FRANK O'HARA (1958) Frank o'hara started "In Memory of My Feelings" on what he believed to be his 30th birthday, June 27, 1956—he was born in March, less than nine months after his parents' wedding, and never knew his real birth date—and finished it four days later, having left paper in his typewriter so that he could return to it immediately without having to interrupt his inspiration. The speed and spontaneity of this procedure is not only typical of o'Hara's practice but is also reminiscent of Jack kerouac's somewhat concurrent experiment (unpublished until 1957) with the scroll on which he typed On the Road in 20 days during April 1951. The poem is dedicated to Grace Hartigan, a painter and one of O'Hara's muses, but is neither about her nor for her. It is an address to her, in five parts of 33 to 44 lines each, through which O'Hara deals with identity in general and his own in particular.
The poem obviously is influenced by surrealism in its mass of disparate references, but it is a surrealism coexisting with o'Hara's clearly articulated experiences that surface just often enough. It mentions real events, such as staying at the Y in Chicago with Jane Freilicher, and real things, such as the Hartigan paintings for which O'Hara modeled. These events and things, however, are complicated by an awareness of the numerous "naked selves" making up the various aspects of personality; thus the poem tries to mediate between the real self, the one created by experience, and the desired self, the one created by imagination, bridging the distance between who we are and who we wish to be.
o'Hara uses recurring images of people and things from his own life in order to anchor the poem: "the hunt . . . nautical references . . . circus animals, exotic locales . . . and romantic characters" (Perloff 142); these images help to make sense of the historical continuum evident in the poem's universality. All of human experience is here, from time and geography, in O'Hara's claim to be everything from "a baboon eating a banana" to "a Chinaman climbing a mountain." In keeping with its name, the poem is about feeling, and "what matters is not what happened but how one felt or feels about it" (Perloff 142). "The serpent in their midst," who must be saved at the poem's conclusion, is O'Hara himself—the snake being his frequently used totem figure. In this way, self preservation surfaces to reconcile the splintered self by resolving the jumble of impressions.
Gooch, Brad. City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O'Hara.
New York: Knopf, 1993. Perloff, Marjorie. Frank O'Hara: Poet among Painters. New York: George Braziller, 1977.
A. Mary Murphy
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