How did Frank O'Hara view popular poetic forms?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Frank O'Hara was an influential and prolific writer and poet of the 1950s and 1960s. He died at the age of forty.

O'Hara viewed poetry as a random act of inspiration, taking few pains to preserve or publish his poetry. His 1961 mock essay "Personism: A Manifesto" was a parody of the artistic manifestos popular at the time, and set out some of his ideas about poetry as an art form:

I don't even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve.
I'm not saying that I don't have practically the most lofty ideas of anyone writing today, but what difference does that make? They're just ideas.
Nobody should experience anything they don't need to, if they don't need poetry bully for them. I like the movies too. And after all, only Whitman and Crane and Williams, of the American poets, are better than the movies. As for measure and other technical apparatus, that's just common sense: if you're going to buy a pair of pants you want them to be tight enough so everyone will want to go to bed with you. There's nothing metaphysical about it.

(O'Hara, "Personism: A Manifesto,"

His essential point, although couched in satire, was that poetry is a personal art, something that comes entirely from the self and shouldn't be viewed as a science; it makes little difference if your poems are popularly accepted because they are of value only to the self. The modes of poetry, "measure and other technical apparatus," are tools to be used for creation, not artistic ends to themselves. O'Hara expresses the idea that if one cannot conform to the technical side of writing, there is little purpose to expressing inner thoughts that no one of substance -- of the ability to appreciate -- will ever hear. However, he did show interest in abstract expressionism, writing: "I think it appears mostly in the minute particulars where decision is necessary." His concept is that abstraction must be formed deliberately, and therefore more honest than the popular random forms of poetry.


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