Frank O’Hara

‘Why I Am Not a Painter’ and other poems

As you can probably guess, this book is a collection of poems by Frank O’Hara. Expansive and direct, O’Hara’s prolific nature seeps into each poem through its intimacy and immediacy.

Life just seems to spill out onto the paper from experience and thoughts that flow into each other with an oddly settling coherence. There’s a vibrancy underlying each and every word, one that sees more than just the norm. There’s always more, whether you capture it or not is a whole other question.

Below are some of my favourite passages from the collection.

‘But how can you really care if anyone gets it, or gets what it means, or if it improves them. Improves them for what? For death? Why hurry them along?’

From A Pleasant Thought From Whitehead

Ah! reader! you open the page
my poems stare back at you you
stare back, do you not? my
poems speak on the silver
of your eyes your eyes repeat
them to your lover’s this
very night. Over your naked
shoulder the improving stars
read my poems and flash
then onward to a friend

From Poetry

To deepen you by my quickness
and delight as if you
were logical and proven,
but still be quiet as if
you would never leave me
and were the inexorable
product of my own time.

‘It’s a summer day, and I want to be wanted more than anything else in the world.’

From My Heart

I want my feet to be bare,
I want my face to be shaven, and my heart—
you can’t plan on the heart, but
the better part of it, my poetry, is open.


Why you play such dreary music
on Saturday afternoon, when tired
mortally tired I long for a little
reminder of immortal energy?

week long while I trudge fatiguingly
from desk to desk in the museum
you spill your miracles of Grieg
and Honnegger on shut-ins.

                                         Am I not
shut in too, and after a week
of work don’t I deserve Prokofieff?

Well, I have my beautiful de Kooning
to aspire to. I think it has an orange
bed in it, more than the ear can hold.

‘I want to be at least as alive as the vulgar.’

From Avenue A

I suppose there will be more of those others to come, as in the past
                                                      so many
but for now the moon is revealing itself like a pearl
                                                      to my equally naked heart

From Personism: A Manifesto

Suppose you’re in love and someone’s mistreating (mal aimé) you, you don’t say, “Hey, you can’t hurt me this way, I care!” you just let all the different bodies fall where they may, and they always do may after a few months. But that’s not why you fell in love in the first place, just to hang onto life, so you have to take your chances and try to avoid being logical. Pain always produces logic, which is very bad for you.

‘It is tomorrow, though only six hours have gone by, each day’s light has more significance these days.’