Frank O

’Hara’s Life And Career Essay, Research Paper Mark Doty Urbane, ironic, sometimes genuinely celebratory and often wildly funny, O’Hara would allow a realm of material and associations alien to academic verse to pour into his poems:

’Hara’s Life And Career Essay, Research Paper

Mark Doty

Urbane, ironic, sometimes genuinely celebratory and often wildly funny, O’Hara would

allow a realm of material and associations alien to academic verse to pour into his poems:

the camp icons of movie stars of the twenties and thirties, the daily landscape of social

activity in Manhattan, jazz music, telephone calls from friends; anything seemed ready

material for inclusion into the particular order that the moment of composition would call

for. Dadaist even in his approach to his own work, O’Hara composed huge numbers of poems

with apparent spontaneity and ease; a friend estimates that his vast Collected Poems contains

perhaps only a third of his work, which was often scribbled or typed quickly, stuffed in

drawers or left about in stacks. This relaxed attitude toward preservation and collection

results in a chronology of composition quite different from the dates of publication, but Meditations

in an Emergency and the poems written throughout the late fifties comprise his finest

work. "The Day Lady Died," "Steps," "A True Account of Talking to

the Sun at Fire Island" (a brilliant re-visioning of Mayakovsky’s poem on the same

theme), and O’Hara’s famous lament upon reading of the collapse of Lana Turner ("I

have been to lots of parties / and acted perfectly disgraceful / but I never actually

collapsed / Oh Lana Turner we love you get up") mark O’Hara at the height of his

powers. His language is often casual, relaxed in diction, yet it presses forward with a

kind of breathless urgency, a will to celebrate the density and richness of

experience—in all its refusal to be summed up, to marshal itself into an orderly

vision—by including as much as possible. Many of these pieces have been labeled

"I do this, I do that" poems; they report whole chunks of experience, days of

walking, conversing, noticing, with careful specificity. Place-names and the names of

friends and acquaintances abound; paradoxically, their inclusion seems to make the poems more

universal, more available, convinced as we are by their artfully shaped controlling

tone of the authenticity of the speaker’s voice. The notion of contrasting and

mutually influencing elements arranged on a surface—a key concept in Abstract

Expressionism—is important in O’Hara’s work. The poems seem, indeed, to spill one

into the other, creating one immense canvas which displays in all its parts O’Hara’s

character engaged in all the business of living—alternately joyful, petulant, obtuse,

tired, awed. The finest of his love poems—"Steps," for example, which

concludes "oh god its wonderful / to get out of bed / and, drink too much coffee /

and smoke too many cigarettes / and love you so much"—disarm with their

directness. Their comic, carefully built quotidian contexts allow O’Hara to work with

direct statement in an inimitable fashion, generating a current of emotion which rises

above his camp humor, his exuberant ironies and mocking play.

from A Profile of Twentieth-Century American Poetry. Ed. Jack Myers and David

Wojahn. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1991. Copyright ? 1991 by the Board of Trustees

of Southern Illinois University.

Claudia Milstead

O’HARA, Frank (27 Mar. 1926-25 July 1966), poet, was born Francis

Russell O’Hara in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Russell Joseph O’Hara and Katherine

Broderick, who both came from strict Irish-Catholic families. O’Hara always believed he

was born 27 June 1926, but his parents apparently lied about his birthdate to hide the

fact that he was conceived before their marriage. Shortly after their wedding in Grafton,

Massachusetts, in September 1925, the couple moved to Baltimore, where their child was

born six months later. They lived in Baltimore for eighteen months before being summoned

back to Grafton so that Russell O’Hara could run the family farm for his ailing uncle.

In June 1944, shortly after his high school graduation, O’Hara enlisted in the U.S.

Navy. He served as a sonarman third class on the destroyer USS Nicholas. After

receiving an honorable discharge in 1946, O’Hara went to Harvard on the GI Bill. He took

creative writing classes from John Ciardi and earned a B.A. in 1950. With Ciardi’s

recommendation, O’Hara was given a graduate fellowship in comparative literature at the

University of Michigan, where he earned an M.A. in 1951. His collection of poems, "A

Byzantine Place," and Try! Try!, a verse play, won O’Hara the Avery Hopwood

Major Award in poetry.

