Sparking recent interest again with the appearance of “Meditations in an Emergency,” on the hit show Mad Men, Frank O’Hara was meant to stick around. He was a member of the New York School of Poetry, along with John Ashbery, James Schuyler, Barbara Guest, and Kenneth Koch. His life was New York. When reading his work it seemed he owned the city. He existed in every artistic realm, working at MoMA, acting, loving music, and documenting each piece of it through the explosive, intimate, and spontaneous poems that he called “Personism.” If you want to get a feel for what the art scene in New York was really like, read Frank O’Hara and explore some of these venues in the city.
O’Hara’s poem “Meditations In an Emergency” expresses the feeling of estrangement and a quiet dulled panic that can barely be felt any longer. In Mad Men Season 2, Episode 13, it catches Don Draper’s attention. It begins: “Now I am quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again…” but here is a video clip from the episode where Draper recites the poem with feeling:
Here’s another, from 1964′s Lunch Poems, again expressing alienation from the self and the community of others:
Music If I rest for a moment near The Equestrian pausing for a liver sausage sandwich in the Mayflower Shoppe, that angel seems to be leading the horse into Bergdorf's and I am naked as a table cloth, my nerves humming. Close to the fear of war and the stars which have disappeared. I have in my hands only 35¢, it's so meaningless to eat! and gusts of water spray over the basins of leaves like the hammers of a glass pianoforte. If I seem to you to have lavender lips under the leaves of the world, I must tighten my belt. It's like a locomotive on the march, the season of distress and clarity and my door is open to the evenings of midwinter's lightly falling snow over the newspapers. Clasp me in your handkerchief like a tear, trumpet of early afternoon! in the foggy autumn. As they're putting up the Christmas trees on Park Avenue I shall see my daydreams walking by with dogs in blankets, put to some use before all those colored lights come on! But no more fountains and no more rain, and the stores stay open terribly late.
“The Equestrian” is Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s statue of William Tecumseh Sherman in Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza (at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue). The “angel” is the allegorical angel leading Sherman on his rampage through the South. The Mayflower Shoppe was a chain coffee shop with a counter and was known for its donuts, which you could have with strawberries and whipped cream, and the spot is now occupied by the Apple Store. Bergdorf’s (on 5th Avenue in Manhattan) refers to the Bergdorf Goodman Department Store, was founded in the 19th Century. The store has often appeared in movies and television shows, including the 1962 movie That Touch of Mink with Doris Day and Cary Grant, 1981′s Arthur with Dudley Moore, Sex And The City (it’s Carrie Bradshaw’s favorite place to shop), Sex and the City 2, Boston Legal, and MTV’s The City, Jay-Z’s 2007 song “30 Something” and Plum Sykes’ 2005 novel Bergdorf Blondes. Bergdorf’s is here:
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