On Poets and Painters

“April is the cruelest month,” and perhaps not incidentally, National Poetry Month. You can find the entire text of T.S. Eliot’s Waste Land (whose opening lines describe April as “breeding/ lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/memory and desire…”) at the marvelous site of the Academy of American Poets. Edna St. Vincent Millay‘s “Spring,” actually addresses April: “To what purpose, April, do you appear again?” And, of course, it was in April that Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims, in a far more convivial spirit, convened for their pilgrimauge.

Poets and painters are natural allies. I recently saw a beautiful show at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery of paintings by Jane Freilicher, who was a friend of the poets of the New York School (of the four most prominent—Frank O’Hara, James Schyler, Kenneth Koch, and John Ashbery, sadly only Ashbery is still alive). Freilicher often made appearances in Frank O’Hara’s poems, as did other painters like Larry Rivers and Mike Goldberg. A lovely and jovial poem on the painter’s and poet’s art is “Why I am not a Painter.” An art critic and curator as well as a poet, Frank O’Hara (1922-66) worked at the front desk of the Museum of Modern Art and famously wrote poems while walking around the city during his lunch hour. His tragic death in a freak accident on Fire Island has inspired several elegaic pictures. Jasper Johns has an homage to O’Hara currently on view (Jasper Johns:Gray) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

To read more about Frank O’Hara and the New York School of Poets, take a look at David Lehman’s   Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets (Anchor Books, 1999).

Sign up to receive a poem a day during April in your inbox at www.poets.org./poemADay.php.

Still Life Before a Window
(below, 2007. oil on linen, 32×40) by Jane Freilicher. Photo courtesy of Tibor de Nagy Gallery.

Coreopsis (below, 2004, oil on linen, 14×12) by Jane Freilicher. Photo courtesy of Tibor de Nagy Gallery.

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