New York School poets bring a fresh sense of life to poetry? Close analysis of the poems written by Frank O’Hara, John Jabbers and Kenneth Koch, has lead me to believe that they bring a fresh sense of life in the poetry they write with the help of many factors ranging from the way they structure their poems, which is in the free form. To contextual and social references through the arts and the city. Effectively, almost embodying life in their poems, I believe that this was only possible through the use of free form poetry.
Free form poetry lacked the traditional poetic characteristics normally associated with traditional poetry or “academic” poetry, and could be seen as similar to a collage. Due to the fact that each poem took is constructed of various images which coincide to make one larger image, evident in Koch’s poem ‘Fresh Air’. This idea is evident in ‘Fresh Air’ due to the way in which Koch portrays his thoughts about academic poetry which is almost lifelike, in the sense that the poem lacks a structure yet still tells a story, making the poem itself almost autonomous.
This can be Justified as the structure, which is free form, lacks both meter and a rhyme scheme. This poem in particular could be viewed as being similar to a collage, which is a type of art form made by sticking various images or materials to make one larger image. Just like a collage, ‘Fresh Air’ pieces together various events to create a story. Koch may have done this to prove that Just like academic poetry, free form poetry can tell a story when necessary, Just using a different approach, a new approach. The first stanza of ‘Fresh Air’ begins ‘At the Poem Society a black haired man… ‘.
This makes the poem seem almost like a recount of an event instead of an actual poem, implying that this may have been done in order to deviate from traditional standards set by academic poetry, and to bring a sense of life to the poem itself. In an interview with Kenneth Koch in 2002 he said that: ‘Fresh Air’ is all about that awful academic poetry that I hated, that, I suppose, I was reacting against, I mean, all of these drippy people writing poems about being professors and having affairs with students and their marriages breaking up and Thro and Odysseus and all this stuff. It was boring.
As a result Koch’s thirst for excitement was reflected in his poem. Furthermore, Koch’s hatred for dullness is also reflected in the poem and as a result, there are numerous references to free form in comparison to academic poetry. For example, in ‘Fresh Air’ Koch states that ‘Once you have heard this poem you will not love any other, Once you have dreamed this dream you will be inconsolable,’ this shows the reader Koch’s love for free form poetry and how he can never go back to the traditional standards, academic poetry, also in the fifth section of the poem he wants the ‘air’ to ‘rust their hypocrites a little’ and to ‘be the sea air! E noxious! Kill them, if you must,’ whatever it takes as long as it can ‘stop their poetry. This shows a strong hatred of academic poetry, a hatred so strong that Koch does not seem to care if someone dies in order for academic poetry to stop. John Jabbers, similarly, was able to bring a fresh sense of life using free form poetry, particularly in “They Only Dream of America, which also resembles a collage, due to the fact that it is very erratic in terms of the actual content of the poem. While evident through the whole of “They Only Dream of
America, it is especially highlighted in the third stanza where it states “Please,” he asked willingly. He is thirty years old. That was before’. All three sentences show no context when read out individually, but make sense when read together, this also shows aspects of stream of consciousness, in the sense that it almost seems as if each sentence is a new idea being noted down without finishing the previous idea, which all three poets portray in their poetry. On account of the poem’s erratic nature, critics have been able to infer many theories to the meaning of this poem.
John Shoptalk, for instance, said: The misrepresentations of “They Dream Only of America” are homosexual. The “thirteen million pillars of grass” suggest not only Whitman Leaves of Grass but the “pillar of salt” to which Lot’s wife, no pillar of the community, was reduced to looking back on the destruction of Stood. “Was the cigar a sign? / and what about the key? ” In this cluttered poem, in which every personal pronoun except “she” is represented, the sperm’s “honey” and phallic props (“pillars,” “key,” “cigar,” “leg”) take on a parodied significance.
The dismembered Ames of the perpetrators, “Jabbers” and “Marjory,” may be partially reconstructed from the line “And the murderer’s ash tray is more easily -. ” The romantic secrecy of the fugitive gay lovers is parallel here to the French Resistance (Marjory fought in its ranks, after his escape to Algeria) waiting for America’s liberation. Though the term “gay liberation” had not yet been coined, this poem seems to wait for its minting. The utopian “American dream” here fantasize a time and a place where gay lovers could come out of their lilac cubes. Like a collage various ideas have been pieced together to form one large image, this mime in the sense of sexual acceptance. This draws on to the idea of the poems written by each poet being very open-ended. Allowing various interpretations of the same poem. Normally, free form poetry takes the view of the poet, which can lead to more personal poetry, allowing the reader to take their own interpretations, the only way to know the true meaning of each poem is to ask the poet themselves.
Some poets also use historical events and contextual evidence as inspiration in their poems, which as a result can bring a fresh sense of life in their poems. Poets like Frank O’Hara, evident in his poem ‘Naphtha’ which mentions various real-life musicians and artists for the poem begins with ‘Ah Jean Debuted’, Jean Debuted was a French painter and sculptor renowned for various pieces of work such as the Court lee rues.
As well as the mention of Jean Debuted, Duke Longtime and Sonic Delaney are mentioned as well, both well-known in their times for their work in the arts. The free form structure of ‘Naphtha’ allows various themes in the poem that can be gathered, especially from the use of the artists’ names, such as emptiness which is normally associated with Sonic Delays artistic work; emptiness can also be found in the unfinished skyscrapers in the city skyline built by the ‘Iroquois’.
