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Thursday, May 3, 2012

CAN'T CONNECT WITH FRANK O'HARA

     larry rivers, I like olympia in black, 1970


Have been reading in Frank O'Hara's ART CHRONICLES 1954-1966. It is a collection of esssays from a magazine he was involved with as an associate editor, Art and Literature, where these essays originally appeared. He also worked at the Museum of Modern Art and wrote a good bit of poetry. The book was published in 1975 and I've had my copy since about that time. Seeing the spine on the bookshelf, I was thinking it would be a good time to look at it, as I hadn't paid much attention to it in awhile and he wrote about artists whose work I appreciate, the abstract expressionists. Reading in it, I realized I had read in it before. This time I was looking at an interview with Larry Rivers.


O'Hara's questions struck me as very poor interview questions, yet each one sent Rivers into a long paragraph of talking. What he drew out of Rivers I found did not satisfy my reasons for reading the article, to find some possible insight into Larry Rivers' painting. I came away disappointed, but didn't really know why. Started the essay on Robert Motherwell, recognizing I'd read it before, but that was so far away as not to matter. Read ten pages, wondered, what am I reading? He hadn't told me a thing about Motherwell's painting that opened to any insight for me. It was all information, nickel knowledge information. The information didn't even give an insight into the character of Motherwell or his painting. I quit reading it and realized this has happened before with this book over the last almost 40 years.


It takes me back to remembering why I've never been an enthusiast for Frank O'Hara's poetry. It never spoke to me. Like his prose writing, it seems like information for the sake of information. I feel like rejecting him like I have is not the way to handle O'Hara, because he is "cool" and "famous" and ran in the right circles to be totally cool. Cool people praise his writing and talk about what a great guy he was. Mighta been. I'm recalling past efforts of mine to give O'Hara a break, considering that I haven't yet given him his due, maybe if I read something now I'll get it. Maybe before, I didn't get it. Over and over I've found he leaves me uninterested in what he's writing about very quickly. I stopped reading about Motherwell when I realized after 10 pages I'd found nothing that reveals anything about what Motherwell was reaching toward. I found O'Hara has no depth in his writing. It's the same with his poetry. I used to wonder why cool people spoke and wrote so highly of him and I couldn't find any reason to read any of the poems I saw a second time.


O'Hara in these essays shows me the reason I've not been able to read him with any pleasure in the past is that he's a surface-skimmer. I've no problem with that as a legitimate style, but it's of no interest to me to read information for the sake of information. O'Hara wrote historical context very well, understood the evolution of art in the 20th Century. For me, his writing lacks life. When I finish one of his essays I feel like I haven't read anything, like I've been sitting here dozing off. His thinking, going by the questions in the Rivers interview, didn't appear to run very deep. I've never found an O'Hara poem I can say I like, and these essays, again, have only disappointed by giving no insight into a period of art I like a lot. Writing about art is not a bit easy. I'm not so wound up over Clement Greenberg's writing about abstraction, though Harold Rosenberg's writings on the abstract expressionists satisfies what I'm looking for when I want to read about art. I don't mean to make claims that one is the greatest and the other is not. Just noting my own subjective take on them.


A black bear ran by the window. It ran past the birdfeeder to the road, across the road and up the bank the other side. At first, I thought it was a black dog, but it was a little too much like loping for a dog. Running up the bank, it's fat rolling all over its body lumbering without hesitation up the steep embankment faster than a dog could, I saw clearly this was, indeed, a bear and not a dog. At the top of the bank it stopped and showed me its profile with its light brown snout. Beautiful bear. Caterpillar is looking out the screen door suspiciously. Could be she smelled it or heard the alarm in Martha's voice.. Martha barked at it briefly and made like she wanted to run after it. Satisfied to see it leave her territory of its own accord, she stopped this side of the road. She knew what it was, probably ten times her weight, big claws, big teeth, and absolutely wild.
    


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