Richard Samuel Reads his Favorite Poem by Frank O’Hara

April 3, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


RICHARD SAMUEL, Glassblower: I first encountered this poem in college in a poetry appreciation class, and the Frank O’Hara poems that were in the book impressed me more than most of the others.

And I liked this particular poem because it seemed to express a feeling of anxiety and the hurriedness of everyday life in the city, and seemed to be the first thing I had read that talked a good deal about the tabloidization of our culture and how life was getting away from our control and things of little importance were gaining more and more importance.

I think that in college most people feel their life is a little bit out of control, and the voice in this poem is someone who is very definitely out of control, at least early on in it. I think that probably held some appeal for me.

There’s a lot of poetry that talks about how stable and wonderful life is, and the flowers are blooming, and this poem is from the opposite end of that spectrum. And I think that appealed to me as a college student facing the future, and not sure whether I was going to be racing like this poet or going into the garden, as it were.

“Poem,” by Frank O’Hara:

Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up

And I love this poem because it almost directs itself. It pretty much demands that you read the first part quickly. The man is racing down the street, and suddenly he’s stopped dead in his tracks by probably the biggest event, but an event of little consequence.

And then he starts thinking, “well, where’s the consequence?” And he starts thinking, “well, it’s California, it’s Hollywood, it’s show business.” And the last thing anybody in that profession wants to do is collapse. It’s embarrassing. It’s going to make headlines. So he stands there and he says, “Lana, get up. You’re making us all look bad.”