Frank O'Hara
February 15, 2010 12:26 PM   Subscribe

Frank O'Hara was a New York poet, even though he lived less than half of his 40 years in the city. He grew up in Grafton, MA, was a sonarman in WWII and roomed with Edward Gorey at Harvard before moving to the city he would forever be associated with. Naturally, there was am article on him in The New Yorker a couple of years ago. We're lucky enough to have a number of videos of O'Hara, including a reading of the lovely "Having a Coke with You. There's also quite a bit of audio of him, and I can't but recommend this mp3 of John Ashbery, Alfred Leslie, Bill Berkson and Michelle Elligott reminiscing about O'Hara at the MOMA, where he worked. And there are quite a few of his poems available online, as well as five of the poem-paintings he did with Norman Bluhm.

Here's a lovely description of Gorey and O'Hara at Harvard:
At 20, [Edward Gorey] showed up as a French literature major at Harvard, where he had the distinction of corrupting a fellow mad genius, the future poet Frank O'Hara. Brad Gooch documents their madcap college days in "City Poet," his 1995 biography of O'Hara. The photographer, George Marshall, said Gorey, who was given to wearing capes and numerous rings, was the "oddest person I've ever seen. He was very tall, with his hair plastered down across the front like bangs, like a Roman emperor."

Gorey and O'Hara quickly made their reputations as the campus dandies, evoking the looks and mannerisms of Oscar Wilde. They read novels by Ronald Firbank and Ivy Compton-Burnett, trolled used bookstores and furnished their campus apartment with white modern garden furniture, including a chaise longue and a coffee table made from a tombstone taken from Mount Auburn cemetery. Gorey was frequently spotted sitting atop their table, designing wallpaper -- a harbinger of the baroque Edwardiana to come.
From an obituary of Edward Gorey
posted by Kattullus (16 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency was featured on Mad Men last year.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:35 PM on February 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

One of my favorite lines of writing of any genre is from O'Hara's "A Step Away from Them."

suddenly honks
posted by sallybrown at 12:38 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is awesome thanks. Once again the University of Metafilter offers some food for the soul. It's like, who even needs the rest of the internets??
posted by Skygazer at 12:42 PM on February 15, 2010

posted by steef at 12:42 PM on February 15, 2010

sallybrown: One of my favorite lines of writing of any genre is from O'Hara's "A Step Away from Them."

O'Hara is full of wonderful lines. This post was somewhat occasioned by my muttering the following line from "Having a Coke with You" to myself over and over for the last few days: partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yogurt
posted by Kattullus at 12:44 PM on February 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh hell... I completely forgot to include this gallery of O'Hara related images, which include some poem-comics he did with Joe Brainard.
posted by Kattullus at 12:51 PM on February 15, 2010

'Having a Coke with You' is one of my favorite poems of all time. The last line-ish 'which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I'm telling you about it' seems to me a perfect encapsulation of the poetic art.

Thanks for this.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:13 PM on February 15, 2010

Dan Chiasson's New Yorker profile of a couple years' back has even more on his campus years:
Poulenc was better than Wagner; Auden was better than Yeats. These opinions, decanted from a complex personality that partook equally of passion and parody, were essentially a social tactic, a means of drawing a line between those who, like Ashbery and Gorey, were subtle or hip enough to hear all the tones and those who, like the poet Donald Hall, weren’t. (Hall and others on his side of the line were badly teased.)
They sound utterly insufferable. But would I watch a sitcom about the collegiate misadventures of O'Hara, Gorey, Ashbery, Hall and Koch? Hell yes.
posted by Iridic at 1:22 PM on February 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the excellent post. I'll always have great affection for O'Hara because it's his work that got me started reading and writing poetry in a serious way. O'Hara is fun, and awesome, in a way that most of the poets we commonly push on high schoolers (like Eliot) are not.

I like what Elaine Equi says about his poems in this essay:
Basically, I still read Frank O'Hara today for the same reason as when I first read him in college: he makes me want to write. Not all poets do. Some prefer you to simply admire their brilliance. Some like to hide their tricks. Some pretend that they have none. . . . With Frank, there is always a feeling that he's encouraging you, the reader—and that the poems were, in a very real way, written to have you write back and respond.
My favorite of his is "Why I Am Not a Painter."
posted by cirripede at 1:57 PM on February 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

When I don't know what to get someone I get them 'Lunch Poems'. For a while I used to get 'Kaddish' but there were complaints.
posted by tigrefacile at 2:06 PM on February 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up

posted by juv3nal at 2:14 PM on February 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

This is wonderful. Thank you, Kattullus.
posted by treepour at 2:37 PM on February 15, 2010

Ditto what treepour said.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 2:52 PM on February 15, 2010

Oh man, I love him and this is a great post with a lot of stuff I hadn't seen before. This is a self link, but I did a musical setting of the recording of him reading "Ode to Joy, To Hell With It," which you can listen to here.
posted by raisindebt at 3:04 PM on February 15, 2010

God I love Frank O'Hara. I was going to quote the end of "Lana Turner has collapsed," but I see juv3nal beat me to it. Thanks for the post.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 4:30 PM on February 15, 2010

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