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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)

On Seeing Larry Rivers' Washington Crossing the Delaware at the Museum of Modern Art

Frank O'Hara, 1926 - 1966
Now that our hero has come back to us
in his white pants and we know his nose
trembling like a flag under fire,
we see the calm cold river is supporting
our forces, the beautiful history.

To be more revolutionary than a nun
is our desire, to be secular and intimate
as, when sighting a redcoat, you smile
and pull the trigger. Anxieties
and animosities, flaming and feeding

on theoretical considerations and
the jealous spiritualities of the abstract
the robot? they're smoke, billows above
the physical event. They have burned up.
See how free we are! as a nation of persons.

Dear father of our country, so alive
you must have lied incessantly to be
immediate, here are your bones crossed
on my breast like a rusty flintlock,
a pirate's flag, bravely specific

and ever so light in the misty glare
of a crossing by water in winter to a shore
other than that the bridge reaches for.
Don't shoot until, the white of freedom glinting
on your gun barrel, you see the general fear.

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
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
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