David Reads “Poem” (is it dirty), by Frank O’Hara

Cover of "Lunch Poems (City Lights Pocket...
Cover via Amazon

Here it is, the last twenty minutes of April 1st and no April Fools joke for you. I haven’t even declared what project, if any, I am doing for National Poetry Month this year. Well, the joke is on you, because here it is. But then the joke is on me too, because really, I had no idea until about lunch time today, talking with my dear Ann, what I would do. I decided that instead of recording a video each day like I did last year (a three to four hour commitment from start to finish, by the time I hit the record button, finished editing, uploading and writing here to the blog), I will do some shorter recordings. Some will be on YouTube, and some will be on Soundcloud, and possibly one other place. All of them will be linked to here on the DadPoet.

This makes the blog the central hub of my poetry activity, so I won’t be spread so thin or pressed for time. And in keeping with that idea, I will also attempt to record the poems in as few takes as possible. This first one I read through a couple of times, until I stopped stumbling, and then hit the record button. It was finished in one take.  The editing of the video was similarly pretty simple.

I will also do a little writing here on the blog periodically, probably a few days each week, between poems, sort of a poet’s journal. Let’s consider it a work in progress. In any case, happy National Poetry Month, well in the U.S. anyway, but thank you to my friends and readers in other parts of the globe for celebrating with me.

Frank O’Hara seemed to enjoy writing pieces entitled “Poem,” or a little less frequently, like this one, “Song.” Editors usually attempt to distinguish them by their first lines, in this case “is it dirty” Notice the punctuation? What punctuation. Exactly. Often O’Hara omits it entirely, leaving the impression that an entire poem was rattled off in one breathless, fast paced conversation. Here he uses it selectively, and in ways that are unexpected. His questions have no question marks, and it is perhaps up to the reader how to interpret this. I chose to pose the questions almost as statements, with perhaps only a shade of doubt. Does the use of a period instead of a question mark in the lines of this poem imply a tone of sarcasm? Certainty? How might you read this if you were to read it out loud?

To listen to a recording of Frank O’Hara reading this poem himself please click right hereI really like the authenticity of his reading, complete with a city car’s horn in the background.

“Song” is from Frank O’Hara’s collection called Lunch Poems, published in 1964, just two years before his death. I’ll also be doing some readings from an earlier book of his called Meditations in an Emergency. You may remember that last year I tried to limit myself to one poem by any particular poet. Thirty poems, thirty poets. Well, I actually unwittingly broke that rule with two by Kenneth Koch. Ah well, you didn’t notice, so no harm done. This year, I’ll be reading multiple poems by a few of my favorite writers. I hope you enjoy the playlist this year. Thanks for listening / watching / reading.


Is it dirty
does it look dirty
that’s what you think of in the city

does it just seem dirty
that’s what you think of in the city
you don’t refuse to breathe do you

someone comes along with a very bad character
he seems attractive. is he really. yes very
he’s attractive as his character is bad. is it. yes

that’s what you think of in the city
run your finger along your no-moss mind
that’s not a thought that’s soot

and you take a lot of dirt off someone
is the character less bad. no. it improves constantly
you don’t refuse to breathe do you

From Lunch Poems. Copyright © 1964 by Frank O’Hara. City Lights Books.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. I read it first (stumbling), then listened with my no-moss mind. Is it. I think it may be a moss mind. In my case. Looking forward to this month of poems.


    1. What is it about O’Hara’s poems that make me want to keep stumbling until I think I get it? He seems to have just the right mix of delight and challenge. Thanks for stumbling in here with me! Poem two about to go up. 🙂


  2. Hooray–new readings by you this month! Looking forward to them.


    1. 😀 Thank you!


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