Frank O’Hara was always a poet, no matter what he wrote. His plays (published in Selected Plays, 1978), only a few of which are actually capable of being produced with any degree of dramatic effectiveness, are more often plays with words and visual effects than exploration of character or idea through dramatic conflict. Some juxtapose a vast variety of characters (from O’Hara’s own friends to Benjamin Franklin, Marlene Dietrich, William Blake, and Generalissimo Franco), most with only a single short speech, with connections nonexistent outside O’Hara’s fertile imagination. Others of these short plays offer sustained characters speaking in non sequiturs or in monologues unheard by other characters. In one play, Try! Try! (pr., pb. 1951), the monologues work in an interesting way, since there is a plot with a recognizable triangle of characters and actual dialogue, besides some poetic and psychologically suggestive monologues. Another produced play, The General Returns from One Place to Another (pr. 1964), uses verbal, visual, and dramatic means to satirize the American military abroad, particularly in the person of Douglas MacArthur.
O’Hara’s prose has been collected in Standing Still and Walking in New York (1975, Donald Allen, editor). The volume consists chiefly of miscellaneous pieces on modern art and contains a small quantity of literary criticism as well.
Besides writing for Art News, O’Hara worked on the catalogs for various exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art, including those on contemporary American painters Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell. His art criticism tends to be impressionistic rather than technical, but it effectively conveys the essence of contemporary painting.