Saturday, April 26, 2014

Analysis of "Why I Am Not A Painter" by Frank O'Hara

Original poem reprinted online here: "Why I Am Not A Painter" by Frank O'Hara
Originally read: September 25, 2013
More information about the Poet: Frank O'Hara


This poem is hard to explain as a poem, but I think Robert Pinsky in his book the Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters sums this poem best as "freedom."

Now this isn't the poem which decides the debate on "what poetry is" with all the terms thrown like "rhyming" or "craft."  However, this poem is from the vantage point of a poet trying to create.

"I am not a painter, I am a poet. / Why? I think I would rather be / a painter, but I am not. Well," Here the speaker is being casual with the language and does set up a rhetorical question which states "why" he isn't a painter.  From the tone of the piece, there's a sense of a shrug, "well" and then the story goes.

And with the second stanza there's the introduction of the painter Mike Goldberg and the mention of the name shows that the poem is not going into a rhetorical dreamland of what a poet or painter should be -- no, it's more of let's talk to a painter and see why I am not a painter like him over drinks in the middle of the process.  They have a conversation about why SARDINES is in the painting -- "'Yes, I it needed something there"  unexplicable and unexplainable.  And a few days later the painting is finished SARDINES is gone "'It was too much,' Mike says"

Process, right?  That the process of being a painter is more about instinct, perhaps  -- things come and go based on what one thinks is right or wrong.

"But me?"  of course, the mind of a poet:

     [...] I am thinking of
     a color: orange.  I write a line
     about orange.  Pretty soon it is a
     whole page of words, not lines
     Then another page.  There should be
     so much more, not of orange.

Mindset -- connection of words, there is no erasure at this point only creating more and more, pages and pages, "It is even in / prose, I am a real poet."  Now here's the trick.  When the term poet is mentioned here, I don't trust it -- the line is as though the speaker is trying to insist that he is a poet.  But the last five lines bring a sense of ars poetica in the poem:

     [...] My poem
     is finished and I haven't mentioned
     orange yet, it's twelve poems, I call
     it ORANGES.  And one day in a gallery
     I see Mike's painting, called SARDINES

There's humor here since the idea of an ars poetica is dangled in front of the reader then taken away.  The "sense" I refer to is the end result is here for the rhetorical question -- poem called ORANGES and a painting called SARDINES.  But the only difference in process is that ORANGES had words, and SARDINES was done as a painting.

Should this poem be taken on a deeper level than that?  I guess.  I mean, the poem does bait a deeper meaning pretty hard, but maybe being a poet means just to write, not be tied down to the source material (SARDINES taken off then put back on, ORANGES not necessarily about orange no matter "how terrible orange is / and life"), and just go on to the next thing after done -- yup, freedom.

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