There are numerous references to typewriters in Frank O’Hara’s work. The typewriter was a means to express the kind of long lines full of adjectives and pop culture in a way that he never felt comfortable with pencil and paper. I had a collection of typewriters that I had collected due to a study I had read saying that the means of writing affected your thought process: eg. a pen and paper suggests a different way of thinking vs the faster speed of a keyboard.
And so I stacked my typewriters, to use the typographic differences between the different keyboards as a form of both formal and historical contrast. Then I rearranged the keys to spell out the pertinent information. In my current typography classes I encourage my students to see no difference in the virtual and the digital form of typography; kerning is the same no matter what tool you end up.
Though you have people such as Guillame Apollinaire and Stéphane Mallarmé exploring type layout in their work, and then later with the Dadaists, Futurists, Surrealists, and Constructivists... and a whole buch of other -ists, you rarely see poetry layout move beyond the Shakespearian Sonnet-style layout. Sentence structure, columns of text, and flush left. The history of Modernism in literature was more about how do we break up text through connotative and denotative means, but less often about the look. Frank O'Hara collaborated with painters in putting poems into their work and his work with the typewriter showed me as a young man what could be done with poetry in printed form, but there's still a way to go.
His poems also have an explosion of subways, hot dogs, New York, Abstract Expressionism, the life and times of a Gay Poet in the Art World of the 50s and 60s at the height of the Abstract Expressionist Movement. Critics have often compared O’Hara’s wordplay to the paintstrokes of deKoonig, Pollock, and others.
“Music”—Clasp me in your handkerchief like a tear, trumpet / of early afternoon! in the foggy autumn. / As they’re putting up the Christmas trees on Park Avenue / I shall see my daydreams walking by with dogs in blankets, / put to some use before all those coloured lights come on! / But no more fountains and no more rain, / and the stores stay open terribly late.
And I was torn between the idea of the Uptown Frank O’Hara who hobnobbed with the patrons of the arts and the O’Hara who smoked a thousand cigarettes in the the painter’s studios, walking up rickety stairs in cheap coldwater flats. This dual side to O’Hara is one of the things that attracted me to the project. How does one suggest restraint and exuberance in a visual form, especially if the typical poetry books are skewed towards more restraint?
And one can get wrapped up in the soft surrealism, the sorta magical realism of his work, but Frank O’Hara’s work is often referenced in connection to Susan Sonntag’s theory of Camp, where the art is about the surface and there is a danger in often going for the “razzle dazzle” or the hustle and bustle of a surface feeling to convey the energy of poetry.
When looking at Frank O’Hara’s poetry, one can get both thrilled and worn out with all the dazzling references used. My Work, through this project, learned to be more focused and less preoccupied with conveying Energy through clutter, through ‘randomness.” I’m still interested in process, but the poet’s ear is much like the maker’s eye in determining a strong solution to a given problem.