Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Kees & O'Hara: strange bedfellows

Great essay by John Yau in the current issue of American Poetry Review, comparing the lives and work of Weldon Kees and Frank O'Hara.

"Although separated by more than a decade, and associated with different literary tendencies, Kees and O'Hara loved the movies, modern art, and all kinds of music. They found popular culture exciting and vivacious, and they hated pretense. Both died young."

Kees comes off, in Yau's reading, as, ultimately, a joyless loner, who could not accept his life. O'Hara fares much better, as a playful, generous, and sensual participant in life. Near the end of the essay, Yau quotes one of my newest favorite O'Hara poems: "Ave Maria." I can just hear O'Hara's singular voice reading this poem out loud (and proud), and it makes me laugh and cry at the same time. The mix of the sublime with the mundane is truly magical.

Ave Maria (sorry the layout is not as in the original, but it doesn't really matter that much)

Mothers of America
let your kids go to the movies!
get them out of the house so they won't
know what you're up to
it's true that fresh air is good for the body
but what about the soul
that grows in darkness, embossed by
silvery images
and when you grow old as grow old you
must they won't hate you
they won't criticize you they won't know
they'll be in some glamorous country
they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or
playing hookey
they may even be grateful to you
for their first sexual experience
which only cost you a quarter
and didn't upset the peaceful home
they will know where candy bars come
from and gratuitous bags of popcorn
as gratuitous as leaving the movie before
it's over
with a pleasant stranger whose apartment
is in the Heaven on
Earth Bldg
near the Williamsburg Bridge
oh mothers you will have made the
little tykes
so happy because if nobody does pick them up
in the movies
they won't know the difference
and if somebody does it'll be sheer gravy
and they'll have been truly entertained
either way
instead of hanging around the yard
or up in their room hating you
prematurely since you won't have done
anything horribly mean yet
except keeping them from life's darker joys
it's unforgivable the latter
so don't blame me if you won't take this
advice and the family breaks up
and your children grow old and blind in
front of a TV set seeing
movies you wouldn't let them see when
they were young


Charles said...

Isn't this poem more of biting indictment of parenthood than a celebration of cinema?

Peter said...

Charles: Fascinating take on the poem. And yes, I think that reading is definitley there.

But I read those references as very tongue-in-cheek, regarding parenthood. And that what the poem is celebrating is not "cinema" per se, but "going out to the movies." I think O'Hara is using it as a metaphor for exploring the self, one's emerging sexuality, ditching the family, and growing up.

Tony said...

This is a poem about getting laid.

Peter said...

Tony: I think so. yes.

dogfaceboy said...

Of course it is. I think it's also a warning to mothers about what's waiting to corrupt our kids. It's completely sarcastic.