July 17, 2010

Jazz Poetry - "The Day Lady Died"

The Day Lady Died by Frank O’Hara

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
                                                I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with
                                                                      her face on it

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

--From Lunch Poems (City Lights, 1964)

Note: Frank O’Hara (1926 - 1966) was an American poet of the New York School, a loose collection of artists active in the city in the 1950s and 1960s. Born in Baltimore, he studied piano before shipping off to the Pacific theater toward the end of World War Two. Back in the States, he attended Harvard, where he met fellow poet John Ashbery. O’Hara was a devotee of the visual arts and modern music, which shows in his poetry. He worked for years at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, while writing prolifically. His poetry generally incorporates experiences from his daily life in the city, which gives it a strong immediacy (as is clear from this tribute to Billie Holiday, who died on this date in 1959). As he stated, “It may be that poetry makes life’s nebulous events tangible to me and restores their detail, or conversely that poetry brings forth the intangible quality of incidents which are all too concrete and circumstantial.” This same thing could be said about jazz.

1 comment:

  1. Readers interested in a selection of other Jazz poems like O'Hara's great classic might link to http://mrebks.blogspot.com/2010/05/consider-this-brief-piece-from-poet.html