poem index

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)

Personal Poem

Frank O'Hara, 1926 - 1966
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 interested 

I walk through the luminous humidity
passing the House of Seagram with its wet
and its loungers and the construction to
the left that closed the sidewalk if
I ever get to be a construction worker
I'd like to have a silver hat please
and get to Moriarty's where I wait for
LeRoi and hear who wants to be a mover and
shaker the last five years my batting average
is .016 that's that, and LeRoi comes in
and tells me Miles Davis was clubbed 12
times last night outside BIRDLAND by a cop
a lady asks us for a nickel for a terrible
disease but we don't give her one we
don't like terrible diseases, then 
we go eat some fish and some ale it's
cool but crowded we don't like Lionel Trilling
we decide, we like Don Allen we don't like
Henry James so much we like Herman Melville
we don't want to be in the poets' walk in
San Francisco even we just want to be rich
and walk on girders in our silver hats
I wonder if one person out of the 8,000,000 is
thinking of me as I shake hands with LeRoi
and buy a strap for my wristwatch and go
back to work happy at the thought possibly so 

From Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara. Copyright © 1964 by Frank O'Hara. Reprinted by permission of City Lights Books. 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

Am I to become profligate as if I were a blonde? Or religious as if I were French?

Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous (and how the same names keep recurring on that interminable list!), but one of these days there'll be nothing left with which to venture forth.

Why should I

poem
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
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