Frank O'Hara was a contemporary of poets John Ashberry, Kenneth Koch and James Schuyler and painters Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, and Jackson Pollock who were all the denizens of the Cedar tavern, the 1950s equivalent of the Algonquin round table. A lover of modern art, O' Hara worked at the Museum of Modern Art, first as a clerk at the sales counter just so he could be near the Matisse retrospective of 1951, later as a curator of important shows of Robert Motherwell, David Smith and Franz Kline.
Thin, brilliant, and fast-paced, O'Hara always wore clean sneakers, had a broken nose and a characteristic strut - walking on his toes. He was hit by a car and killed in 1966, at 40 years old. His approachable, colloquial poetry, immortalized 1950s New York. Here is a link to books of his poems. They were described by David Lehman in The Last Avant-Garde as two parts melancholy, three parts joy, and were often written at the Cedar or on his lunch breaks. His poems are more like being in love than any I know. If I had to pick a favorite poet -it would probably be O'Hara.
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
WHY I AM NOT A PAINTER
I am not a painter, I am a poet.
why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,
for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
"Sit down and have a drink" he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. "You have SARDINES in it."
"Yes, it needed something there."
"Oh." I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. "Where's SARDINES?"
All that's left is just
letters, "It was too much," Mike says.
But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven't mentioned
orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mikes' painting, called SARDINES.
Don't forget - participants in the Summer Poetry Challenge are still likely to be posting over the next week or two. Check out my sidebar for links to their blogs and their poems.