Frank O'Hara O'Hara, Frank - Essay


(Poetry Criticism)

Frank O'Hara 1926-1966

(Full name Francis Russell O'Hara) American poet, essayist, playwright, and art critic.

A member of the New York School of Poets, O'Hara applied the techniques of Abstract Expressionist painting and French Surrealism to his writing, constructing poems in which he often employed words as units of form and sound without meaning and juxtaposed seemingly random images and ideas. Often compared to Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams, O'Hara drew on mundane details from urban life to create poetry characterized by immediacy and apparent superficiality. Although early critical reaction to O'Hara's poetry was mixed, his reputation has increased steadily since his death, and critics have noted his immense influence on subsequent poets.

Biographical Information

Raised in Massachusetts, O'Hara entered Harvard University in 1946 after serving two years in the U.S. Navy. He studied music at first, hoping to become a concert pianist but later switched to English. While attending Harvard, he wrote his first poems and also met John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch, poets with whom he was later associated as a member of a literary circle known as the New York School of Poets. After graduating from Harvard, O'Hara studied for a year at the University of Michigan, earning a master's degree in English and creative writing and winning a Hopwood Award for a collection of poems and the verse play Try! Try! In the fall of 1951, O'Hara moved to New York City. Except for a two-year stint as an editorial associate for Art News, O'Hara worked for the Museum of Modern Art for the next fifteen years, rising from sales clerk to associate curator. He wrote reviews and articles for the museum and various journals during this time as well as poetry and plays. He published his first collection of verse, A City Winter, and Other Poems, in 1952. Like the other New York School poets, O'Hara established close personal ties with such Abstract Expressionist painters as Larry Rivers and Jackson Pollock. O'Hara died suddenly in 1966 from injuries sustained after being hit by a dune-buggy.

Major Works

Described as spontaneous and nonreferential, O'Hara's poems create a collage of seemingly insignificant details from urban life. “The Day Lady Died,” for instance, contrasts the mundane activities of an ordinary day with a few concluding lines concerning Billie Holiday and her death. “Personal Poem” lacks any periods or rests, suggesting that objects and ideas are events that should be immediately consumed and dropped. Rarely the subject of his poems, O'Hara appears to be only an observer, as the title of the poem “A Step Away from Them” suggests. However, O'Hara fills his poems with personal details and private jokes intended for his circle of friends. He thus expresses both distance and intimacy, presenting the reader with an elusive and contradictory depiction of himself. He also explores culture images and myths in his work. In his poem “On Seeing Larry Rivers' Washington Crossing the Delaware at the Museum of Modern Art,” O'Hara mocks America's first president, George Washington, as well as the heroic myth associated with the general, depicting him as anxious, cold, and fearful. At the same time, however, he pays tribute to Washington and re-mythologizes the crossing by approaching an authentic rendering of the historical event and portraying Washington as a complex person engaged in a dangerous and difficult endeavor.

Critical Reception

Although O'Hara's poetry was initially met with mixed reviews, commentators have reassessed his poetic oeuvre and, as a result, his reputation as a poet has steadily improved in the years since his death. Most critics have focused on the importance O'Hara's poetry imputes to the present and the trivial. In explaining the apparent superficiality of his poetry, some reviewers have argued that O'Hara's poems lack depth because he treats significant events in a trivial fashion and because his images are fleeting and lack frames of references. Others contend that O'Hara's focus on everyday details reveals the significance inherent in all aspects of experience and suggests that the value of life is equivalent to the vitality with which it is experienced. O'Hara's focus on the present, as evidenced by his fast-paced style, has also been interpreted as a warning against dwelling on the past. Other critics have focused on O'Hara's presentation of self. Scholars have also noted O'Hara's interest in cultural images and myths. Commentators have viewed O'Hara's poetry as a reaction to literary history, particularly modernism. Many reviewers have noted the parallels between O'Hara's poetry and that of Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams, while other have commented on O'Hara's influence on later poets.

Principal Works

(Poetry Criticism)

A City Winter, and Other Poems 1952

Oranges 1953

Meditations in an Emergency 1957

Odes 1960

Second Avenue 1960

Lunch Poems 1965

Love Poems (Tentative Title) 1965

In Memory of My Feelings 1967

The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara 1971

The Selected Poems of Frank O'Hara 1974

Early Writing: 1946-1950 1977

Poems Retrieved: 1950-1966 1977

Biotherm 1990

Try! Try! (play) 1951

Jackson Pollock (criticism) 1959

Art Chronicles, 1954-66 (criticism) 1975

Standing Still and Walking in New York (essays, criticism, and interview) 1975

Helen Vendler (essay date fall-winter 1972)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Vendler, Helen. “The Virtues of the Alterable.” Parnassus: Poetry in Review 1, no. 12 (fall-winter 1972): 5-20.

