Metaphysical Poem

Frank O’Hara, ‘Metaphysical Poem’
in The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara
edited by Donald Allen
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995)
Composed 1962

When do you want to go
I’m not sure I want to go there
where do you want to go
any place
I think I’d fall apart any place else
well I’ll go if you really want to
I don’t particularly care
but you’ll fall apart any place else
I can just go home
I don’t really mind going there
but I don’t want to force you to go there
you won’t be forcing me I’d just as soon
I wouldn’t be able to stay long anyway
maybe we could go somewhere nearer
I’m not wearing a jacket
just like you weren’t wearing a tie
well I didn’t say we had to go
I don’t care whether you’re wearing one
we don’t really have to do anything
well all right let’s not
okay I’ll call you
yes call me

In his manifesto, ‘Personism’, composed on 3 September 1959 and published in Yügen in 1961, Frank O’Hara recalls writing a poem to a lover: ‘While I was writing it I was realizing that if I wanted to I could use the telephone instead of writing the poem’. This seems to suggest an easy alliance between poetry and calling, and it’s worth noting that O’Hara’s reported predilection for the telephone is matched by the numerous references to the apparatus in poems such as ‘3 Poems About Kenneth Koch’, ‘Nocturne’, and ‘Poem [Instant coffee with slightly sour cream]’. However, as ‘Metaphysical Poem’ suggests, the telephonic address in O’Hara’s work is often characterised as much by miscommunication and distance as it is by intimacy and immediacy. Indeed, as critics such as Oren Izenberg (2011) have pointed out: ‘The realization that the poet could simply call his beloved on the telephone does not lead him in fact to call his beloved on the telephone’. There is, then, a sense that the telephone—like the poem—has the capacity to resist straightforward communication and to enact both the tensions and the productive possibilities of crossed lines.

by Sarah Jackson