O’Hara then moved to New York to join fellow poet John Ashbery, whom he had met at

Harvard. Living at first on the money from the Hopwood, O’Hara wrote poetry and explored

the city. In New York O’Hara was finally free to live openly as a homosexual and to

indulge his interest in the arts. He worked briefly as an assistant to photographer Cecil

Beaton, then looked for a more permanent job, preferably one that would allow him time to

write. What he found was ideal. In December 1951 he was hired to work at the front desk

of the Museum of Modern Art, selling postcards, publications, and tickets. He often wrote

poems while he worked at the counter, and his friends in the art world frequently stopped

by to visit. O’Hara began writing articles for Art News and in 1953 became an

editorial associate. He continued to write for the publication when he returned to the

Museum of Modern Art in 1955.

The abstract expressionism movement, whose major artists were Willem de Kooning, Franz

Kline, and Jackson Pollock, was flourishing in New York, and O’Hara, along with John

Ashbery and Kenneth Koch, became part of the avant-garde art scene. In 1952 O’Hara’s A

City Winter and Other Poems was published, a collection of thirteen poems with two

drawings by Larry Rivers. The collection was the first of a series of books by poets with

artists’ drawings published by the Tibor de Nagy gallery. At this time O’Hara became

involved with the Club, an artists’ forum that had been established in the 1940s.

Beginning in March 1952, O’Hara appeared on a series of panels to discuss art and poetry.

O’Hara’s first collection of poetry to receive wide recognition was Meditations in

an Emergency (1957). Even though early reviews were unenthusiastic, it became the

collection for which he was primarily known during his lifetime. While Meditations was

being prepared for publication, O’Hara was approached by a publisher about collaborating

with artist Larry Rivers. The resulting project, a series of twelve lithographs titled Stones,

was produced between 1957 and 1960. For the work, Rivers and O’Hara worked directly on

the stones from which the lithographs were made. O’Hara had to write backward so the text

would be readable in the finished lithograph. In 1960 O’Hara published the collections Second

Avenue and Odes. Perhaps the most significant event in O’Hara’s writing career

occurred that year, when Donald Allen published The New American Poetry: 1945-1960. Allen

classified the forty-four poets by groups: New York School, Beat Generation, San Francisco

Renaissance, and Black Mountain. O’Hara, identified as part of the New York School, was a

dominant poet in the anthology, with fifteen of his poems included. Two more collections

were published during his lifetime: Lunch Poems (1964) and Love Poems (Tentative

Title) (1965). Several more volumes of O’Hara’s poems were published after his death,

notably The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara (1971), The Selected Poems of Frank

O’Hara (1974), and Poems Retrieved: 1950-1966 (1977).

O’Hara sought to capture in his poetry the immediacy of life, feeling that poetry

should be "between two persons instead of two pages." He was inspired and

energized by New York City as other poets have been inspired and energized by nature. In Meditations

he wrote, "I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy,

or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life." He

described his work as "I do this I do that" poetry because his poems often read

like entries in a diary, as in this line from "The Day Lady Died": "it is

1959 and I go get a shoeshine."

O’Hara died of injuries he received when he was hit by a vehicle on the beach at Fire

Island, on Long Island, New York.

O’Hara’s papers are in the Literary Archives, University of Connecticut Library,

Storrs. Brad Gooch, City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O’Hara (1993), is

well researched and is the most comprehensive biography of O’Hara available. It also

corrects inaccuracies in the newspaper reports of O’Hara’s death. For a critical study of

O’Hara’s poetry, see Marjorie Perloff, Frank O’Hara: Poet among Painters (1977). A

more concise study of O’Hara’s life and work is Alan Feldman, Frank O’Hara (1979).

Brief obituaries are in Time, 5 Aug. 1966, p. 76, and Newsweek, 8

Aug. 1966, p. 74.

From American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Copyright ? 1999 by the American Council of Learned Societies.