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Frank O'Hara's "Meditations in an Emergency" [by DL]

Mad_men_narrowweb__300x4500Since the season premiere of Mad Men on AMC last night, people have been scrambling and googling to find out more about the poet Frank O'Hara and his book Meditations in an Emergency. In the show, the man reading it (with horn rimmed glasses and curly hair: code for highbrow) is sitting next to Don Draper at the bar of a midtown cafe -- like perhaps Larre's, where O'Hara, professionally a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, lunched often. Draper asks the man about the book. "You probably wouldn't like it," he is told. But Don buys it, we see him reading it in his office, and the episode concludes with Don's voiceover reading the fourth and final part of O'Hara's poem "Mayakovsky" in Meditations in an Emergency.

The title poem of the book began as a very sophisticated literary joke, an allusion to John Donne's "Meditations on Emergent Occasions." But as sometimes happened in O'Hara's poetry, the joke turned out to have a surplus of meaning. His poems are meditations -- but not the kind that comes after hours of quiet thought; they proceed from the heart of noise; they are written on the run, in a hurry, on a lunch break, in a perennial emergency. O'Hara's poems perfectly capture the pace of a New York day in 1962. He is a master of the art of gentle self-laceration: "Now I am quietly waiting for / the catastrophe of my personality / to seem beautiful again, / and interesting, and modern."

from the archive, July 28, 2008

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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