frank

Sometimes I run across a literary/artistic figure of the past and think, “Hey I wish I could have dated them or maybe just have slept with them once, or if failing that at least had small talk with them at a cocktail party or something…”

One of my biggest literary crushes has to be the poet/art critic Frank O’Hara. O’Hara was at the epicenter of the downtown poetry scene known as the New York School*(which included poets like John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch). Born in Baltimore in 1926 and raised in Massachusetts, O’Hara studied at Harvard and the University of Michigan. He moved to New York in the early 1950’s. Although primarily known for his poetry, O’Hara was also immersed in the visual art scene. He was an early champion of abstract expressionism and was on staff at the Museum of Modern Art from 1952 until his untimely death in 1966 (he was run over by a dune buggy on Fire Island!!!!).

Frank O’Hara seemed so urbane, hip, and nerd-chic sexy. In my fantasy, he and I would hang out in downtown 1950’s era New York, see avant-garde movies, and smoke weed in our paint splattered overalls while listening to Coltrane. We’d gossip about Merce Cunningham’s new boyfriend, and then later we’d make love while being serenaded by Anita O’Day, Annie Lambert and Sarah Vaughn, who’d magically stand on our fire escape and provide a jazzy Greek chorus to our love

O’Hara was a poet whose prowess was turning personal moments and feelings into a slapdash accounting of his life. O’Hara believed in immediacy. A lot of his poems were dashed off personal quickies. His style was often relaxed, clever, funny, ironic and knowing. He frequently combined tidbits of popular culture and his love for both high and low art into his work. And did I say he was funny. Smart funny! Jeez, O’Hara seems like he would have been such a great date.

Poem (Lana Turner has collapsed!)

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
LANA TURNER HAS COLLAPSED!
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up

-From Lunch Poems.1964 Frank O’Hara.

* The New York School of poets often created poetry that was blithe, violent, and observational. Their writing style was often described as cosmopolitan and world-traveled.

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