| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Joe LeSueur, a playwright and Frank O’Hara’s
roommate for nearly a decade, wrote in a memoir, “as far as I could tell,
writing poetry was something Frank did in his spare time.... For that reason, I
didn’t realize right away that if you took poetry as much for granted as you
did breathing it might mean you felt that it was essential to your life.”1 For
many readers, the enormous appeal of Frank O’Hara’s work—and he is among the
most appealing of all American poets—is that he combines a seemingly
effortlessness of expression with a life-sustaining intensity of purpose. The
poems were often dashed off almost always on the typewriter—The Lunch Poems,
for example, got their title because they were written on O’Hara’s lunch
hour—but they came out of the wholeness of O’Hara’s experience and emotions. As
funny as they often are, they always indicate a shrewd awareness of people,
places, and history. And although O’Hara is one of the most joyous poets
America has produced, a darkness always hovers below the surface, accentuating
the brightness above.
O’Hara was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and grew up in Worcester,
Massachusetts. He attended Harvard University, where he studied music, and the
graduate school of the University of Michigan. But he is most associated with
New York City and the Long Island coast, especially Fire Island, where he died
in a freak accident—run over by a jeep on an island where cars are banned. With
John Ashbery (a friend from his undergraduate days), James Schuyler, and
Kenneth Koch, O’Hara formed the central core of what has been dubbed the New
York School. Although what primarily bound these poets was personal friendship,
they do have certain poetic similarities that unite them: (1) They all
emphasize the immediacy of the individual poetic voice rather than the
impersonal presentation of images. (2) They playfully combine elements from
high and low culture, incorporating into their works the most mundane aspects
of urban life and such features of popular culture as comic strip characters,
Hollywood movies, and popular songs. (3) They fearlessly court the comic, the
slapstick, the vulgar, and the sentimental. (4) They experiment with
surrealism, although the dream-like often dissolves into the quite ordinary.
Ashbery, and Schuyler are also united by their involvement in the visual arts.
All three worked at various times for Art News, writing articles and reviews.
O’Hara worked first as a ticket taker, then as a curator for the Museum of
Modern Art, organizing major exhibitions by the end of his life. O’Hara was a
personal friend of many important artists including Larry Rivers, Willem de
Kooning, Grace Hartigan, and Fairfield Porter. The directness and energy which
many of these artists wished to bring to painting, O’Hara sought to register in
his own work.
of the typical modes in which O’Hara worked was what he called the “I do this I
do that” poem. Many lesser poets have attempted to imitate O’Hara’s seemingly
documentary style, but few have caught his eye for detail, his ear for the
music of American English, or his sensitivity to the wide fluctuation of mood.
O’Hara was also among the earliest poets to write unself-consciously of his
homosexual relationships. His love poems—and he wrote many of them—have a
frankness, a joy, and a pathos that would seem more revolutionary if they did
not appear so natural and easy.
1Joe LeSueur, “Four Apartments” in Homage toFrank O’Hara, eds. Bill Berkson and Joe
LeSueur. New York: Big Sky, 1978, p. 47.|
In the Heath Anthology
The Day Lady Died
Why I Am Not a Painter
A City Winter and Other Poems
Meditations in an Emergency
Art Chronicles, 1954-1966
Poems Retrieved, 1951-1966
Standing Still and Walking in New York
There are no Cultural Objects for this author.
Would you like to add a Cultural Object?
There are no pedagogical assignments or approaches for this author.
From Frank O'Hara: Poet among Painters
The Introduction to Marjorie Perloff's book on O'Hara.
A list of works, biographical notes, and a guide to O'Hara on the web.
The Academy of American Poets
This exhibit provides a biography, selected poetry, list of works, and links.
What's With Modern Art?
O'Hara's reviews in Art News from 1953-55.
Bill Berkson and Joe Lesueur, eds., Homage to Frank O'Hara, 1978
Mutlu Konuk Blasing, Politics and Form in Postmodern Poetry: O'Hara, Bishop, Ashbery, and Merrill, 1995
Jim Elledge, Frank O'Hara: To Be True to a City, 1990
Alan Feldman, Frank O'Hara, 1979
Brad Gooch, City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O'Hara, 1993
David Lehman, The Last Avant-Garde, 1998
Marjory Perloff, Frank O'Hara: Poet Among Painters, 1977
Geoff Ward, Statues of Liberty: The New York School of Poets, 1993