After the first glass of vodka you can accept just about anything of life even your own mysteriousness you think it is nice that a box of matches is purple and brown and is called La Petite and comes from Sweden for they are words that you know and that is all you know words not their feelings or what they mean and you write because you know them not because you understand them because you don’t you are stupid and lazy and will never be great but you do what you know because what else is there?
In this taboo-busting, whimsical work from 1954, the poet Frank O'Hara, Rivers's close friend and sometimes lover, is revealed in full-length posture standing naked - a better term than nude - with his arms clasped on top of his head, gazing unabashedly at the viewer. He is wearing only leather combat boots, one foot propped up on a breeze block. Rivers painted a number of portraits of O'Hara, but this is by far the most provocative.
This portrait reveals Rivers's raw talent as a portraitist and draughtsman, a talent which was unfashionable at a time when Abstract Expressionism still reigned supreme. Again, however, Rivers's rebellion was political as well as aesthetic: the overt homoeroticism of the work, that is, was particularly daring during the 1950s, the era not only of the Red Scare, but also of the so-called Lavender Scare. Being gay in 1950s America, just like being a Communist, was seen as a threat to national security, so much so that the Government launched a witch-hunt to out homosexuals and have them removed from their posts. Standing at 2.5 meters tall, this painting makes an imposing and provocative statement in an era long before personal identity - let alone gay identity - was a suitable subject for modern art. As art critic Ken Johnson explains, "[t]he way the young, muscular O'Hara stands with hands on his head and one foot up on a concrete block creates a casual sexual vitality that slyly subverts high-minded traditions of the academic nude."
A closer look at the painting will reveal a witty dialogue between 'high' and 'low' cultural references. As Johnson suggests, the portrait mimics an Old Masters' painting in some aspects of its composition, but O'Hara also seems to be posing in the style of a contemporary pin-up. For the sitter himself, "what Larry was trying to do was keep it from being academic. But at the same time getting in the ring with [Theodore] Géricault," the French Romantic portraitist. O'Hara and Rivers's relationship was defined by a meeting of the high and low-brow. The pair were formidable intellectuals, who would spend much of their time discussing literature and art. But they were also party boys: O' Hara, in particular, was famous for cruising for sex in downtown New York.
a boy smelling faintly of heather staring up at your window
the passion that enlightens and stills and cultivates, gone
while I sought your face to be familiar in the blueness
or to follow your sharp whistle around a corner into my light
that was love growing fainter each time you failed to appear
I spent my whole self searching love which I thought was you
it was mine so briefly and I never knew it, or you went
I thought it was outside disappearing but it is disappearing in my heart
like snow blown in a window to be gone from the world
I will always love you.
Featuring the work of 42 poets and artists, from Dylan Thomas to Frank O’Hara, and Helen Phillips to Willem de Kooning, the portfolio 21 Etchings and Poems, published in 1960, represents a noteworthy collaboration between the visual and literary arts. Each print closely integrates text and image, including a poem written in the hand of its author and imagery created through a wide range of innovative print techniques. Initiated by artist Peter Grippe, director of the renowned Atelier 17 print workshop, and the result of nearly ten years of effort, 21 Etchings and Poems is not only a landmark of mid-20th century American print publishing, but is unique in its inclusion of writers and artists from across the spectrum of 1950s cultural production.
The Sun woke me this morning loud and clear, saying “Hey! I’ve been trying to wake you up for fifteen minutes. Don’t be so rude, you are only the second poet I’ve ever chosen to speak to personally so why aren’t you more attentive? If I could burn you through the window I would to wake you up. I can’t hang around Here all day.”
“Sorry, Sun, I stayed up late last night talking to Hal.”
“When I woke up Mayakovsky he was a lot more prompt” the Sun said petulantly. “Most people are up already waiting to see if I’m going to put in an appearance.” I tried to apologize “I missed you yesterday.” “That’s better” he said “I didn’t know you’d come out. You may be wondering why I’ve come so close?” “Yes” I said beginning to feel hot wondering if maybe he wasn’t burning me anyway.
“Frankly I wanted to tell you I like your poetry. I see a lot on my rounds and you’re okay. You may not be the greatest thing on earth, but you’re different. Now, I’ve heard some say you’re crazy, they being excessively calm themselves to my mind, and other crazy poets think you’re a boring reactionary. Not me.
