Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed!]

There’s a story behind every poem. There’s always a story. And the story behind this one is that the poet – Frank O’Hara –  was on his way  to Staten Island where he was to give a reading with Robert Lowell at Wagner College. It was February 1962 and the weather was nasty. O’Hara picked up a newspaper to read on the ferry.  A story about “sweater girl” Lana Turner being hospitalized for exhaustion after a collapse at her 42nd birthday party caught his attention. He wrote this quick spoof in response.

Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed!]

Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up.

   by Frank O’Hara

Untitled. Tin can, pocket watch and chain.Robert Rauschenberg 1959

O’Hara had turned a tabloid celebrity drama into a poem. 

By 1962 O’Hara was not a big fan of Lowell’s work. He read the Lana Turner poem at the reading, telling the audience that he had written on the trip there. The audience  loved it.

Lowell, however, did not like being upstaged by the stunt. When it was his turn to read he told the audience that he was sorry he had not written a poem on his way to the reading and that the poems he would read had taken more time to write. 

I’m pairing this poem with work by Robert Rauschenbrg. Rauschenberg was a friend and O’Hara – as an art critic and MoMA curator – had supported his work. He even wrote a poem for him.  This week I went to MoMA to see the exhibit that’s there until September 17 – Robert Rauschenberg:Among Friends.

The introduction to the exhibit includes this 1959 quotation from the artist’:

 Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made. (I try to act in that gap between the two.)

I have no idea what that means – perhaps it too was intended as a spoof – but I rather like what follows;

My whole area of art has always been addressed to working with other people. Ideas are not real estate.

Sue, Robert Rauschenberg circa 1950.                 Exposed blueprint paper


It’s a terrific exhibit and that interdisciplinary spirit of collaboration – working with others, sharing, sampling and borrowing from them – is on full display.

Rauschenberg was a painter, printmaker, photographer, collagist, sculptor, theater designer, performance artist, and technologist but what he was above all was a collaborator. It’s as if Rauschenberg was in constant conversation with other artists and with ideas and as well as with materials and artistic techniques. It’s clear he was a relentless innovator who thrived on the art of combining disparate materials, genres and creating relationships between and among them that were fresh, often startling and always inventive.

Rauschenberg invented his life as a stark contrast to his upbringing. He even invented his first name. His fundamentalist parents had named him Milton. When he was demobbed from the army he returned to Port Arthur, but – without telling him – his family had moved 120 miles away to Louisiana.

Rauschenberg headed to California where he worked as a shipping clerk at the Ballerina Bathing Suit factory. Pat Pearman, who worked there as a designer, told him, “Do you know why you are so unhappy? You’re really an artist.” She suggested art school on the G.I. Bill. Rauschenberg applied to the Kansas City Art Institute and was accepted. It was there that he decided on his new name, Bob.

The works on display reveal a persistent putting of one thing with another; trying of new techniques and adding just one more object, idea or image to a full repertoire. Like T. S. Eliot in The Wasteland Rauschenberg moves fluidly from high seriousness to the mundane.

Poet John Ashbery was also a friend and supporter as well as a fellow collagist. What Ashbery does with words, Rauschenberg does with anything he could lay his hands on. The exhibit shows an artist who was endlessly open to new ideas and curious about the world.

And like Ashbery – and O’Hara in Lana Turner – Rauschenberg was drawn to reflecting on popular culture and incorporating it in his work.  He escaped from the same Texas town – Port Arthur – as Janis Joplin so it was not surprising to see her image included in Signs.

Signs, 1970 was originally commissioned as a collage cover for Time magazine as a visual summary of the 1960’s. Time rejected it and Rauschenberg turned it into a print “conceived to remind us of love, terror, violence of the last ten years. Danger lies in forgetting.”

So many wonderful pieces it seems idle to choose just a few but I did particularly love Hiccups, 1978.  It’s 97 sheets of handmade paper with lithographed images taken from popular magazines. They are connected by zippers and the work can be assembled in any order, like a pop bead necklace. The museum card suggests that the idea for zippers may have come from his work at the bathing suit company.

Below are a few strips from the work that stretches along two walls of the gallery.  The featured image is from Sor Aqua (Venetian) 1973

A quick postscript to the poem after a news item I saw today, June 3rd:

“Brandy Rushed To The Hospital After Losing Consciousness On An Airplane!”

Rushing from one site to another
The way one does
On the intertubes these days
From the weather to whether
He will or will not
Be impeached, go golfing,
And all the latest covfefe.
What to cook for dinner, check my feed, and how to do
This or that and what they are up to today
There it was:
“Brandy Rushed To The Hospital After Losing Consciousness On An Airplane!”
Oh no! Say it is not so
Someone I have never heard of is in the headlines.
She must be important. But
I have drunk brandy.
I have been to a hospital.
I have flown in planes.
But I have never done all three together
And lost consciousness. 

I don’t know you.
Be well.
I will not click the link.

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