During research for my paper, I came across O’Hara’s “Les Luths” and it struck me as overly sentimental. In fact, in a letter to Pierre Martory, who is mentioned in the poem, O’Hara says, “Here is a little poem which you appear in so I am sending it regardless of its soupiness” (Norton 370). This “soupiness” brought to my mind not only O’Hara’s relationship with Vincent Warren but also O’Hara’s identity as a gay poet. The “one I love” in “Les Luths” refers to Warren, with whom O’Hara had a twenty-one month long relationship during which he wrote many of his most successful poems (Gooch 330). I will close read “Les Luths” in order to determine the feelings of love and sentimentality O’Hara shows to Vincent, and I will briefly examine “You are gorgeous and I’m coming” because it is a poem directed specifically at Vincent that is an obvious pun on sexual intercourse and sexuality.
In “Les Luths” O’Hara draws worldly visions and themes of travel in order to juxtapose the simplicity he desires—to be with Vincent. He brings his reader to three different locations—New York, Japan, and Paris—to make the statement that he does not care what is happening in the rest of the world. He mentions three friends—Gary Snyder, Monsieur Martory, Martory’s brother Jean, and Matthieu Galey—and contemplates what they are doing in their respective locations. O’Hara’s (in?)famous move of incorporating personal names is obvious here, but I am not entirely sure of what to make of it. Is he simply equating these names to the poem’s idea of worldly indulgences? Finally he declares, “Everybody here is running around after dull pleasantries…and I am feeling particularly testy at being separated from the one I love” (179). What would make O’Hara happiest is not to go to Paris or bustle about the city; he wants the presence of his partner.
Using a jet plane to suggest travel, O’Hara says, “Somewhere beyond this roof a jet is making a sketch of the sky.” This swift jet opposes his desire to simply “lean on my elbow and stare into space feeling the one warm beautiful thing in the world breathing upon my right rib.” To further oppose this idea of worldly travel, he grounds himself in the memory of a location he can associate with Vincent in order to place himself in the world and a solid foundation. He recalls Vincent “running on about Florida” (Selected Poems 179). This memory gives O’Hara solace even though he cannot physically be with Vincent.
In “You are gorgeous and I’m coming,” the first words of every line spell out “V-I-N-C-E-N-T W-A-R-R-E-N.” This use of an acrostic is pretty obvious, a fact that Warren feared for he had not come out to his mother at the time. He was concerned that his mother would read O’Hara’s poems. This led O’Hara to “further tricks and poetic camouflages,” and he often references Florida because Warren was born there (Gooch 336). In “Les Luths” for example, O’Hara writes, “I want to hear only your light voice running on about Florida” (Selected Poems 179). O’Hara’s comfort and delight in discussing his sexuality openly quite possibly was not matched by his lover.
In “You are gorgeous and I’m coming” there is little punctuation and no periods, making the language and tone of the poem feel rushed and excited, like the act of sex. He uses innuendos such as, “exposed” “acceleration” “thundering and shaking” “intimate” “stumbling” and “breathing” that suggest passion (Selected Poems 163). He mentions “repeating the phrases of an old romance” which evokes classic feelings of love and intimacy. When I picture an old romance, I think of a gangster wooing a beautiful movie star and, although I’m not sure how to place this in the poem, I think it suggests dangerous yet passionate love. O’Hara also writes, “The stumbling quiet of breathing” and this also refers to the very personal act of sex. Leave it to O’Hara to write a poem about the most personal act of all and make it very impersonal. By impersonalizing the personal, what does O’Hara achieve? Is he aware of this paradox?
By examining these two poems along with O’Hara’s relationship with Vincent Warren, I have come up with a couple final questions: Does O’Hara’s blatant sexuality suggest a desire to keep some aspects of his life private? Can you have a private life if you are writing as honestly as O’Hara was?
O’Hara, Frank, and Mark Ford. Selected Poems. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. Print.
Gooch, Brad. City Poet: the Life and times of Frank O’Hara. New York: Knopf, 1993. Print.
O’Clair, Robert, Richard Ellmann, and Jahan Ramazani. “Frank O’Hara 1926-1966.” 2003. The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry: v. 2. Contemporary Poetry. 3rd ed. Vol. 2. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003. 361-70. Print.