Just keep on like I do and pay no attention. You’ll find that people always will complain about the atmosphere, either too hot or too cold too bright or too dark, days too short or too long.
If you don’t appear at all one day they think you’re lazy or dead. Just keep right on, I like it.
And don’t worry about your lineage poetic or natural. The Sun shines on the jungle, you know, on the tundra the sea, the ghetto. Whatever you were I knew it and saw you moving. I was waiting for you to get to work.
And now that you are making your own days, so to speak, even if no one reads you but me you won’t be depressed. Not everyone can look up, even at me. It hurts their eyes.”
“Oh Sun, I’m so grateful to you!”
“Thanks and remember I’m watching. It’s easier for me to speak to you out here. I don’t have to slide down between buildings to get your ear. I know you love Manhattan, but you ought to look up more often.
And always embrace things, people earth sky stars, as I do, freely and with the appropriate sense of space. That is your inclination, known in the heavens and you should follow it to hell, if necessary, which I doubt.
Maybe we’ll speak again in Africa, of which I too am especially fond. Go back to sleep now Frank, and I may leave a tiny poem in that brain of yours as a farewell.”
“Sun, don’t go!” I was awake at last. “No, go I must, they’re calling me.” “Who are they?” Rising he said “Some day you’ll know. They’re calling to you too.” Darkly he rose, and then I slept.
is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles
and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
I look at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it
Frank O´Hara reading his poem "Having a coke with you" in his flat in New York in 1966, shortly before his accidental death. Taken from - "USA: Poetry: Frank O'Hara" produced and directed by Richard Moore, for KQED and WNET. Originally aired on September 1, 1966.
Am I to become profligate as if I were a blonde? Or religious as if I were French?
Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous (and how the same names keep recurring on that interminable list!), but one of these days there’ll be nothing left with which to venture forth.
Why should I share you? Why don’t you get rid of someone else for a change?
I am the least difficult of men. All I want is boundless love.
Even trees understand me! Good heavens, I lie under them, too, don’t I? I’m just like a pile of leaves.
However, I have never clogged myself with the praises of pastoral life, nor with nostalgia for an innocent past of perverted acts in pastures. No. One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes—I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life. It is more important to affirm the least sincere; the clouds get enough attention as it is and even they continue to pass. Do they know what they’re missing? Uh huh.
My eyes are vague blue, like the sky, and change all the time; they are indiscriminate but fleeting, entirely specific and disloyal, so that no one trusts me. I am always looking away. Or again at something after it has given me up. It makes me restless and that makes me unhappy, but I cannot keep them still. If only I had grey, green, black, brown, yellow eyes; I would stay at home and do something. It’s not that I am curious. On the contrary, I am bored but it’s my duty to be attentive, I am needed by things as the sky must be above the earth. And lately, so great has theiranxiety become, I can spare myself little sleep.
Now there is only one man I love to kiss when he is unshaven. Heterosexuality! you are inexorably approaching. (How discourage her?)
St. Serapion, I wrap myself in the robes of your whiteness which is like midnight in Dostoevsky. How am I to become a legend, my dear? I’ve tried love, but that hides you in the bosom of another and I am always springing forth from it like the lotus—the ecstasy of always bursting forth! (but one must not be distracted by it!) or like a hyacinth, “to keep the filth of life away,” yes, there, even in the heart, where the filth is pumped in and courses and slanders and pollutes and determines. I will my will, though I may become famous for a mysterious vacancy in that department, that greenhouse.
Destroy yourself, if you don’t know!
It is easy to be beautiful; it is difficult to appear so. I admire you, beloved, for the trap you’ve set. It's like a final chapter no one reads because the plot is over.
“Fanny Brown is run away—scampered off with a Cornet of Horse; I do love that little Minx, & hope She may be happy, tho’ She has vexed me by this Exploit a little too. —Poor silly Cecchina! or F:B: as we used to call her. —I wish She had a good Whipping and 10,000 pounds.” —Mrs. Thrale.
I’ve got to get out of here. I choose a piece of shawl and my dirtiest suntans. I’ll be back, I'll re-emerge, defeated, from the valley; you don’t want me to go where you go, so I go where you don’t want me to. It’s only afternoon, there’s a lot ahead. There won’t be any mail downstairs. Turning, I spit in the lock and the knob turns.