[In the following essay, Vendler provides a thematic and stylistic analysis of O'Hara's poetry.]

Now that Knopf has given us O'Hara's Collected Poems they had better rapidly produce a Selected Poems, a book that wouldn't drown O'Hara in his own fluency. For the record, we need this new collection; for the sake of fame and poetry, we need a massively reduced version, showing O'Hara at his best. His charms are inseparable from his overproduction—the offhand remark, the fleeting notation of a landscape, the Christmas or birthday verse, the impromptu souvenir of a party—these are his common forms, as though he roamed through life snapping Polaroid pictures, pulling them out of his camera and throwing them in a desk drawer sixty seconds later. And here they are—some overexposed, some under-developed, some blurred, some unfocused, and yet any number of them succeeding in fixing the brilliance of some long-forgotten lunch, or the curve of a body in a single gesture, or a snowstorm, or a childhood movie. If these poems are photographic in their immediacy, they remind us too of the rapid unfinished sketches done by an artist to keep his hand in, or to remind him of some perishable composition of the earth. If there were a movie equivalent to a sketch, some of these poems would be better called verbal movies—the “I-do-this, I-do-that” poems, as O'Hara himself called them.

The generic form of O'Hara's poems is conversation, the generic punctuation the exclamation point, the generic population O'Hara's friends, the generic landscape Manhattan and Fire Island, the generic mythology the flora and fauna of art shows, radio shows, and movie shows. Sureness and insouciance pervade this décor. But two aspects of his work tended to do O'Hara in: his radical incapacity for abstraction (like Byron, when he thinks he is a child) and his lack of a comfortable form (he veered wildly from long to short, with no particular reason in many cases for either choice). The longest poems end up simply messy, endless secretions, with a nugget of poetry here and there, slices of life arbitrarily beginning, and ending for no particular reason. “Dear Diary,” says O'Hara, and after that anything goes. The perfect freedom any diarist enjoys—to put anything down that happened on a certain day simply because at the head of the page there is that hungry date saying June 13, 1960—is what O'Hara claims for himself in the long poems. Beside these poems, even Ginsberg looks formal. The theoretical question O'Hara forces on us is a radical one: Why should poetry be confined in a limited or closed form? Our minds ramble on; why not our poems? Ramblings are not, to say the least, the native form of poets with metaphysical minds, but O'Hara, in his fundamental prescinding from the metaphysical, believes neither in problems nor in solutions, nor even in the path from one to the other. He believes in colloquies, observations, memories, impressions, and variations—all things with no beginnings and no endings, things we tune in on and then tune out of. Turn on the oscilloscope, attach the leads to the tuner, take gauge readings—these are the O'Hara processes. In one sense, there is no reason why a poem of this sort should ever stop. The inherent limitation seems not to be a formal one within the poem, but rather an external one—the limited attention span of the poet or his reader. We can attend to life in this hyper-attentive way for only a short time, and then our energy flags, so that like overexcited electrons we subside back into our low-energy orbits. The poet's language weakens, our response sags, and the poem loses us. And yet O'Hara was stubborn enough to wish, like Emily in Our Town, that life could always be lived on the very edge of loss, so that every instant would seem wistfully precious. Therefore the attitude of perpetual wonder, perpetual exclamation, perpetual naïveté. O'Hara had enough of all these qualities by nature (judging from their consistent presence from the earliest poems to the latest) so that this poise at the brink of life was no pose, but it does make me wonder how he would have endured that jadedness of age that, in their different ways, all old poets confront.

Some of O'Hara's poems are already deservedly famous, for the best reason in the world: nobody else has done anything like them in English. One reading of “Blocks” guarantees that the stunning last half will never be forgotten:

O boy, their childhood was like so many oatmeal cookies.
I need you, you need me, yum, yum. Anon it became suddenly
like someone always losing something and never knowing what.
Always so. They were so fond of eating bread and butter and
sugar, they were slobs, the mice used to lick the floorboards
after they went to bed, rolling their light tails against
the rattling marbles of granulation. Vivo! the dextrose
those children consumed, lavished, smoked, in their knobby
candy bars. Such pimples! such hardons! such moody loves.
And thus they grew like giggling fir trees.


