Meditations in an Emergency – Frank O’Hara (1957)

“The title poses an immediate challenge: in an emergency, common sense tells us, you call 911 or cry out for help. How can there be time for meditation? And indeed both Joan Mitchell and her great friend Frank O’Hara, for whose poem, reproduced in the memorial volume In Memory of My Feelings, this color lithograph was produced, were devoted to action painting — to gesture, immediacy, process, improvisation — rather than the more careful consideration that we associate 
with meditation. In the dozens of letters O’Hara wrote Mitchell 
between the mid-fifties and his tragic death in 1966 at the age of forty, it is the present that counts, the immediate moment. ‘Here 
I am,’ one of O’Hara’s early letters to Mitchell begins, ‘watching the slowly turning reflection of a record disc on the ceiling.’ And yet such moments trigger intense, if less than orderly, self-
reflection. One of O’Hara’s few prose poems, the 1954 ‘Meditations in an Emergency‘ presents a headlong rush of conflicting emotions (triggered, it seems, by a recent break-up with a lover), as presented in a series of campy and comic aphorisms, exclamations, and observations. … It’s a brave conclusion, but as the poem has made all too clear, ecstasy is impossible to maintain. Its downside is a terrible sense of emptiness, anxiety, and restlessness. ‘Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous    …    but one of these days there’ll be nothing left with which to venture forth.’ Only art, in this scheme of things, can provide solace. Joan Mitchell’s work testifies to similar highs and lows, and to a comparable restlessness. Like O’Hara’s ‘I do this, I do that’ poems, Mitchell’s gestural paintings look, at first glance, charmingly improvisatory, what with their bold splashes of color, their hyperactive brushstrokes, and elaborate compositional rhythms — all, seemingly, in the service of abstraction. In her ‘illustration’ for ‘Meditations in an Emergency,’ in which Mitchell uses a surprisingly muted range of colors — black, gray, cocoa brown shading into orange, the composition of curves, trapezoids, and triangles, whose overlapping planes radiate from a busy, almost cluttered center, fan out in an ‘ecstasy of always bursting forth’ to the edges of the folio page, where they dissolve into loose calligraphic figures — As, Vs, and Xs, lines converging 
and crossing. …”
Poetry Foundation
W – Meditations in an Emergency
BBC – Frank O’Hara: Poet of the Mad Men era
Mad Men, Frank O’Hara, and Our Moment of Crisis
[PDF] Meditations in an Emergency

Grace Hartigan

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