In the English Literature course that I teach, I assigned students the following prompt for a brief journal writing assignment based on the writing of Frank O’Hara. After several discussions with my students this semester, I am personally coming to realize the underlying feminist reading of O’Hara’s work, especially from a biographical approach where his own sexuality seems to socially and politically infiltrate his work.
A philosophical and critical idea explored by Aristotle and Plato, mimesis is art imitating life; it is a term to refer to the real world represented through art and literature. While Plato and Aristotle often connected mimesis to an imitation of nature, one can think of how this term may be expanded to urban ways of life.
Prompt: To get in the spirit of O’Hara’s process of writing about everything he sees and experiences in life, as well as his social circle of artists and writers, take a notebook with you during one of your lunch breaks and write down any observations that you have about life going on around you, including any people you interact with, any dialogue that you have, any objects that you see in your environment, etc.
Then, try to formulate these ideas into a poem (doesn’t have to be long, can be about 7-10 lines).
Include your poem in your journal and reflect on this experience of what you observed. What did you chose to keep in writing your poem, and what did you chose to omit? How might some of your observations connect to larger themes in life?
Consider how this might connect to O’Hara’s process of writing. Was it as easy as you thought it would be to write a poem about life?
I was so pleased with the results of this exercise and with the thoughtful poems that my students constructed. In particular, one student, Elizabeth Connolly’s poem and reflection stood out to me as a deep and considerate meditation on a life experience that many others may be able to connect with. Elizabeth has permitted me to reproduce her work here.
As I sit down for a quick lunch, I realize that spring has finally sprung.
I take a glance through our glass doors in the kitchen.
Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, runners crowd the narrow sidewalks.
It is difficult to enjoy such a beautiful day,
when I find myself at the post office mailing a card that reads,
“in deepest sympathy”…
Reflection: Writing lunch poems like O’Hara did was somewhat difficult for me because I usually do not have the time to eat lunch. If I do, it is often for a brief moment before heading to another class or running errands. I figured that today would be a good day to do this assignment because the weather was so beautiful, however I was very busy and only had a few moments to write down what I observed. In my poem, I chose to describe what the weather was like and what I had been seeing around me all day. I thought that adding in my location and what I saw from where I was would be a good idea, because O’Hara often did this in his poems. During this process, I ended up revising it a few times and taking out the dialogue between my roommate and I because I felt that it was boring and didn’t really serve my poem any purpose. Instead, I decided to put in my own personal thoughts because instead of enjoying the beautiful weather and feeling happy about it, I was feeling sad because of the loss of a family friend at home. This process was more difficult than I thought it would be for me. Last semester I took a creative writing class and we had to write poems nearly every week for homework, so I was surprised when it took me quite some time to try and write a poem like O’Hara. I am not sure if I was over-thinking the assignment, but it was definitely harder to write a random poem about life than I thought it would be. O’Hara must have revised his poems several different times, and went through and carefully chose his words after proofreading them. I would find it hard to believe that he wrote all of his poems on spot by just writing down his observations about things and people that surrounded him daily on his lunch breaks.