Sunday, 16 March 2008

Smoking out my inner Lana Turner with Frank O'Hara

A poet friend has a fantastic poem in her latest pamphlet called Why I Cannot Write a Poem Like Frank O'Hara and now I know what she means. I am at present reading the Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara and I am having severe gut wrenching bouts of cigarette envy. I smoked a long time ago as a twenty something, I gave it up for over eighteen years then I re-embarked on it for a couple of years a while back but I have been nicotine free now for nearly three years. I can smell the fags on the breath of Frank O’Hara’s poems ( yes I know he was gay dear reader but no pun is intended). I can smoke vicariously along with him as he puts the best words into the right order. I find a video of him reading a poem in his New York loft and there is the cigarette in his hand wandering in and out of the frame to his right twitching slightly at the repetition of the word partly as if he was conducting the lines with smoke. He finally places it down in the ash tray that must lurk out of shot on the desk in front of him at the precise moment in the poem when he starts to interest himself in his own words. He finishes straight to camera with a half boyish smile as if addressing the very person the poem was written for.

Now and then I have an urge to smoke not for the buzz of nicotine and not for the need to have something in my hand to let them feel less empty. What I want to do is play the lets pretend I am a real writer and poet from the bad old daysgame just once more. I want to catch my thumb nail on the tip of a filter and flick ash in one sharp staccato movement into a cold coffee mug instead of an ash tray simply because it is the nearest thing to hand. I want to be blow a small stream of smoke out over a clean page and leave it slightly tainted with its stench. I want to be singularly stupid and selfish and have no regard for my heart, lungs, throat or anyone else in the room. Then I want to put the smelly clothes of the smoker back in the dressing up box that I would keep high up in a small private loft way above the sound of milk floats rattling out before dawn whilst stiletto heels click home on wet pavements from private drinking clubs accompanied by the slight swish of small handbags that close with a steely clasp.

I want to open a cocktail cabinet with a mottled mirror and a proper soda siphon. I want to see the bright red stain of my lipstick on the glasses in there and on the filter tips tumbling out of a green glass ashtray. I want the next cigarette to be the one that accompanies me on a journey to somewhere different and exciting in my head. The feel of the paper as I roll it between my finger will be as familiar as a lovers skin and the spark of the lighter and the slight shimmer of petrol that hangs above it will mesmerise me for just a second and all across a dark city in rooms and lofts small flames will be rising to greet the tip of a cigarette.

But of course I won’t but even the memory of it can create a sense of an old lover who was very very bad for you and other people, who was poisonous and insidious and controlling but who nonetheless showed you a few good times as well. I want to have a good time with Frank and party like Lana Turner and then get up and walk away unscathed but you just can't.
This blog is bought to you by the politically incorrect society for the study of smoking poets.

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