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

Monday, January 28, 2008

Frank O'Hara and Jackson Pollock

The previous post to “One Poet’s Notes” celebrated Derek Walcott’s birthday by looking back at sixty years of poetry since his first publication of poems in 1948. In that same year, Jackson Pollock produced a series of groundbreaking paintings that involved an innovative technique eventually known as action painting. Pollock’s group of paintings transformed the world of art, and his work influenced a number of contributions in various facets of American culture, including contemporary poetry.

In my literature and creative writing courses over the years I frequently have emphasized the interconnectedness of movements in various art forms, especially the links existing between poetry and painting. Particularly in the twentieth century, American poets often have associated their writings with the works of artists, and as a result at times a kind of dialogue has developed. Recently, I wrote as part of a post about William Carlos Williams’ “The Great Figure,” the poem that inspired a famous painting by Charles Demuth. In another post I described the monologue of “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” during which John Ashbery addresses the artwork and the artist Parmigianino that inspired his poem. Likewise, I repeatedly have expressed my respect for ekphrastic poetry, whether individual pieces written by my students and other poets or more formal full-length collections, such as in my review of Michelangelo’s Seizure by Steve Gehrke.

Therefore, readers will not be surprised to find my thoughts today focusing on another example of the relationship between poetry and painting or poets and painters. On this birthday of Jackson Pollock (born in Cody, Wyoming on January 28, 1912), I’m reminded of Frank O’Hara’s appreciation for Pollock’s paintings. From the beginning of Pollock’s experimentation in the late 1940s—dripping paint on an unstretched canvas positioned across his floor (perhaps inspired by Indian sandpainting) and scraping the covered surface with odd instruments, sticks, or knives—Frank O’Hara appeared fascinated by the technique, which both Pollock and O’Hara viewed as a process toward freedom from restraint or convention.

Pollock’s action painting, containing dark arcs of paint or lines of spattered drops lengthening like beaded chains, embraced spontaneity and imitated coincidence much the way many of O’Hara’s action composition poems narrating events as they may have happened attempted to speak to their readers with a seemingly natural, unfiltered voice relating personal observations or experiences.

Indeed, the post-World War II timing of Jackson Pollock’s move toward Abstract Expressionism, as critics eventually chose to label the style, reflected a sense of physical liberation and emotional release that might have influenced much of the war-weary nation. In addition, Pollock’s paintings may have hinted at the opening of poetry as witnessed throughout the following decade not only among the New York School of poets, but also in the form of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and the looser use of language in Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, then continuing its influence through poetry published during the rest of the century’s second half.

Speaking of Pollock and the other artists he knew well at the time, and whom he acknowledged as influences, O’Hara once commented: “It was a liberal education on top of an academic one.” In an interview with Edward Lucie-Smith, O’Hara elaborated that at the time “painters were the only ones interested in any kind of experimental poetry and the general literary scene was not. Oh, we were published in certain magazines and so on, but nobody was really very enthusiastic except the painters.”

David Lehman includes in The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets, his excellent examination of the time period and its artistic atmosphere: “O’Hara felt that the painters were the heroes of a modern artistic revolution.” Lehman specifically remarks upon O’Hara’s 1959 monograph about Jackson Pollock and his paintings: “As with all his critical writings, the style of O’Hara’s Pollock monograph is poetic rather than analytical, animated by ardor rather than cool detachment, and full of a phrasemaker’s panache.” Later in the book, Lehman correctly categorizes the connections between Pollock’s action paintings and O’Hara’s poetry:

The artist’s vocation required a struggle to attain “the state of spiritual clarity,” O’Hara wrote in his monograph on Jackson Pollock. “Only when he is in this state is the artist’s ‘action’ significant purely and simply of itself.” It was in this sense that O’Hara’s own work is the closest thing in poetry to Action Painting. O’Hara’s cult of the artist is a Romantic notion taken to an extreme: the idea that the most crucial element in a poem is not the isolated text, nor its relation to either the world it describes or the reader it addresses, but rather the figure of the poet as creator, who has made a “monumental and agonizing” effort to achieve spiritual grace. The effort, and not the poem it yields, is what is “monumental.”

Jackson Pollock’s Number 1, 1948, pictured above, provides an early example of his action painting in which the artist’s physical act of composition—the uninhibited tossing of droplets or splashing lines of paint and the smearing with sticks, trowels, or knives—becomes almost as significant as the ultimate image the artist produces. Similarly, the asides and digressions that characterize some of Frank O’Hara’s more memorable poems display the poet’s act of composition and sometimes become as interesting as the purported subject of the piece. An appropriate example may be encountered in the following poem that O’Hara wrote concerning Pollock’s large painting and that once again ties together the two figures:


I am ill today but I am not
too ill. I am not ill at all.
It is a perfect day, warm
for winter, cold for fall.

A fine day for seeing. I see
ceramics, during lunch hour, by
Miro, and I see the sea by Leger;
light, complicated Metzingers
and a rude awakening by Brauner,
a little table by Picasso, pink.

I am tired today but I am not
too tired. I am not tired at all.
There is the Pollock, white, harm
will not fall, his perfect hand

and the many short voyages. They'll
never fence the silver range.
Stars are out and there is sea
enough beneath the glistening earth
to bear me toward the future
which is not so dark. I see.

In an ironic twist, the two individuals are connected in death as well. Both men died in alcohol related automobile accidents on Long Island, New York—Jackson Pollock crashed into a tree while driving intoxicated near his home in the Springs section of the Hamptons during the summer of 1956, and an inebriated Frank O’Hara was struck by a speeding jeep while walking late at night on the dark beach at Fire Island in the summer of 1966. O’Hara had included notice of Pollock’s death in one of his action composition poems, “A Step Away from Them,” written in 1956, which also noted the recent passing of other friends in the arts, eccentric poet-playwright V.R. “Bunny” Lang (a founder of the Poets’ Theatre) and musician-librettist John Latouche: “Bunny died, then John Latouche, / then Jackson Pollock. But is the / earth as full as life was full, of them?” In August of 1956 Jackson Pollock was buried at the Green River Cemetery in Springs, where Frank O’Hara also was buried ten years later in July of 1966.


Anonymous said...

This is all so fucking sad. I don't know why I read it nor why you wrote it. Not that it isn't very good or very interesting. Or even transporting. It is all that but especially fucking sad. I wish I knew why. Maybe that would help.

JdS said...

Just wanted to thank you for this article as I am working on a series of poems that look to another painter from this period. I have been examining O'Hara on Pollock and thinking generally of New York School poets so this was a nice find.

Appreciate the time you took to put get it out and was HAPPY to find it.

John deSouza

Anonymous said...

Sweet Mickey Davis. You're fucking awesome, dude.

Unknown said...

I do not think this is sad. I think it is an expression of equanimity and calm. Seeing reality clearly and not being afraid.

Jane McEwan

H. Palmer Hall said...

The drunken deaths are sad, of course, the circumstances, the loss. But the relationships, the synergy between art and poetry...that is affirming. Thanks for posting this, Ed. Your "Notes" are always worth reading.

C. E. Chaffin said...

Good introductory history. Yet in poetry I think spontanaeity overrated in general; for me, the best pieces achieve casualness through long effort by the artist, as in the case of Elizabeth Bishop, a friend of Lowell and a contemporary. That the NY school birthed Ashbery, whom I consider a lazy practitioner, is the unfortunate result of heterodoxy subsumed by orthodoxy. Would that Ashbery was never published, but I enjoy O'Hara and who doesn't?

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