Personism and Negative Capability

In “Personism: A Manifesto”, O’Hara offers Personism as a literary technique like Keats’s Negative Capability. I loved that he made that comparison, because I had already drawn parallels between O’Hara’s feelings about formal poetry and Keats’s feelings about formal poetry. When talking about Milton, Keats says, “Life to him would be death to me”, primarily because Milton “devoted himself rather to the ardours than the pleasures of Song”. O’Hara expresses these sentiments in his concept for Personism, which “has nothing to do with philosophy, its all art”. He criticizes attempts to attain the metaphysical or improve a reader.

O’Hara did a much better job prioritizing art over form. I think of his poem “Ode on a Necrophilia”, which relies as much on the aesthetics as the words themselves to communicate with the reader. It is also clear that O’Hara’s variation in form and style gives his poetry a range that Keats could never claim. Even in comparing “To Hell with It” and “Ode to Joy”, we see completely different approaches to conveying a message. Even though I cannot decipher the meaning in “To Hell with It”, his intrusion of a mock poem into an otherwise choppy form points to a comfort with visual thrill, but does not transmit “personality or intimacy”. Then, in “Ode to Joy”, he confidently and successfully offers an organized poem, apparently using “technical apparatus”, but still not force feeding formal poetry to the reader.

Another interesting connection between Keats and O’Hara is their view on the role of the poet. In a letter to a friend, Keats says, “There is no greater Sin after the 7 deadly than to flatter oneself into the idea of being a great Poet”. In a way, O’Hara seems reminiscent of this when he says, “I’m not saying that I don’t have practically the most lofty ideas of anyone writing today, but what difference does it make? They’re just ideas”. Both of these poets seem to share a rebellion against what is time-honored—the status of the poet and the status-quo of form.

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One Response to Personism and Negative Capability

  1. AVZ says:

    I haven’t re-read “Personism” yet, but after reading this post I think it will be the first O’Hara that I refresh myself with! Really fascinating connection between Keats and O’Hara here! He’s a chameleon poet indeed (you note his extreme variation in voice/form/style) in a way Keats could only imagine.

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