In response to:
Lines from the March 31, 1966 issue
To the Editors:
Prof. Bewley reviews eight books of poetry (March 31)—seven academics and Frank O’Hara. He quotes about fifteen lines of each of them and three lines of O’Hara. His quick brushoff (in this setting a bitchery, intended or not) is insulting because O’Hara’s Love Poems (Tentative Title) is really an interesting book with many good poems. Bewley’s choice of quote would attack O’Hara on style. But O’Hara’s first-rate intellect is a matter of public record via his writings on art and aesthetics (I mean I already know he’s a serious artist); that he chooses or is chosen to work in a particular language for his poetry makes it Bewley’s job as critic to find out what O’Hara is doing and what’s happening as a result.
Prof. Bewley should be returned the lie he promotes: Why doesn’t The New York Review print from this book the “Poem” beginning “Light clarity” or the “Poem” beginning “That’s not a cross look it’s a sign of life,” and leave the response to the readership?
Marius Bewley replies:
No bitchery intended.
I suspect Mr. O’Hara is sufficiently integrated in sentiment not to feel tainted by having been reviewed below the salt in the company of seven distinguished “academics.”
I quote herewith the longer, and the better, poem of the two Mr. Persky implicitly accuses me of having withheld.
That’s not a cross look it’s a sign of life
but I’m glad you care how I look at you
this morning (after I got up) I was thinking
of President Warren G. Harding and Horace S.
Warren, father of the little blonde girl
across the street another blonde Agnes
Hedlund (this was in the 6th grade!) what
now the day has begun in a soft gray way
with elephantine traffic trudging along Fifth
and two packages of Camels in my pocket
I can’t think of one interesting thing Warren G.
Harding did, I guess I was passing notes
to Sally and Agnes at the time he came up
in our elephantine history course everything
seems slow suddenly and boring except
for my insatiable thinking towards you
as you lie asleep completely plotzed and
gracious as a hillock in the mist from one
small window, sunless and only slightly open
as is your mouth and presently your quiet eyes
your breathing is like that history lesson