July 23, 2014

Lunch Poems

Burt Kimmelman
Catherine "Cat" Doty

I attended some Lunchtime Poems in Military Park (Newark, NJ) last week sponsored by the Dodge Poetry Festival. The weekly events are a preview for some of the 70 poets who will read at the Dodge Poetry Festival in October. Last week two friends were reading, Catherine "Cat" Doty and Burt Kimmelman.

People in the park on a beautiful summer day brought their lunch or drinks and took in some poems. I saw listeners making notes. People passing would slow down, stop for a few minutes and take in a few lines or a poem or two.

For those of you not near northern New Jersey, check out what is coming October 23-26 at the Festival.

But, if a trip to NJ is just not possible, you might consider Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, a collection that is now 50 years old. They were first published in 1964 as number 19 in City Lights’ Pocket Poets Series.

In an essay by Callie Siskel, "It's Cooking,"she says:

O’Hara’s poems are often compared to Abstract Expressionist paintings, but their composition is also akin to jazz. He grew up playing music. In “On Rachmaninoff’s Birthday,” the speaker says he was “miserable, a grope pizzicato,” but O’Hara himself was a classically trained pianist. He studied at the New England Conservatory and entered Harvard as a music major before switching to English. He called writing “playing the typewriter,” but such a phrase downplays the extent to which his poems feel as measured as music. The syncopation that permeates Lunch Poems occurs when the time he marks at a regular rate is juxtaposed with the erratic cadences of his voice.

The collection's title refers to O’Hara’s habit of writing in Times Square during his lunch hour, and probably suggests that a reader could take the pocket-sized volume along and read it during his own lunch hour. They are often about museums, movies, and people and places of 1960s New York.

Lunch Poems includes some of the verses that made him cultishly popular - "The Day Lady Died,"  "Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed!]”(which we used for our gossip writing prompt) and "Ave Maria,"which begins this way:

get them out of the house so they won’t know what you’re up to
it’s true that fresh air is good for the body
                                                              but what about the soul
that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images 
and when you grow old as grow old you must
                                                                  they won’t hate you
they won’t criticize you they won’t know
                                                           they’ll be in some glamorous country
they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or playing hookey

they may even be grateful to you
                                                  for their first sexual experience
which only cost you a quarter
                                            and didn’t upset the peaceful home

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