Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pride Week Profile: Frank O'Hara, the most sociable of poets

Francis Russell O’Hara (1926-1966)
Author, poet, critic
Recipient, The National Book Award, 1972

Frank O’Hara studied music at the New England Conservatory; served in the Pacific in World War II, then attended Harvard (where Edward Gorey was his roommate) and the University of Michigan to obtain degrees in English Literature.

Moving to New York, he began teaching at The New School, then got a job in the gift shop at the Museum of Modern Art. By 1960 he was both an established member of the New York School of poets and Assistant Curator of Painting and Sculpture at MOMA. O’Hara wrote well-received articles for ArtNews, and his immense charm and talent made him a well-known figure in the postwar art world.

O’Hara thought of his poetry as tossed-off, occasional pieces, spur of the moment entries in a diary of blank verse. Like William Carlos Williams, he liked commonplace words and irregular lines. Like the French symbolists and surrealists, he combined reality with the fantastic, the popular and the campy:

Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed!]

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 
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

On a summer visit to New York’s Fire Island, fifty years ago come July 25, O’Hara was struck by a beach driver and died of his injuries the next day. He was forty years old.

Related sites:

Frank O’

Dan Chiasson, “Fast Company: The World of Frank O’Hara,” The New Yorker, April 7, 2008.

William Logan, “Urban Poet,” The New York Times, June 29, 2008.

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