2014 Poetry Essay for University of Pennsylvania Modern Poetry Course

ModPo Poetry Essay: Pop Goes the Culture: Frank O’Hara’s “Lana Turner Has Collapsed”

ModPo Poetry Essay: Pop Goes the Culture: Frank O’Hara’s “Lana Turner Has Collapsed”
By: V.C. McCabe

Lana Turner has collapsed!” by Frank O’Hara

Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
LANA TURNER HAS COLLAPSED!
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up

We often think of celebrity obsession as a modern form of escapism, one that goes hand in hand with technology and social media. Yet the aristocratic sphere of celebrity and the common man’s fascination with it is almost as old as humanity itself…certainly as old as Old Hollywood. Long before there were TMZ, blogs and Twitter, there were tabloids — a fact cleverly satirized in Frank O’Hara’s poem, “Lana Turner Has Collapsed!.”

After the tantalizing first line proclaims the collapse of movie star Lana Turner, the poem falls in the “I do this and I do that” style so often associated with The New York Poets. O’Hara describes one of those stressful, hurried, everyman walks in bad weather replete with the tedium of traffic and bickering with a significant other. The stream of consciousness format gives the poem the same rushed feeling as the scene it describes, as if the narrator is letting off steam, verbally ranting his thoughts in rapid step with his mostly likely soggy feet.

Then there is a humorous shift in tone and theme as the narrator spies the titular newspaper headline, which gives him a brief mental reprieve from the dreary cityscape around him while simultaneously infuriating him with its blatant sensationalism. O’Hara emphasizes the hyperbolic headline with exclamatory punctuation in the first and eleventh lines coupled with capitalization (“All Caps”) in the latter.

Much like many today who pounce on and devour celebrity gossip and pop culture (peddled as news by the media) for the dual purpose of distraction from their sorrows and validation of their joys, the narrator contrasts his ordinary life with that of a seemingly self-indulgent celebrity. His “the grass is always greener” rumination melts like the snow around him into a subtle throwing of shade at Lana Turner, the media’s melodramatic interest in her and perhaps also himself for being so captivated by the story.

He may not have Lana’s fame or fair weather, but he manages to stay on his feet during good times and bad. That gloating context of his final, direct exhortation to Ms. Turner — which shows how poetry was the precursor to Twitter in regards to “open letter” communication between celebrities and the masses — to “get up” indicates it’s not so much a sincere expression of love and sympathy as one of thinly veiled mockery.

O’Hara’s poem seems all the more relevant in this week when even the most reputable news outlets have been devoting entire segments to the discussion of actress Renee Zellweger’s apparently altered face.

Schadenfreude never goes out of fashion.

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