“I’ll take a poem – it might cheer me up!”

Barlow Moor Community Library – Week 1

When I arrived at the library it was very quiet outside and in. The librarian suggested I come back on a Wednesday when it would be busier. But her daughter Erin showed me her poem ‘The Night’, which gave me hope. 

As I stood outside, people started to appear out of the woodwork – picking kids up from school, popping into the newsagents (some teenagers got banned for stealing Pringles) – and many were surprised and happy to be given a poem.

I gave out a poem called ‘Why I am not a painter’ by Frank O’Hara, who famously wrote poems in his lunch break from working as a receptionist at the Museum of Modern of Art in New York (one of his books was called Lunch Poems). This is one of my favourite poems and one of the few I know completely by heart.


Why I am not a painter

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.


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