A critic named Ralph Hawkins once stated: Perhaps the emptiness can be read into the temporal suppositions of the poem as a whole or that indeed emptiness (absence) may lie on the other side of love. We could even read into it a moral historical skyscraper given we (a nation) owe a debt to the Iroquois. 3 In relation to skyscrapers and the city, the ‘Iroquois’ mentioned in the poem were a tribe of Native Americans known for building and owning many skyscrapers in arioso cities in the United States of America, especially in New York City.
This is relevant to this poem in particular as Frank O’Hara once said: ‘I am mainly preoccupied with the world as I experience it and at times when I would rather be dead the thought that I could never write another poem has so far stopped me. I think this is an ignoble attitude. I would rather die for love, but I haven’t. ‘ 4 Frank O’Hara lived in New York for quite some time, as he stated he mainly occupies himself with the world as he experiences it frequently known to write poems without NY preparation and the most bizarre inspirations.
New York was his greatest muse and inspiration, he makes frequent references to New York in his poetry. Through the use of New York, historical and social context it allows the reader to have a sense of freedom from the knowledge that they can take from this poem for example, it is relevant to acknowledge that not everyone knows who Jean Debuted is, by exploring who he is and what he has done, the reader will be able to understand the poem more. Making me believe that O’Hara did this in order to make his poem more meaningful.
The idea of freedom of the mind links to freedom in the poem, as the structure is free form, lacking any rhyme scheme or meter. There is also a lack of punctuation and evident use of enjambment implying that this poem could be one long sentence. The use of enjambment could also imply that the poem is separate parts pieced together like a collage, an art form that Frank O’Hara in particular participated in. The use of free form allows the poem to have a stream of consciousness effect which in turn allows more themes to be taken from the poem, as stated before.
There is also a theme of time in the poem which may in turn link to the arts and the city itself in which they both constantly change throughout history, evident as there are references to the 20th Century and 1922. This has been further reinforced by Ralph Hawkins who claims that: Much of Naphtha has to do with temporarily, or a contemporaries, even a hidden ontological questioning of one’s place in it. There are referents to 1922, the 20th Century, (parable of) speed, invented the century, and ancient September. We have historical time, Indians and the Eiffel
Tower, and contemporary time, the construction of a building, the girders, and personal (lived) time. What we are witnessing (reading) here is an outside, a beyond, a past. We move from Debuted (we will return to him in the final stanza with the time oriented word memory) in France, from one building, the Eiffel Tower (girders), to another being constructed in the middle of Manhattan, Park Eve, by Iroquois workers. 5 Through the use of time Frank O’Hara not only brings a fresh sense of life in his poetry, he also embodies life, because Just like time, life is always changing.
Through the use of both historic and contemporary time it makes the poem seem as though it is shaping around time, taking different aspects from both historic and contemporary time to make its own setting. The mixture of both historic and contemporary time makes the poem almost unique, the variation between geographic settings allows the poem to grasp two worlds. In the second stanza there is mention of the buildings that the Iroquois had constructed and that We owe a debt to the Iroquois and to Duke Longtime for playing in the buildings when they are built’.
This could be interpreted in the metaphorical sense as the Iroquois provided the building for Duke Longtime to play in, Duke Longtime being seen as representing all those who write free form poetry inhabiting the building in the contemporary time while those that partake in academic poetry are stuck on the girders ‘unflinching-footed nude as they should be slightly empty. As a result this can be seen as O’Hara saying that academic poetry has had its time and now it is history, while free form poetry is Waiting to become part of the century.
Keeping along with the idea of the arts and the city, here is also strong references in ‘Poem (Lana Turner has collapsed! )’ another poem written by Frank O’Hara. The mention of Lana Turner in the poem and the fact that she ‘COLLAPSED! ‘ is a hyperbole that could be seen as the fall of Hollywood, not Just one singular person. In ‘Poem (Lana Turner has collapsed! )’, there is also use of poetic devices such as similes evident as the traffic was acting exactly like the sky. This simile also has traits of a hyperbole due to the fact that the sky cannot act like traffic and the traffic cannot act like the sky.
Raising questions as to why O’Hara loud make this comparison as it is simply impossible, O’Hara may be referring to this in a metaphorical sense. Maybe the traffic’ isn’t traffic at all it could represent poetry, if poetry were acting like the sky it would be free in movement, without structure hence, traffic could represent free form poetry. Frank O’Hara also utilities comedy in his poem as he states ‘I have been to lots of parties and acted perfectly disgraceful but I never actually collapsed Oh Lana Turner we love you get up’ which makes the poem emotive, but only if you understand the reference.
It shows that O’Hara was writing specifically for his time and generation, as someone from my generation may not be able to understand the Joke, or who Lana Turner is for that matter. As a result it makes the poem almost personal and time specific. All three poets utilities aspects of surrealism in their poetry, as stated by James Overshoes of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, surrealist poets’: Poetry and prose drew upon the private world of the mind, traditionally restricted by reason and societal limitations, to produce surprising, unexpected imagery. 6
As all three poets have aspects of surrealism in their poetry it implies that they all write poetry based on the way they see and interpret the world. James Overshoes then goes on to describe surrealism as a ‘clever and whimsical disregard for traditions. Just like surrealism free form poetry is a clever and whimsical disregard of academic poetry, bringing a sense of life from the ‘surprising, unexpected imagery. Each of the poets have a certain dislike for academic poetry because of the traditional standards it has set, some more than others so they favor free form poetry due to its lack of set tankards and traditions.