Photo: Brad Gooch (Alfred A. Knopf, 1993)
On March 27, 1926, Frank (Francis Russell) O'Hara was born in Baltimore,
Maryland. He grew up in Massachusetts, and later studied piano at the New
England Conservatory in Boston from 1941 to 1944. O'Hara then served in the
South Pacific and Japan as a sonarman on the destroyer USS Nicholas
during World War II.
Following the war, O'Hara studied at Harvard College, where he majored in
music and worked on compositions and was deeply influenced by contemporary music, his first love, as well as visual art. He also wrote poetry at that time and read the work of Arthur Rimbaud, Stéphane Mallarmé, Boris Pasternak, and
While at Harvard, O'Hara met John Ashbery and soon began publishing poems in the Harvard Advocate. Despite his love for music, O'Hara changed his major and left Harvard in 1950 with a degree in English. He then attended graduate school at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and received his MA in 1951. That autumn, O'Hara moved into an apartment in New York. He was soon employed at the front desk of the Museum of Modern Art and began to write seriously.
O'Hara's early work was considered both provocative and provoking. In 1952,
his first volume of poetry, A City in Winter, attracted favorable
attention; his essays on painting and sculpture and his reviews for
ArtNews were considered brilliant. O'Hara became one of the most
distinguished members of the New York School of poets, which also included
Ashbery, James Schuyler, and Kenneth
O'Hara's association with the painters Larry Rivers, Jackson Pollock,
and Jasper Johns, also leaders of the New York School, became a source of
inspiration for his highly original poetry. He attempted to produce with words
the effects these artists had created on canvas. In certain instances, he
collaborated with the painters to make "poem-paintings," paintings
with word texts.
O'Hara's most original volumes of verse, Meditations in an
Emergency (1956) and Lunch Poems (1964), are impromptu lyrics, a
jumble of witty talk, journalistic parodies, and surrealist imagery.
O'Hara continued working at the Museum of Modern Art throughout his life,
curating exhibitions and writing introductions and catalogs for exhibits and
tours. In 1966, while vacationing on Fire Island, Frank O'Hara was killed in a
sand buggy accident. He was forty years old.
A City Winter, and Other Poems (1952)
Meditations in an Emergency (1956)
Second Avenue (1960)
Lunch Poems (1964)
Love Poems (1965)
In Memory of My Feelings (1967)
The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara (1971)
Selected Poems (Knopf, 2008)
Jackson Pollack (1959)
The New Spanish Painting and Sculpture (1960)
Collected Plays (1978)