Invective Against Swans
Short voyages

Another poem from my Jackson Pollock sequence, in memory of both Pollock and Frank O’Hara. O’Hara wrote the first important monograph on Pollock’s work, calling him ‘an artist who was totally conscious of risk, defeat and triumph. He lived the first, defied the second, and achieved the last.’

O’Hara’s poem, ‘Digression on Number 1, 1948’ was one of his famous ‘Lunch Poems’ sequence, written quickly, in the grip of the inspiration of that moment. He said of the painting that it ‘has an ecstatic, irritable, demanding force, an incredible speed and nervous legibility in its draftsmanship’, which could serve as a description for O’Hara’s poetic style (so often reduced to “I do this, I do that”, missing the point that all activity invites revelation). The poem ends with these lines:

There is the Pollock, white, harm
will not fall, his perfect hand

and the many short voyages. They’ll
never fence the silver range.
Stars are out and there is sea
enough beneath the glistening earth
to bear me toward the future
which is not so dark. I see.

The lines are eerily prescient, in the evocation of the ‘short journeys’ which were to be their lives; and that strange image of the ‘sea / … beneath the glistening earth’ bearing the poet towards ‘the future / which is not so dark’. When O’Hara wrote the poem, Pollock was already dead. O’Hara would die almost exactly ten years after Pollock. Both men were in their 40s at the time of their deaths, in accidents. They are both buried in Green River Cemetery in Springs, Long Island.

When O’Hara died, Pollock’s widow, Lee Krasner, was quoted as saying ‘Frank’s buried at Jack’s feet.’


Short Voyages

for Jackson and Frank


                      To digress
is to be alive and know a mind
at work, a body in motion,
the blare of the city, in all its
movements.
                No accidents,
only cause and effect, the future
which is not so dark but which
we cannot stop, speeding forward,
destiny at the wheel. 
                          Suddenly
everything is lucid, shining,
like children in the rain
or a lover, naked, and they
have to get it down,
                     witnesses
to this age of flags and fear
where art might have a place,
sometimes right here on the street
or in a bar
              where men
argue the world into being
and drink to forget
tomorrow we might be gone.