Leopard and 'As obvious as an ear': Frank O'Hara's sound

  • Janet Rogerson

Student thesis: Phd


LeopardA poem is an event that begins and ends on the page; when a poem works it works alone and is not dependent on the performance of its neighbours. The goal with Leopard was to create individual poems whose scope is eclectic and ambitious rather than to fashion a coherent collection. This attitude is not a popular one in twenty-first century poetry, where themed collections and identity poetry are both desired and celebrated. But I believe imagination is the true currency of poetry and coherence is over-rated. The poems cross a variety of forms and styles, to invent and tell stories, to untame the imagination. My poems are disparate and there is little point forcing arbitrary connections and themes onto them. Leopard is influenced by music, film, art, words and by other poets. The poems are influenced by Frank O'Hara, not in style, but in the way O'Hara reminds me that poems can begin anywhere, the poet is nothing if not in control, and writing poems is an exciting thing to do. I imagine some of the poems would please the old ladies in Ealing comedies, these 'doiley' poems are flimsy and full of carefully positioned holes; they stand next to surreal poems which I see being read by a guy in a diner in a David Lynch movie, he'll be crying and laughing-at the same time probably-and not necessarily because the poems are sad or funny; others might be valued by characters who know things about poems and can appreciate what they do, know who or what they are referring to and hopefully find something beyond their lines. Like the spots on a leopard, each poem stands alone, but if a unity is to be found, I hope it is through sound and accessibility. I care how my poems sound because poetry for me is primarily an oral art form. I think some of the poems sound good, others I never read to an audience because not every poem can escape its white space, though it can still serve a valuable enough purpose on the page. I hope my poems are accessible and I hope the sound of a few of them, at least, will stay with the reader, but most of all I hope the poems will not bore; the worst adjective to attach to a poem is boring.'As obvious as an ear': Frank O'Hara's soundThis thesis explores the poems of Frank O'Hara in relation to sound. O'Hara's status as a poet, though legendary, is built on the casual nature of his poetic and not on claims about technical expertise. O'Hara's much-quoted statement in 'Personism: A Manifesto', in which he rejects 'elaborately sounded structures' has resulted in critics taking O'Hara at his word and largely avoiding the sonic properties of his poems. But a poem and its sound are inseparable and to overlook sound in the critical discourse on O'Hara is a considerable omission. The study of sound in poetry typically involves the examination of embedded sound effects which have been employed by the poet to manipulate the readers' experience when reading or listening to a poem. O'Hara does embed sound to some degree in a haphazard way, but what is more noteworthy about O'Hara's poetic is the way sound inhabits the surface of his poems. My intention is to turn up the volume on this neglected area of O'Hara's poetic and tune in to the sonic world he invites the reader to inhabit, the world of surface sound.
Date of Award31 Dec 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJohn Mcauliffe (Supervisor) & Douglas Field (Supervisor)


  • Frank O'Hara
  • Sound

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