Saturday, May 3, 2008

Vincent on O'Keefe's Whitman, and Thinking of O'Hara

As part of my course called "Self and Society in Modern American Poetry" this coming fall, I'll be teaching, among others, Whitman's "Song of Myself" and Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems. In a recent email post, Stephen Vincent reflected on a performance of Whitman's "Song," and wondered if and how O'Hara might be seen as a descendant of Whitman:

In association with making a recent "haptic" drawing, I listened to John O'Keefe's wonderful recent performance adaptation of Walt Whitman's Song of Myself. It was a presentation last summer here at the Marsh in San Francisco, filmed by William Farley, and just released on as DVD, (Go to for an exerpt and ordering details). O'Keefe's voices achieves a robust, sensual and ecstatic relationship with the original text and brings, at least, his sense of the man, quite to life. A real delight

I am naive to much critical work on Whitman. However, listening to the poet's spirited sense of intimacy of eye and ear for the streets of his Manhattan (folks et al), it's impossible not to make connections with Frank O'Hara's work on that island approximately a hundred years later. I cannot imaging that O'Hara was not imbued by this work.

O'Keefe's Whitman, as demonstrated in the excerpt, is robust, but perhaps a bit more unhinged than I imagined our bard. Yet I've always found section 15 fascinating in its catalogue, because the sheer excess of images almost always induces a sense of blockage, boredom, and confusion. What O'Keefe does is blow through that textual flow, like a mad plow through an anarchic snow...

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