Saturday, May 18, 2013

"L’Amour Avait Passé Par Là" (Frank O'Hara)

"L’Amour Avait Passé Par Là"
(Frank O'Hara)

like the still center of a book on Joan Miró
blue red green and white
a slightly over-gold edition of Hart Crane
and the huge mirror behind me blinking, paint flecked
they have painted the ceiling of my heart
and put in a new light fixture
and Arte Contemporaneo by Juan Eduardo Cirlot
and the Petit Guide to the Musee National Russe
it is all blankly defending its privacy
from the sighing wind in the ceiling
of the old Theatre Guild building
on West 53rd Street
near the broken promises of casualness
to get to the Cedar to meet Grace
I must tighten my moccasins
and forget the minute bibliographies of disappointment
anguish and power
for unrelaxed honesty
this laissez-passer for chance and misery, but taut
a candle held to the window has two flames
and perhaps a horde of followers in the rain of youth
as under the arch you find a heart of lipstick or a condom
left by the parade
of a generalized intuition
it is the great period of Italian art when everyone imitates Picasso
someone has just pushed me into the Po
in Ann Arbor the grass has turned brown in the sun
here there are repercussions and warnings in the wet night
a catalog of idiocies and fears dictates a letter
and it is signed Frank
but I don't have to mail it


The New York Times has a recent Op-Ed piece that makes it plain Mayor Bloomberg's Greenwich Village isn't the place for romantic poets, star-crossed lovers, or starving artists: the space that once was the Cedar Tavern will soon be a beauty salon. 

History recedes quickly in the rear-view mirror: of course, New York hasn't been the place for cheap rents and cheap thrills for quite some time now. Yet a beauty salon in the space once occupied by the Cedar Tavern, a second-generation location of the original Cedar Bar, marks the end of a certain creative era. Frank O'Hara's invocation of The Cedar in his 1959 poem seems even more distant now. 

In the Times article "Bye-Bye Bohemia" the writer Lee Siegel mentions Frank's bittersweet lines about the Cedar, then comments:

". . . But despite the Cedar’s mix of people, despite its risqué interracial mingling, not everyone in that golden-seeming age enjoyed the underworld atmosphere, or benefited from it.
Recounting how the painter Milton Resnick challenged Pollock to “step outside” after the latter accused Resnick of being a “de Kooning imitator,” Andy Warhol wrote: “I tried to imagine myself in a bar striding over to, say, Roy Lichtenstein and asking him to ‘step outside’ because I’d heard him insulting my soup cans. I mean, how corny.” 
O’Hara, who was gay, was appalled by the hatred of gays he found there. In a play O’Hara wrote with the bisexual painter Larry Rivers, Pollock swaggers into the Cedar and in a booming voice calls O’Hara and Rivers “those fags.” 
And despite the number of female painters accepted into the Cedar’s ranks — Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner, Hedda Sterne — being a woman amid all that tortured macho posturing could be unbearable. Krasner, Pollock’s wife, rarely went to the Cedar. “I loathed the place,” she said. “The women were treated like cattle.” 
Even some of the Cedar’s male habitués would just as soon have lived without it. For Mark Rothko, it was a place where you ran into “the ambitious egotist out for grabs,” he said. “I do not go to the Cedar Bar.” . . .

The "corny," romantic bohemian life with its battles and egos still goes on in New York these days -- with a higher pricetag, of course. Yet looked at from a distance of decades, how immediate life and art came together then: after Frank missed Hartigan at the Cedar, he recognized "L’Amour Avait Passé Par Là" as a kind of apology, and mailed her the poem along with this note the following day.

Endless history always repeats, especially on the real estate records of the island of Manhattan; Siegel remarks a little ruefully, if not necessarily with regret, on the fate of the original Cedar Bar: That legendary crowd — Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Philip Guston, Robert Motherwell — debated, boozed and brawled in the dark booths at the Cedar Bar, located on Eighth and University until 1963, when the cherished watering hole was destroyed to make way for a new apartment building.

(Reproduction of Frank's poem and letter from Deep Space Daguerrotype.)

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