Why I Am Not A Painter
Frank O'Hara's poem Why I Am Not A Painter is a light-hearted, humorous poem. This poem tries to compare the role of a poet to that of a painter. The two actual works used in the poem are O'Hara's poem "Oranges: 12 Pastorals" and Mike Goldberg's (O'Hara's friend) painting "Sardines."
The poem opens with a sense of humor by having the speaker proclaiming how he wished he could be a painter. Of course, he's not a painter, but a poet. The speaker actually envy the freedom available in the life of a painter, this is portrayed in the second and third stanza.
The speaker first takes Mike Goldberg as an example to provide the reason for him not being able to be a painter. Once, the speaker drops in to visit Mike Goldberg who is working on a painting. Goldberg welcomes him with a drink. From the speaker's words "I drink; we drink," a relationship between two individuals is hinted. Birds of the same feather flock together; just like men working in relevant fields and sharing close interest gather for a drink. When the speaker responses to the SARDINES, which is in the painting, Goldberg's reply is "Yes, it needed something there." His nonchalant reaction seemingly indicates that the inclusion of SARDINES in the painting is unimportant. "it needed something" is an open requirement, the painter is free to add in what he wants.
"Oh" is used as an opening for the third stanza, to link this stanza to the previous one. This is because the two stanza touches on the same example; however, on different occasion. Movement of time is clearly depicted in the beginning of the third stanza, this sense of time journey is skillfully created with the repetition use of "I go," "the days go" and "The painting is going." Besides this, the constant dropping in of the speaker to visit Goldberg further emphasizes the close relationship between the poet and the painter, though we are yet to see in what ways are their work related.
When the painting is eventually completed, the speaker is surprised to find the elimination of SARDINES. Again, Goldberg's response to the speaker's amazement is that "It was too much." What he means is that with SARDINES in the painting will have the painting revealing "too much" of its meaning. Thus, a full depiction is not required to furnish a painting. You don't get abstract art pieces doing identical sketches.
What Goldberg does, coincides with Whitman idea of speaking out what you want to express, with no in depth explanation. The readers of an art piece or literature work have to experience the work and read it within, beneath and beyond it.
The final stanza is a long stanza where the speaker both achieves his own transformation and obtains enlightenment. The encounter of the painting incident triggers the speaker's thought of his own writing capacity. Hence, he starts to write about the color orange. He progresses from a line to a whole page and so on. "Days go by" appears again to show the stretch of time. His writing has consolidated into a prose. He is amazed by his role as a real poet. However, the absence of the word "orange" in the poem is what that set him forth to ecstasy. The childlike tone of excitement contributes to the realistic jocund mood of enlightenment. The poem ends with the juxtaposition of the speaker's poem "Oranges" and Goldberg's painting "SARDINES." Apparently, the speaker realizes the parallelism between the two: it is to achieve the common objective of an art. An art does not have to say everything, it leaves space for thought to all who appreciates it.
The poem consists of three processes, which are respectively the process of doing a painting, the process of composing a poem and, last but not least, the process of enlightenment. Goldberg's method of painting involves the act of patching and removing; alteration is the major technique. The speaker's way of composing a poem is through the step-by-step method: from a line to a page, eventually to a prose. By comparing their methods we can make a conclusion that tally with the statement of the speaker, "Why I Am Not A Painter." Moreover, from the first stanza, we see the speaker's admiration of the painter's freedom in controlling the theme of his work, which he thinks, is not present in a poet's creative life. However, at the end of the poem, the similarity between the poet and the painter derives. This similarity makes the distinction in their technique insignificant, since both aims toward a same purpose. Thus there could be two possibilities for the title of the poem: first, the speaker is not a painter because a poet and painter differ in skills; second, the speaker is absolutely proud of himself as a poet. It is the common objective of the poet and the painter that links the two together, but the distinction in their skills makes the speaker a poet, not a painter.
As for the process of enlightenment, the speaker's first encounters the experience with his friend, Mike Goldberg. Next, he falls in to his own thought, which proffers his experimentation. Ending with the derision of the answer, which is Why I Am Not A Painter.
A point to not is that O'Hara uses language just like Whitman, particularly in Leaves of Grass. For example, "I am not a painter, I am a poet."