Frank O'Hara

(27 March 1926 – 25 July 1966 / Baltimore, Maryland)

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Why I Am Not A Painter


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.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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Comments about this poem (Why I Am Not A Painter by Frank O'Hara )

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  • Rookie - 479 Points Mark R. Elias (9/26/2014 4:47:00 AM)

    Hi Frank, thanks for your comments on my Stevens effort, appreciate your thoughts. I look forward to browsing your poems. As for my comment below, it was just a light-hearted, absurd comment, something Kevin nicely picked up on! I shall endeavour to read more O'Hara. (Report) Reply

  • Veteran Poet - 4,319 Points Frank Avon (9/26/2014 1:31:00 AM)

    This poem illustrates how Frank O'Hara has a major place in a line of American poetry: free verse = Walt Whitman, Wm Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsburg, Frank O'Hara, Charles Bukowski. These poets reject traditional poetic forms as often being artificial. They also have stood out against Modernism (and much postmodernism) as being academic, elitist, and inaccessible to literate readers. This is not one of my favorite O'Hara poems, but it is one of the most often anthologized.

    And, by the way, Elias and Patrick, O'Hara's sexual orientation and relationships are irrelevant to this poem - though this is not always the case. So? (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 479 Points Mark R. Elias (9/25/2014 5:06:00 PM)

    They both are helpless. And that helplessness is celebrated through a shared masturbation labelled sardines and orange, the same sardines and orange they maybe squeezed over themselves as they enjoyed a communal wank about how important they both were. Either that or it's a poem about the failure of art. Hard to decide. (Report) Reply

    Rookie - 919 Points Kevin Patrick (9/25/2014 7:38:00 PM)

    Meanwhile a women watched them behind a mirror resulting in spilling her grape fruit all over herself

  • Freshman - 1,122 Points Kay Staley (9/25/2014 10:03:00 AM)

    i really dont understand this at all, but I like the name. I have wondered why I am not a painter...being a writer instead, i never found the answer nor understood why i chose to let myself and my feelings out through words instead of a brush. Interesting thought but i seriously dont like the poem at all. (Report) Reply

  • Veteran Poet - 4,034 Points Sandra Feldman (9/25/2014 4:50:00 AM)

    Perplexing but it shakes you up.
    I think this poem tries to express the different moments of creativity and how the creative spirit takes over regardless and in spite of the wishes of the creator.
    Different and interesting. Provokes a new poetic sensation (Report) Reply

  • Bronze Star - 6,632 Points Gangadharan Nair Pulingat (6/27/2014 11:30:00 PM)

    The poem I likes much due to its peculiar theme in sadness and expression of sadness and such things it is beautifully expressed in the poem. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 251 Points Jasbir Chatterjee (9/25/2013 11:53:00 PM)

    paintings, poems, music....these are all forms of creative expression...this poem puts it so beautifully... (Report) Reply

Read all 11 comments »

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