I never read John O’Hara’s stories, but having read them
Now they all seem pretty much alike. There’s a lot of
Background and a few remarks before not very much happens
And the story ends, and apparently things are somehow changed.
I never even thought of reading them, yet now I like the way
They sometimes sound the way I like to think life feels, full of
Nuances and nothing, in which nothing’s ever heightened
Or exaggerated, and something unspoken and unrealized remains.
I even like the way they’re disappointing, and the way he’s
Too inside those Yale dreams he had in Pottsville, Pennsylvania—
The reciprocal resentments of the stories he embodied and the ones
     he wrote.
They’re called New Yorker stories now that no one writes them
And no one lives the way they used to live in them, or understands
The code of conduct they implied for everything one did or said
     or wrote,
When almost everything was implied—hanging on something
Somebody suggested in a bedroom in the East Eighties,
     or left unsaid
To someone sitting next to them at a late-night table at the Colony
     or 21.

I began by wondering what poetry used to be, and what it’s now
It still means everything to me, though to nearly everyone I know
It doesn’t exist anymore, if it ever did. Sometimes I think I’m terrified
That it was all a style, like John O’Hara’s or a restaurant’s or a
     way of talking
That’s had its day, and I’ve wasted my life. Of course I hasten to say
That I don’t believe it for a moment, and that the fact of its near
Is a sign of how much it actually matters. Still, it means that in the
     last analysis
You’re all alone, and that the only proof of its importance is
     your own.
What is this craving for validation? When John O’Hara received the
     Gold Medal
From the American Academy of Arts and Letters he stood up
     and wept,
And then retired to Princeton and the life he thought it owed him,
To no avail. Stellification comes too late to make a difference
If it comes at all, because it’s always about to happen or because
     it’s over
Before anyone even notices. Either way, you can’t know whether
It was real or just an exercise in self-delusion, for whichever it
     might be
The view from where you are remains the same, with nothing
     to go on
But the trying, and dying for it to happen again and again.