Why I Am Not a Painter

April 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.

– Frank O’Hara

O’Hara and Goldberg end where the other begins; O’Hara starts with something abstract, the idea of orange, and ends up with words, while Goldberg begins with sardines before replacing it with abstractions. The symmetry is furthered when both use their original ideas as titles and not as part of their respective works. One could argue that words and paintings are already abstract — they both symbolize something real — and O’Hara and Goldberg are therefore painters and poets. Oh, O’Hara, you coy thing.

As a side note, “of how terrible orange is/ and life” must be one of the funniest enjambments in poetry.

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