Jan 7, 2011
Ave Maria by Frank O'Hara : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.
"New York Apartment Store" by Max Weber, American, 1881 - 1961
Awhile ago, I was slamming Picasso for sending his brain in to sterilize any bit of heart in his cubism. I say again, I don’t really know what I’m talking about when it comes to art, but that’s my reaction. It's the American Way.
Max Weber’s painting here, “New York Department Store” (1915),
is an example of a painting that works for me even though it strikes me as more or less at one with Picasso’s way of being in the world.
The painting also made me think of New York City, which certainly has a way of being in the world. That way, in turn, made me think of Frank O’Hara’s poems, which are surely as New York-y as poems can be—hip, wry, free-form updates of Walt Whitman.
That, in turn, made me think of growing up in the 1960s in a hilly southern Ohio village, which sat on the outer edge of Appalachia and coal country.
There were two movie theaters on the square in Clawson, a dry town of 1,700. Frank Fellows owned and operated The Roxy, and it was not unusual for Frank to show up drunk for work.
In that time and place, alcohol consumption and signs of inebriation were silently ordained to be private affairs. So when the normally dour Frank handed out free popcorn and was slurringly friendly to us teens one Saturday night, we felt as if we’d been magically transported to Manhattan. Or Sodom and Gomorrah. Or at least Marietta, Ohio, the big town 30 winding miles away, across the river from West Virginia.
The adult in charge was drunk, and the food and drinks were free. We were getting away with something. For a moment we thought Frank was too, but we knew better. We had only vague notions of what price the gaunt, graying man would pay, but we knew there would be one.
That seemed both right and wrong, like everything else in New York City—dark and bright, exuberant and grimy, elegant and coarse. Clawson, Ohio was the simple, predictable, understated center of a tiny planet. New York might as well have been Constantinople, complex and distant, morally ambiguous, not our kind of people—maybe they were cold cubists. No one in town would tell us what we were supposed to make of that.