MISSIVE TO FRANK OHARA from Vincent Katz
Now that I am off the coast of Venezuela and can think—but I better be quick about it, I’m about to cross into Guiana, skirting Suriname, and also Raphael needs this quickly, well, not that he needs it exactly, but quickly, yes!—now I can write to you. I am heading South. (So long, North, see you later, in other weather, as You Know Who wrote.) I could tell you some gossip about the younger poets who adore you. There are whole generations devoted to you and your “work.” That can be as sexy as it sounds, when it doesn’t become clinical. Wayne wrote a thought-provoking essay about excitement as a motivating factor in your poetry. It reminded me of Apollinaire’s essay on surprise in poetry, which I recently enlisted to connect Propertius’s and Tibullus’s poetry to yours. Excitement does play a role in an abstract genesis, but speed may be a more characteristic quality, once the poem gets going, as the poet must not only feel and exemplify ebullience but also take and keep control of the emotion as it experiences its wild ride. I am thinking of two quotes of yours in particular that always communicate that later moment of processing emotion: “I have mastered the speed and strength which is the armor of the world” and “I am moved by the multitudes of your intelligence and sometimes, returning, I become the sea—in love with your speed, your heaviness and breath.” Technology has tried to catch up to your senses of that quality, and now people can write almost as fast as you did, but technology can never capture that quickness of heart you embodied, which is a kind of love. Which is why I have reservations about Brad’s book about you. It is large and substantial and very detailed, but I don’t feel the love that drives the poems—love for everything, sometimes simultaneously (is that the same as excitement?). There have been various tomes. The one you might like the most, or find the truest, is Joe’s Digressions On Some Poems By Frank O’Hara, not because he was there, but because he seemed to understand “your world.” But I’m supposed to be telling you about our world. There are many, many M.F.A.s, which keeps us happy in a certain way, but it means that art and poetry have gotten more professionalized, not that they ever can be, really, but more people are doing them or think that doing them is worthwhile, whereas we know that doing them is barely even feasible, most of the time (e.g. “it is good to be several floors up in the dead of night wondering whether you are any good or not and the only decision you can make is that you did it”). Ultimately, that wonder (which is not the same as doubt) is what we’re left with, and that is really great. I don’t have that much more to say about the present. Painting didn’t die, but it’s always in need of a kick in the pants. There’s a lot of performance, which you would love. Performances are even collected by museums! Poetry is alive and kicking too; there are lots of terrific poets of all ages doing cunning, spectacular work, and most of them are Frank O’Hara fans. It really sucks that you are not around to see that. I think that would make you very, very happy. That’s about it, except to say that the present is always great, to have this chance, to catch it before it goes away, to be in the light, and to see and hear everything it is possible to see and hear. I just wanted to tell you—we all love you! And miss you. I am now over Suriname and can sleep.
VINCENT KATZ is a poet, translator, and critic. He is the author of the poetry collections Southness (Lunar Chandelier Press, 2016) and Swimming Home (Nightboat Books, 2015). Fantastic Caryatids, just out from BlazeVOX Books, features a collaborative poem and conversation with Anne Waldman. Katz lives in New York City, where he curates Readings in Contemporary Poetry at Dia Art Foundation. Raphael Rubinstein has characterized Katz as “A 21st-century flâneur whose wanderings range from the sidewalks and subways of New York City to the crowded beaches of Rio de Janeiro.”