Book Reviewed: Meditations in an Emergency, by Frank O'Hara
It took me longer than it should have, but I finally got around to reading the important mid-20th-century American poet, Frank O'Hara. I only knew a couple O'Hara poems before picking up Meditations in an Emergency last week, one of which is "Mayakovsky," a poem I really love. O'Hara, who was also an art critic and museum curator, had a major impact on American poetry during his time, and he's been an important influence on generations of poets since. You can't take a poetry writing workshop and not run into at least one O'Hara poem. He's funny; his language is striking and inventive; and his work isn't overcooked. Most people can find at least one O'Hara poem they like.
I quite enjoyed Meditations in an Emergency, if only because it's different from any other poetry books I've read in a while. It's obvious that some of my favorite contemporary poets - Jay Hopler and Richard Siken in particular - have read and internalized O'Hara's work, which edges up to the line of absurdity without fully going over it. O'Hara often gets lumped together with John Ashberry, and I'm not sure I like that comparison. Ashberry is a much-loved poet, but I've never enjoyed reading his work. O'Hara's writing, while similar, never feels quite as "out there." O'Hara knows how to be artistic without showing off, a feat I dont think Ashberry manages.
Anyway, this is great little collection. I probably wouldn't put O'Hara up there with Larkin or Apollinaire in terms of my poetry-worship, but I do think his work is quite wonderful. My favorite poems here include the title piece, "Mayakovsky," "To the Film Industry in Crisis," and "To the Harbormaster."
I should also add that reading this book makes me want to go out and read the work of the Russian/Soviet poet, Vladimir Mayakovsky, the namesake of the above-mentioned favorite poem and a huge influence on Frank O'Hara. Plus, his life was all kind of drama, a trait to which I can't help but be attracted.