The intense appeal of these lines comes from their having suppressed nothing of adolescence: the persistence of the childish in candy bars and giggles; the startling new growth “like fir trees”; the incongruous nursery scene of the mice in the children's bedroom eating their bedtime snack while the children suddenly discover themselves having hardons and pimples; the sudden flash of the personal (“I need you, you need me”) combined painfully with its psychic results (“like someone always losing something … such moody loves”). Almost all other poems about adolescence have concealed one or the other of these facets of the state, whether out of shame or aesthetics one scarcely knows. An aesthetic that permits the coexistence of moody loves, hardons, mice, and candy bars has a good chance of being a new source of truth.

The same capaciousness appears in the ethereal poem “First Dances,” where O'Hara touches in sequence a dancer's first attempt to lift a ballerina, a high-school dance, and then, I think, his first dance ever:

From behind he takes her waist
and lifts her, her lavender waist
stained with tears and her mascara
is running, her neck is tired
from drooping. She floats she steps
automatically correct, then suddenly
she is alive up there and smiles.
How much greater triumph for him
that she had so despaired when his
hands encircled her like a pillar
and lifted her into the air
which after him will turn to rock
like boredom, but not till after
many hims and he will not be there.
The punch bowl was near the cloakroom
so the pints could be taken out of the
boys' cloaks and dumped into the punch.
                                                            … There were many
introductions but few invitations. I
found a spot of paint on my coat as
others found pimples. It is easy to
dance it is even easy to dance together
sometimes. We were very young and ugly
we knew it, everybody knew it.
a white hall inside a church. Nerves.


The wholly intimate presence of the male dancer in the first section is suddenly dispensed with—“He will not be there”—and the agony and pleasure sketched so vividly in the second dance give way to a seriocomic summation (“We were very young and ugly”)—and yet finally summary or dismissal is wholly scrapped and the primacy of recollection is allowed: “A white hall … nerves.” This invalidation of judgment is both dangerous and satisfying. After all, what difference does it make what happens later on or how the picture looks in retrospect or in second-order reflection? The final equation, First Dances = Nerves, is the truest.

O'Hara distrusts spectatorship, so that even his most cinematic self-filmings are expressed from the inside out, as though they were blood-pressure readings rather than a nurse's external observations on a chart, self-generated electrical impulses which record themselves without the interposition of a watching person. An evening is improvised, in “At the Old Place,” and the gay-bar scene is sketched with no retrospective frame, noted down simply as it happens. I'm not sure why this method succeeds, except that the mixture of frivolousness, bathos, high-pitched boredom, and self-satire is not one that men have allowed into poetry very often, if ever:

Joe is restless and so am I, so restless.
Button's buddy lips frame “L G T TH O P?”
across the bar. “Yes” I cry, for dancing's
my soul delight. (Feet! feet!) “Come on!”
Through the streets we skip like swallows.
Howard malingers. (Come on, Howard.) Ashes
malingers. (Come on, J. A.) Dick malingers.
(Come on, Dick.) Alvin darts ahead. (Wait up,
Alvin.) Jack, Earl and Someone don't come.
Down the dark stairs drifts the steaming cha-
cha-cha. Through the urine and smoke we charge
to the floor. Wrapped in Ashes' arms I glide.
(It's heaven!) Button lindys with me. (It's
heaven!) Joe's two-steps, too, are incredible,
and then a fast rhumba with Alvin, like skipping
on toothpicks. And the interminable intermissions,
we have them. Jack, Earl and Someone drift
guiltily in. “I knew they were gay
the minute I laid eyes on them!” screams John.
How ashamed they are of us! we hope.


The wish not to impute significance has rarely been stronger in lyric poetry. It happened, it went like this, it's over. Why is it worth recording? Because it happened. Why is what happened worth recording? Because what else is there to record? And why should we want to read it? Because what else is there to know except what has happened to people? Such a radical and dismissive logic flouts the whole male world and its relentless demand for ideologies, causes, and systems of significance. The anarchic elasticity of O'Hara's poetry depends entirely on his athletic effort to make the personal the poetic—the personal divested of religion, of politics, of mysticism, of patriotism, of metaphysics, even of idealism. One might be reminded in part of Forster's ethic of personal relation but Forster shored up that ethos with innumerable arabesques of myth, ranging from Pan to Brahma. O'Hara's designedly light explanation of his theory of poetry (which he winsomely named “Personism”) rests on intimacy and immediacy:

It was founded by me after lunch with LeRoi Jones on August 27, 1959, a day in which I was in love with someone (not Roi, by the way, a blond). I went back to work and wrote a poem for this person. While I was writing it I was realizing that if I wanted to I could use the telephone instead of writing the poem and so Personism was born. It's a very exciting movement which will undoubtedly have lots of adherents. It puts the poem squarely between the poet and the person … The poem is at last between two persons instead of two pages.


