Saturday, October 3, 2009

“Jane Awake”

Today’s Weekly Poem is by Frank O’Hara, a poet whose work has been an inspiration since my undergraduate days. O’Hara’s mix of wit (sometimes morphing into broad humor), sentiment, &, at times, darkness—all informed by a surrealistic sense of delight. Tho it’s not particularly evident in “Jane Awake,” O’Hara also had a gift for mingling “high” culture & pop culture in his poetry—something I felt a great kinship with. Poet John Ashberry spoke about O’Hara himself being influenced by both the French Surrealists & Symbolists, saying he was inspired by “poets who speak the language of every day into the reader’s dream”—in many ways, this is a fine encapsulation of O’Hara’s own work.

For those who are curious about such things, I believe the “Jane” of the title is painter Jane Freilicher, who like O’Hara was one of a friendly circle of New York artists & painters in the 1940s & 50s; this circle included folks like Larry Rivers, Joan Mitchell, John Ashberry, Kenneth Koch & Ted Berrigan.

Hope you enjoy the poem!

Jane Awake

The opals hiding your lids
        as you sleep, as you ride ponies
mysteriously, spring to bloom
like the blue flowers of autumn

each nine o'clock. And curls
        tumble languorously towards
the yawning rubber band, tan,
your hand pressing all that

riotous black sleep into
        the quiet form of daylight
and its sunny disregard for
        the luminous volutions, oh!

and the budding waltzes
        we swoop through in nights.
Before dawn you roar with
        your eyes shut, unsmiling,

your volcanic flesh hides
        everything from the watchman,
and the tendrils of dreams
        strangle policemen running by

too slowly to escape you,
        the racing vertiginous waves
of your murmuring need. But
        he is day's guardian saint

that policeman, and leaning
        from your open window you ask
him what to dress to wear and
        to comb your hair modestly,

for that is now your mode.
        Only by chance tripping on stairs
do you repeat the dance, and
        then, in the perfect variety of

subdued, impeccably disguised,
        white black pink blue saffron
and golden ambiance, do we find
        the nightly savage, in a trance.

Frank O'Hara


  1. Loving this, John! I must find some O'Hara for my collection. I can see why you like his work so much.

  2. Hi Kat: So glad you liked it! Yes, do look into O'Hara.


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