My senior year of college, I took a seminar on the New York School Poets, but I only remember Frank. Frank: it’s what we called him in class, like we knew him. We felt we did. At one point mid-semester there was a discussion about calling him O’Hara—didn’t he deserve the same respect we’d show Shakespeare or Keats or Joyce?
But it wasn’t a question of respect. It was connection. Frank enchanted and hypnotized us; he invited us into his world. Because we read his poems, we knew his sex life, his circle of friends, his telephone habits, his family, the places he went and the ways he walked through New York City. He was talking to us all that time, wasn’t he? As Kenneth Koch said, "In a lot of his poems he seems to be just talking... talking with someone, talking with himself, talking with the reader, talking to a friend, and the subject is the feeling or the situation that has caused him to talk."
The feeling that caused him to talk. There is so much I can say about O’Hara. My copy of his anthology, dog-eared and underlined, has come with me through every move of my 20s, from city to city, apartment to apartment. I still love the sentences I wrote about him in my final paper, even if they are a bit overwrought. But much of what remains now is feeling: nostalgia, and love.
Senior year I was in love with Frank, and I was in love with you. I did something for the first time then, something I haven’t done since: I memorized a poem. One of Frank’s, called “Morning.” I kept its lines in the space between my lips, carrying each word with me as I crisscrossed the snowy lawns of our campus, as I sat in the back of the library writing papers, as I drank Miller Lite at Woody’s and went to bed lonely. I was holding Frank tight and biding my time with you.
“I’ve got to tell you / how I love you always”—these are Morning’s opening lines, and I say them to you in the total dark of my apartment. I’m showing off; I’m drunk. I’m aware of being ridiculous, but what else can one be, in love? Here I am, using Frank to tell you I love you, and do we know each other, even? No, or maybe barely.
We are potential energy. I feel it distinctly; its force is something I know, and to know something—anything—is so rare. The knowing thrills and sustains me. You can keep your lips pressed closed, and you do, for a time.
Frank says, “It may be that poetry makes life's nebulous events tangible to me and restores their detail; or conversely, that poetry brings forth the intangible quality of incidents which are all too concrete and circumstantial. Or each on specific occasions, or both all the time.”
I’m writing because I want to return to a place of holding things dear, like poems and feelings. Frank is right: writing is the only way I know to make what’s nebulous tangible and to give shape to the intangible. Writing is not only holding something up to a light to see it; writing is a way of finding the light itself.