This book is one of the more challenging to read yet one of the finest examples of poetic license and excavation of facts and findings and ultimate rights to authorship - the gift to the literary public by Starcherone Press, Ted Pelton editor. Controversial since it first appeared and continuing to receive as much adulation as irritation, this striking expose of information about authorship as written by Kent Johnson who proposes that one of Frank O'Hara's best known poems was actually written by his close associate Kenneth Koch. But before commenting on the book, it seems only fair to present the poem in question in a condensed 9non-formated) version for the reader to be reminded:
A TRUE ACCOUNT OF TALKING TO THE SUN ON FIRE ISLAND
The Sun woke me this morning loud
and clear, saying "Hey! I've been
trying to wake you up for fifteen
minutes. Don't be so rude, you are
only the second poet I've ever chosen
to speak to personally so why aren't you more attentive? If I could
burn you through the window I would
to wake you up. I can't hang around
here all day."
"Sorry, Sun, I stayed up late last night talking to Hal."
"When I woke up Mayakovsky he was
a lot more prompt" the Sun said
petulantly. "Most people are up
already waiting to see if I'm going
to put in an appearance." I tried to apologize "I missed you yesterday."
"That's better" he said. "I didn't
know you'd come out." "You may be
wondering why I've come so close?"
"Yes" I said beginning to feel hot
wondering if maybe he wasn't burning me
"Frankly I wanted to tell you
I like your poetry. I see a lot
on my rounds and you're okay. You may
not be the greatest thing on earth, but
you're different. Now, I've heard some
say you're crazy, they being excessively
calm themselves to my mind, and other
crazy poets think that you're a boring
reactionary. Not me. just keep on
like I do and pay no attention. You'll
find that people always will complain
about the atmosphere, either too hot
or too cold too bright or too dark, days too short or too long.
If you don't appear at all one day they think you're lazy or dead. Just keep right on, I like it. and don't worry about your lineage
poetic or natural. The Sun shines on
the jungle, you know, on the tundra
the sea, the ghetto. Wherever you were
I knew it and saw you moving. I was waiting
for you to get to work.
And now that you
are making your own days, so to speak,
even if no one reads you but me
you won't be depressed. Not
everyone can look up, even at me. It
hurts their eyes."
"Oh Sun, I'm so grateful to you!"
"Thanks and remember I'm watching. It's
easier for me to speak to you out
here. I don't have to slide down
between buildings to get your ear.
I know you love Manhattan, but
you ought to look up more often.
always embrace things, people earth
sky stars, as I do, freely and with
the appropriate sense of space. That
is your inclination, known in the heavens
and you should follow it to hell, if
necessary, which I doubt. Maybe we'll
speak again in Africa, of which I too
am specially fond. Go back to sleep now
Frank, and I may leave a tiny poem
in that brain of yours as my farewell."
"Sun, don't go!" I was awake at last. "No, go I must, they're calling
"Who are they?"
Rising he said "Some
day you'll know. They're calling to you
too." Darkly he rose, and then I slept. Frank O'Hara
In Johnson's introduction he sates `What you have in your hands is a kind of thought-experiment. It proffers the idea that a radical, secret gesture of poetic mourning and love was carried out by Kenneth Koch in memory of his close friend Frank O'Hara...The proposal I set forward here, nevertheless, is likely to make some readers annoyed, perhaps even indignant. Some already are. A few fellow writers, even, have worked hard through legal courses to block this book's publication.' This brilliantly illuminating book, with fine introductions and comments from such scholars as Eric Lorberer, David Koepsell, Joshua Kotin and Ron Paste add to the importance of the analysis o the book and the poem in question. Koepsell states `Johnson upends and dispels all the traditional notions of authorship and its role in creation, scandalizing many in the process.' "Johnson's book celebrates the unbound word, our Promethean glory as creators free of the debt of credit. Hi sown act of creation, obscured as truths wrapped in fictions, touches upon the duty and ethos of the author and audience, spinning together, weaving something beautiful and alive, new, and unchained.'
And after the very fine introductions to Kent Johnson's gifts we launch into one of the more experimental treatises about O'Hara, Koch, authorship, elegies, and thoughts that brought the detective Johnson to make his controversial investigation and proof. AS Johnson state, `For what could be deeper, more poignant and perpetual testimony to measure of his person and work than that a poem may well have been written for him by another, as if BY him, in mourning, love and homage - a poem in which the departed speaks through the dark Sun of his own death and from the very place he will die? And what could be more apropos, than the unanswered - perhaps ultimately unanswerable - mysteries about its making? Would O'Hara mind the mystery, if the poem is actually his? I dare suspect he wouldn't.'
This book, both in content and in the clever layout (multiple typefaces and fonts of varying sizes enhancing the poetic content of the book), is an artwork unto itself. This is sophisticated literary investigation and critique and should be read by every writer and by those who love the works of O'Hara and Koch - and Kent Johnson! Grady Harp, October 12