In another statement (500), later partially disavowed (511), O'Hara made a more serious formulation:

I don't think my experiences are clarified or made beautiful for myself or anyone else; they are just there in whatever form I can find them. … It may be that poetry makes life's nebulous events tangible to me and restores their detail; or, conversely, that poetry brings forth the intangible quality of incidents which are all too concrete and circumstantial. Or each on specific occasions, or both all the time.

Experiences, incidents, events—O'Hara's vocabulary betrays how impatient he was of any notion which would separate novel-writing and poetry-writing. He liked to cite Pasternak as an example of a writer who could do both, and we may guess that O'Hara suffered from a persistent wish for a longer form than his own poems afforded him. Without that long form, we are offered glimpses of relation, happy and sad, but no continuous curve of a life-spiral; like Roman candles, O'Hara's poems burst into a shower of bright particulars and then extinguish themselves, often enough in a few modest ashes, on the page.

O'Hara in some way refused to take his poems, I would guess, as seriously as he took life. “It's a pretty depressing day, you must admit,” he wrote, “when you feel you relate more importantly to poetry than to life” (511) (a feeling that underlies one of his most brilliant poems, “A Step Away from Them”). The greatest poets would have found that antithesis unthinkable and unsayable, and it works to the harm of O'Hara's poetry that he thinks it is not life. The shadowy, if immense, privileges he admits for art appear at their most impressive in his comic manifesto “Ave Maria”:

Mothers of America...

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Charles Molesworth (essay date summer-fall 1975)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Molesworth, Charles. “‘The Clear Architecture of the Nerves’: The Poetry of Frank O'Hara.” Iowa Review (summer-fall 1975): 61-74.

[In the following essay, Molesworth considers O'Hara's place within the context of modern poetry.]

Frank O'Hara's Collected Poems, as profuse in their inventiveness as they are pervasive in their influence, demand that we attempt to judge their place in American poetry. It is not only because these poems skirt the edges of such contiguous but opposing aesthetic qualities as artless simplicity and dazzling elaboration that they are hard to judge. These poems outline their own territory by operating with a high degree of...

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Thomas Meyer (review date fall-winter 1977)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Meyer, Thomas. “Glistening Torsos, Sandwiches, and Coca-Cola.” Parnassus: Poetry in Review 6, no. 1 (fall-winter 1977): 241-57.

[In the following review, Meyer surveys the strengths and weakness of O'Hara's verse and links his work with the poetry of Guillaume Apollinaire.]

Since the last War the United States has had a certain number of poets die young and unexpectedly, leaving behind them a body of work that begs for immediate evaluation in terms of authentic greatness. The directness and quality of impact these poets had on their own and a budding generation allows them, once dead, to contend for the title of unsung, overlooked Major Figure. It is hard...

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Marjorie Perloff (essay date 1977)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Perloff, Marjorie. “In Favor of One's Time (1954-61).” In Frank O'Hara: Poet Among Painters, pp. 113-63. New York: George Braziller, 1977.

[In the following essay, Perloff delineates the defining stylistic features of O'Hara's verse.]

—and it was given to me
as the soul is given the hands
to hold the ribbons of life!
as miles streak by beneath the moon's sharp hooves
and I have mastered the speed and strength which is the armor of the world.

(“There I Could Never Be A Boy,” CP, [The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara] 216)

In 1954, Frank O'Hara was twenty-eight. Within the seven “green and turbulent”...

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Rudy Kikel (essay date 1978)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Kikel, Rudy. “The Gay Frank O'Hara.” In Frank O'Hara: To Be True to a City, edited by Jim Elledge, pp. 334-49. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1978, Kikel discusses O'Hara as a gay poet.]

