From Pages to People: Personism

Well I won’t deny that some of the poetry for today, O’Hara, Robert Duncan, and Spicer, is a bit over my head.  All poetry is work, but this some of this I labored through and still felt lost.  However, one of O’Hara’s poems/ essays really stuck out to me: “Personism: A Manifesto”.  First of all, you have to love O’Hara’s sense of humor and the casual feel of his poetry.  I love that the –ism in ‘Personism’ and the title of manifesto sets it up as a formal theory, but really it is “a movement which [he] recently founded and which nobody knows about”.  To me, the most important part of Personism is the story of its founding.  On August 27, 1959, O’Hara was in love with somebody and had lunch with LeRoi Jones and then went home and wrote a poem for that somebody he loves.  While writing, he realized that “if [he] wanted to [he] could use the telephone instead of writing the poem, and so Personism was born”.  What a profoundly true statement!  If you are writing a poem to someone, not about them, why would you not just tell them?  I like O’Hara’s desire to put poetry “between two persons instead of two pages”.  He wants to make poetry more of a shared conversation rather than a monument.  I think this is a novel approach to making poetry approachable, accessible, and relatable.  Obviously some poetry is too abstract or formal for this method, but in some cases I agree with O’Hara that we do not need all this abstraction.  “Abstraction (in poetry, not in painting) involves personal removal by the poet.”  The last thing we want, in poems about people, relationships, and life, is for the poet to be removed.  We want Personism; we want the poet to be a part of the poem and to put part of themselves in it.  We want it to share their thoughts with others in a more intimate way, not just slap them on a page in a formal, difficult, convoluted manner.  While I do not quite know if Personism will lead to the death of literature, I think O’Hara’s essay/poem is a humorous example of a serious topic: we should talk to each other, not just to paper.

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One Response to From Pages to People: Personism

  1. AVZ says:

    Your post made me think back to our conversations about the modernists, and how the drive to “connect” seemed everywhere severed and lost. I love that O’Hara provides the solution: just pick up the phone, just e-mail, just text. Like you say, it’s a humorous, light response to serious topic. But it holds such honest truth.

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