls it the “singlemost dumbest poem O’Hara ever put to paper,” my reaction, too, and there’re some clunkers here and there in the “opus” for comparison.) Epstein says the poem’s “never been published or collected, commented on or acknowledged, and I am aware of no copies other that the one in the Koch archives. Like other fugitive O’Hara pieces, it is very possible that it simply fell through the cracks, as it was not included in Donald Allen’s meticulously edited posthumous collections of O’Hara’s poems, including Poems Retrieved. (Are there other “fugitive” pieces, found after Poems Retrieved?) Here’s the poem, out of “the O’Hara papers in the Kenneth Koch archive at the New York Public Library”:
Finding Leroi a Lawyer

So you’ve finished the Locus Solus poster, Jane,
and I must write to Richard Miller, thanking him
for his having done it for nothing—we could use more of that! but meanwhile
I stop in a flowershop on 8th Avenue and buy Patsy Goldberg a print by Hokusai
(they knew the meaning of snow in those days!) and also I look,
a little, into the opened cups of the flowers, don’t get fresh! and I realize that Norman is probably out of booze
by now, so I stop in Parente’s Wines Whiskey Spirits
and buy him a little schmootz, it will go well with the tomato paste
he likes so much to use in his smaller paintings. And I go to the newsstand
to get Joe his copy of Pash, Bill his Opera Guide, and Joel Oppenheimer a pack of Gauloises,
even though I have by now a lot more than I can possibly carry
since I have been shopping for people for hours, and I am beginning to feel very Machado-esque
like having little chapters instead of trotting about all day in one big museum
and I run to the nearest phonebooth
which is hot and sweaty, I think because you are not in it, Vladimir
Ussachevsky, and I pull off the mouthpiece but not the receiver, which I will give to Leroi Jones
because he is in trouble
over something the postoffice says is obscene in The Floating Bear and I know that he needs one,
although he does not need the receiver, but when I try to call him
there’s nothing but the horrible silence, which is Dietrichesque,
and when even screwing the mouthpiece back doesn’t do any good
I decide that nothing will, and I take a drink of the schmootz
which tastes like the vodka I put in Stevie River’s Koolade the night Fabian collapsed in Hoboken
and which I wrote a poem about which Ned Rorem set, but I am very sorry anyway
at how things have turned out, and I discover, besides, when I am outside the phone booth
that I have lost my shopping list. Well, if nothing happens to me in the next two minutes
I can stop here and make another.
Epstein admits that the poem “almost reads like an intentional self-parody of O’Hara’s famous shopping trip in “The Day Lady Died.” (And parody of other O’Hara pieces—the Lana Turner one, certainly.) My bet: a Kenneth Koch spoof. The rhythms, particularly in the first few lines, lack O’Hara’s incisive speed—they lumber, full of the clumsy (“thanking him for his having . . .”) and the extraneous (“but meanwhile”). Does O’Hara, elsewhere, ever get LeRoi’s name wrong, the way the poem does (twice). (For all’s fierce quickness, O’Hara is usually meticulous—no skimping the details.) What’s that coy curiosity “schmootz” (O’Hara’s rarely coy). I am curious: a handwritten copy? Typed? Whose typewriter?

Frank O’Hara by Alex Katz