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?
I love this short, quiet poem of Frank O’Hara. I first came across it a year or so ago on a Poetry Off the Shelf (Poetry Foundation) podcast about drinking. They had a lot of material to get through. Other poets (Duffy, Yeats, O’Brien) have conjured the otherness and wildness of being drunk with greater verbosity, but it is precisely the hushed, confessional tone of this poem that draws me to it.
I have a theory about Frank O’Hara, that he wasn’t a wild extrovert at all (with Kenneth Koch knocking around the place, who would need to be?) but preferred to live, as one of his poems has it ‘a step away from them’. Anyway, it’s just a theory. As they say, Discuss. I think he has a lot more in common with someone more obviously withdrawn like Tomas Tranströmer. (I could be wrong.)
I am off now to my own space of withdrawing. To see if I can (re)discover my inner Frank O’Hara. Or even Anthony Wilson. A step away from them. (You.) On the advice of a friend, I am going to read no new poetry magazines or blogs. I shall be taking only four poets with me. I’ll let you know who when I am back.
Love for now, Anthony
Art-work: The Encounter (1952)(detail), Karel Appel, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam