Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Larry Rivers and Frank O'Hara

Larry Rivers was born on this date (August 17) in 1923. His presence as an individual who figured significantly in the painting and poetry circles of New York during the second half of the twentieth century is unmistakable. Rivers also was a performing jazz saxophonist. Indeed, a product of the Juliard School of Music along with fellow student and lifelong friend Miles Davis, Rivers connected as well with those emerging musicians in the New York jazz set.

According to Frank O’Hara, he and Rivers first met at a cocktail party in 1950 hosted by mutual friend John Ashbery. O’Hara once confided his interesting first impression of Rivers: “I thought he was crazy and he thought I was even crazier. I was very shy, which he thought was intelligence; he was garrulous, which I assumed was brilliance—and on such misinterpretations, thank heavens, many a friendship is based.”

The close relationship between Frank O’Hara and Larry Rivers continued for the next sixteen years until O’Hara’s untimely death in a freak vehicle accident on Fire Island. During those years, the poet and painter inspired one another and created works responding to one another. They also collaborated on various projects. Perhaps no other friendship epitomized as well the links between the art and literary communities in New York at the time. In his autobiographical book of collected memoirs, What Did I Do (Harper Collins, 1992), Rivers writes extensively about his relationship with O’Hara, explaining: “From the earliest moments of our friendship we were enthusiastic about each other’s work. Frank O’Hara was a big influence on me, but I think I influenced him too.” An excellent example of the inspiration and influence Rivers exerted on O’Hara can be detected in O’Hara’s well-known poem, “On Seeing Larry Rivers’ Washington Crossing the Delaware at the Museum of Modern Art.”

One of the major artworks of Larry Rivers, Washington Crossing the Delaware, painted in 1953, served as a controversial piece that helped establish Rivers as an influential figure in the art scene. In his autobiography Rivers describes at length the painting’s beginnings, the process of composition, and its impact in the art world and elsewhere. He opens with the following: “In 1953 I read War and Peace. Tolstoy’s novel was not something I could see, not a figure or a landscape, a church or a mountainside. By meshing Napoleon’s invasion of Russia with contemporary life, Tolstoy set me on a course that produced Washington Crossing the Delaware, a seven-by-nine-foot work, plus a dozen drawings. The size and the research were going to prove that I was a serious artist, and if the painting turned out to be terrific, a talented one. This work was going to take my style of painting, charcoal drawing and rag wiping, to a new height. The mixture of grand art and absurdity was with me from the beginning.”

Rivers continues: “Shortly after Washington Crossing the Delaware was finished, Frank O’Hara wrote his ode.” Marjorie Perloff comments on Frank O’Hara’s poem responding to the Rivers artwork in her fine book, Frank O’Hara: Poet Among Painters: “Although O'Hara’s poem is especially witty if read in conjunction with Rivers’s painting, it can be read quite independently as a pastiche on a Major Event in American History, an ironic vision of the “Dear father of our country,” with “his nose / trembling like a flag under fire.”

In his memoir notes about Rivers that Frank O’Hara once wrote for the 1965 catalog of a Larry Rivers retrospective exhibition in the Poses Institute of Fine Arts at Brandeis University, O’Hara reflected: “Where much of the art of our time has been involved with direct conceptual or ethical considerations, Rivers has chosen to mirror his preoccupations with enthusiasms in an unprogrammatic way. As an example, I think he personally was very awed by Rothko and that this reveals itself in the seated figures of 1953-54; at the same time I know that a rereading of War and Peace, and his idea of Tolstoy’s life, prompted him to commence work on Washington Crossing the Delaware, a non-historical, non-philosophical work, the impulse for which I at first thought was hopelessly corny until I saw the painting finished. Rivers veers sharply, as if totally dependent on life impulses, until one observes an obsessively willful insistence on precisely what he is interested in. This goes for the father of our country as well as for the later Camel aand Tareyton packs. Who, he seems to be saying, says they’re corny? This is the opposite of pop art. He is naïve and never oversophisticated.”

During a 1959 Frank O’Hara interview of Larry Rivers for Horizon, the painter had explained: “Luckily for me I didn’t give a crap about what was going on at the time in New York painting. In fact, I was energetic and egomaniacal and, what is even more important, cocky and angry enough to want to do something that no one in the New York art world could doubt was disgusting, dead, and absurd. So, what could be dopier than a painting dedicated to a national cliché—Washington Crossing the Delaware. The last painting that dealt with George and the rebels is hanging in the Met and was painted by a coarse German nineteenth-century academician who really loved Napoleon more than anyone and thought crossing a river on a late December afternoon was just another excuse for a general to assume a heroic, slightly tragic pose . . .. What I saw in the crossing was quite different. I saw the moment as nerve-wracking and uncomfortable. I couldn’t picture anyone getting into a chilly river around Christmas time with anything resembling hand-on-chest heroics.”

At Frank O’Hara’s funeral in 1966, Larry Rivers read a personal tribute, which included the following: “Frank O’Hara was my best friend. There are at least sixty people in New York who thought Frank O’Hara was their best friend. Without a doubt he was the most impossible man I knew. He never let me off the hook. He never allowed me to be lazy. His talk, his interests, his poetry, his life was a theatre in which I saw what human beings are really like. He was a dream of contradictions. At one time or another, he was everyone’s greatest and most loyal audience.”

Perhaps like the jazz musicians with whom Rivers played and maintained friendships—such as Miles Davis and Charlie Parker—who enjoyed improvising solos in response to cues in one another’s performing as a measure of respect or reverence, Frank O’Hara also took pleasure in reacting to the art of Larry Rivers or reciprocating with his own poetry as a sign of his admiration and affection.


Now that our hero has come back to us
in his white pants and we know his nose
trembling like a flag under fire,
we see the calm cold river is supporting
our forces, the beautiful history.

To be more revolutionary than a nun
is our desire, to be secular and intimate
as, when sighting a redcoat, you smile
and pull the trigger. Anxieties
and animosities, flaming and feeding

on theoretical considerations and
the jealous spiritualities of the abstract
the robot? they're smoke, billows above
the physical event. They have burned up.
See how free we are! as a nation of persons.

Dear father of our country, so alive
you must have lied incessantly to be
immediate, here are your bones crossed
on my breast like a rusty flintlock,
a pirate's flag, bravely specific

and ever so light in the misty glare
of a crossing by water in winter to a shore
other than that the bridge reaches for.
Don't shoot until, the white of freedom glinting
on your gun barrel, you see the general fear.

—Frank O’Hara

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