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About this poet

On March 27, 1926, Frank (Francis Russell) O'Hara was born in 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 Vladimir Mayakovsky.

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 Koch.

O'Hara's association with 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. On July 25, 1966, while vacationing on Fire Island, Frank O'Hara was killed in a sand buggy accident. He was forty years old.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Poems Retrieved (City Lights Books, 2013)
Selected Poems (Knopf, 2008)
The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara (1971)
In Memory of My Feelings (1967)
Love Poems (1965)
Lunch Poems (1964)
Second Avenue (1960)
Odes (1960)
Meditations in an Emergency (1956)
A City Winter, and Other Poems (1952)

Prose

The New Spanish Painting and Sculpture (1960)
Jackson Pollack (1959)

Drama

Collected Plays (1978)

To the Film Industry in Crisis

Frank O'Hara, 1926 - 1966
Not you, lean quarterlies and swarthy periodicals
with your studious incursions toward the pomposity of ants,
nor you, experimental theatre in which Emotive Fruition
is wedding Poetic Insight perpetually, nor you,
promenading Grand Opera, obvious as an ear (though you
are close to my heart), but you, Motion Picture Industry,
it's you I love!

In times of crisis, we must all decide again and again whom we love.
And give credit where it's due: not to my starched nurse, who taught me
how to be bad and not bad rather than good (and has lately availed
herself of this information), not to the Catholic Church
which is at best an oversolemn introduction to cosmic entertainment,
not to the American Legion, which hates everybody, but to you,
glorious Silver Screen, tragic Technicolor, amorous Cinemascope,
stretching Vistavision and startling Stereophonic Sound, with all
your heavenly dimensions and reverberations and iconoclasms! To
Richard Barthelmess as the "tol'able" boy barefoot and in pants,
Jeanette MacDonald of the flaming hair and lips and long, long neck,
Sue Carroll as she sits for eternity on the damaged fender of a car
and smiles, Ginger Rogers with her pageboy bob like a sausage
on her shuffling shoulders, peach-melba-voiced Fred Astaire of the feet,
Eric von Stroheim, the seducer of mountain-climbers' gasping spouses,
the Tarzans, each and every one of you (I cannot bring myself to prefer
Johnny Weissmuller to Lex Barker, I cannot!), Mae West in a furry sled,
her bordello radiance and bland remarks, Rudolph Valentino of the moon,
its crushing passions, and moonlike, too, the gentle Norma Shearer,
Miriam Hopkins dropping her champagne glass off Joel McCrea's yacht,
and crying into the dappled sea, Clark Gable rescuing Gene Tierney
from Russia and Allan Jones rescuing Kitty Carlisle from Harpo Marx,
Cornel Wilde coughing blood on the piano keys while Merle Oberon berates,
Marilyn Monroe in her little spike heels reeling through Niagara Falls,
Joseph Cotten puzzling and Orson Welles puzzled and Dolores del Rio
eating orchids for lunch and breaking mirrors, Gloria Swanson reclining,
and Jean Harlow reclining and wiggling, and Alice Faye reclining
and wiggling and singing, Myrna Loy being calm and wise, William Powell
in his stunning urbanity, Elizabeth Taylor blossoming, yes, to you
and to all you others, the great, the near-great, the featured, the extras
who pass quickly and return in dreams saying your one or two lines,
my love!
Long may you illumine space with your marvellous appearances, delays
and enunciations, and may the money of the world glitteringly cover you
as you rest after a long day under the kleig lights with your faces
in packs for our edification, the way the clouds come often at night
but the heavens operate on the star system. It is a divine precedent
you perpetuate! Roll on, reels of celluloid, as the great earth rolls on!

From Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O'Hara. Copyright © 1957 by Frank O'Hara. Used by permission of Grove Press. All rights reserved.

From Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O'Hara. Copyright © 1957 by Frank O'Hara. Used by permission of Grove Press. All rights reserved.

Frank O'Hara

Frank O'Hara

Born on March 27, 1926, Frank O'Hara was one of the most distinguished members of the New York School of poets.

by this poet

poem
It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don't know the people who will feed me

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted
poem
Mothers of America
                               let your kids go to the movies!
get them out of the house so they won't know what you're up to
it's true that fresh air is good for the body
                                                              but what about the soul
that grows in darkness, embossed by
poem
Now when I walk around at lunchtime
I have only two charms in my pocket
an old Roman coin Mike Kanemitsu gave me
and a bolt-head that broke off a packing case
when I was in Madrid the others never
brought me too much luck though they did
help keep me in New York against coercion
but now I'm happy for a time and