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Analysis of Poetry Paper

14 Oct

Naphtha1

by

Frank O’Hara

 

Ah Jean Dubuffet2

when you think of him

doing his military service in the Eiffel Tower3

as a meteorologist

in 1922

you know how wonderful the 20th century

can be

and the gaited Iroquois4 on the girders

fierce and unflinching-footed

nude as they should be

slightly empty

like Sonia Delaunay5

there is a parable of speed

somewhere behind the Indians’ eyes

they invented the century with their horses

and their fragile backs

which are dark

 

we owe a debt to the Iroquois

and to Duke Ellington6

for playing in the buildings when they are built

we don’t do much ourselves

but fuck and think

of the haunting Metro7

and the one who didn’t show up there

while we were waiting to become part of our century

just as you can’t make a hat out of steel

and still wear it

who wears hats anyway

it is our tribe’s custom

to beguile8

 

how are you feeling in ancient September

I am feeling like a truck on a wet highway9

how can you

you were made in the image of god

I was not

I was made in the image of a sissy truck-driver10

and Jean Dubuffet painting his cows

“with a likeness burst in the memory”11

apart from love (don’t say it)

I am ashamed of my century

for being so entertaining

but I have to smile12

1Naphtha is petroleum based chemical, and is one of the lightest and most volatile of the petroleum based fractions. Frank O’Hara uses this as the title for his poem which could easy be seen as volatile in the way that it makes us take a look at the things which we contribute to society. O’Hara starts the poem by asking us to think of Jean Dubuffet and to consider the simple art for which he became famous. This immediately allows us to feel comfortable in whatever sort of art we can offer, for this is the beauty offered by “art brut”. O’Hara then continues to show us the heights we can achieve, if only we have the courage to climb. Certainly, the natives were not familiar with the tools and fundamental architecture needed to create the wondrous skyscrapers; however, they had bravery and were open-minded enough to learn the craft. After this, O’Hara brings us back to another artist, Sonia Delaunay, who was famous for creating Orphism. Neither Delaunay nor Dubuffet seemed to be particularly masterful in their art. I believe that O’Hara used these two artists for that very reason. He wanted to show us that anyone can contribute to the status of our age. Then, O’Hara pulls the trigger on his message. He references, once again, the native people but this time adds Duke Ellington to the list of contributors. No longer are we dealing with artists without skill. Ellington raises the bar, and then O’Hara lets us know how grossly we have underachieved. He shows us the trifling things that distract us from giving something more to society as a whole. We are so wrapped up in our temporal relations and the grind of the day to day that we miss out on so many opportunities to become something greater. No, we do not have much desire to contribute or become something more; for it has become our destiny to lead others through our deceit. O’Hara understands that we have become something that can contribute little more than simple entertainment. Then, just after he has made us feel like uneducated and unmotivated sloths, O’Hara lets us off the hook. Even though he is disappointed in us and with himself, he has to smile at the entertainment we bring.

 

2Jean Dubuffet was a French artist who coined the phrase art brut, which translates “raw art”. It is no surprising, then, that O’Hara would reference this particular artist who was basically unprofessional in his work to help drive home the point of his shame in our century. Dubuffet’s art is often regarded as primitive or child-like.

 

3The first regular radio broadcasts of the “spoken news” began transmission from the tower in 1922.

 

4During the Industrial Revolution, it was discovered that the Native Americans were natural born bridge men. They had no fear of heights and were sure-footed as goats on the lofty beams overlooking the city.

 

5Sonia Delaunay, with the help of her husband, created a style of art called Orphism. This art used bold colors and simple geometric shapes.

 

6Duke Ellington was a jazz composer and leader of big band music. His musical career spanned over 50 years. He was awarded The Pulitzer Prize posthumously in 1999. Ellington, with his talent and charisma, was believed to be the reason for the drastic growth in popularity of jazz.

 

7The Metro in Paris, France is the second largest in Europe. Certainly, there would be crowds and a world-wide disdain for this sort of public transportation.

 

8According to Merriam Webster, beguile can be defined, to lead by deception. These are very powerful words given the text.

 

9O’Hara uses a simile here to show how unsure of his path he has become. The next few lines follow on this line of reasoning, showing Frank’s loss of identity and seeming jealousy of those who know themselves.

 

10O’Hara uses this line to poke a little fun at himself and at his poetry. He intends for the reader to have a little laugh before the final lines of his poetry. There is a comical contrast of a truck-driver and a sissy that should not be missed by the reader. This is a sort of opening up by Frank about his homosexuality.

 

11”with a likeness burst in the memory” was used by Hattie Smith to describe a piece by Dubuffet in a catalog for his 1939 show at the Museum of Modern Art.

 

12O’Hara may be ashamed of his century, but entertainment seems to have a way of making people smile. Perhaps that is our greatest contribution: entertainment.

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1 Comment

Posted by on October 14, 2013 in From the Desk of the Author

 

Tags: , , ,

One response to “Analysis of Poetry Paper

  1. Len

    November 16, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    I made an A on the paper, by the way. Woo Woo

     

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