The stream seems to have spilled itself out, the stream that (after the freak Fire Island beach accident ending his life, in 1966, at the age of forty) delivered Frank O'Hara over to us—or us to him, those of us who had not been his already—the stream that has had at its editorial source the tireless efforts of poet and anthologist Donald Allen, from whose hands we have five hundred...

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Alan Feldman (essay date 1979)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Feldman, Alan. “Language and Style.” In Frank O'Hara, pp. 45-63. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979.

[In the following essay, Feldman examines stylistic aspects of O'Hara's poetry.]

O'Hara's poetry is innovative, but he disliked theorizing. His attitude toward the craft of poetry was that there ought not to be much. “You just go on your nerve,” he explained. “I don't believe in god, so I don't have to make elaborately sounded structures. … I don't even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. … If someone's chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don't turn around and shout, ‘Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep.’”...

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Mutlu Konuk Blasing (essay date winter 1982)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Blasing, Mutlu Konuk. “Frank O'Hara's Poetics of Speech: The Example of ‘Biotherm’.” Contemporary Literature 23, no. 1 (winter 1982): 52-64.

[In the following essay, Blasing considers O'Hara's use of language in “Biotherm.”]

Reflect a moment on the flesh in which you're mired

(“In the Movies”)

Discussions of Frank O'Hara's technique in terms of painterly surfaces must content themselves with proposing analogies: “The surface of the painting, and by analogy the surface of the poem, must, then, be regarded as a field upon which the physical energies of the artist can operate, without mediation of...

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Jim Elledge (essay date 1988)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Elledge, Jim, editor. “‘Never Argue with the Movies’: Love and the Cinema in the Poetry of Frank O'Hara.” In Frank O'Hara: To Be True to a City, pp. 350-57. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1988, Elledge investigates the influence of the cinema on O'Hara's poetry.]

No poetry has been more influenced by the movies than Frank O'Hara's. Many critics have noted that O'Hara employed cinematic technique throughout his work, pointing out, as Marjorie Perloff has, that his images “move, dissolve, cut into something else, fade in or out” as scenes in films do.1 Others, such as James...

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Neal Bowers (essay date 1990)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Bowers, Neal. “The City Limits: Frank O'Hara's Poetry.” In Frank O'Hara: To Be True to a City, edited by Jim Elledge, pp. 321-33. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990.

[In the following essay, Bowers emphasizes the importance of New York City in O'Hara's poetry, yet contends that his association with the city has ultimately devalued his work.]

Frank O'Hara and New York City are as inseparable as Whitman and Paumanok or Williams and Paterson; but in a curious way O'Hara, unlike his predecessors, has been diminished by the association. Labeled a member of “The New York School” of poetry, O'Hara has been conveniently identified and filed away by...

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John Lowney (essay date summer 1991)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Lowney, John. “The ‘Post-Anti-Esthetic’ Poetics of Frank O'Hara.” Contemporary Literature 32, no. 2 (summer 1991): 244-64.

[In the following essay, Lowney explores O'Hara's utilization of parody, appropriation, and allusion in his poetry and addresses his treatment of the “issue of cultural memory in postwar America.”]

It's so
original, hydrogenic, anthropomorphic, fiscal, post-anti-esthetic, bland, unpicturesque and WilliamCarlosWilliamsian!
it's definitely not 19th Century, it's not even Partisan Review, it's new, it must be vanguard!

—Frank O'Hara, “Poem Read at Joan Mitchell's”

In “Personism: A...

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David Eberly (essay date 1992)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Eberly, David. “A Serpent in the Grass: Reading Walt Whitman and Frank O'Hara.” In The Continuing Presence of Walt Whitman: The Life after the Life, edited by Robert K. Martin, pp. 69-81. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1992.

[In the following essay, Eberly finds parallels between the poetry of Walt Whitman and Frank O'Hara.]

Born almost one hundred years apart, Walt Whitman and Frank O'Hara lived to chronicle their eras while exposing their most intimate selves. Both gay, they explored their sexuality and the “city of orgies, walks and joys”—Manhattan—which protected and nourished it, providing “lovers, continual lovers.”1 While...

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Gregory W. Bredbeck (essay date March 1993)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Bredbeck, Gregory W. “B/O—Barthes's Text/O'Hara's Trick.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 108, no. 2 (March 1993): 268-82.

[In the following essay, Bredbeck considers the role of homosexual semiotics in O'Hara's poetry, utilizing Roland Barthes's theoretical writings.]

Give yourself over to absolute pleasure.

—Frank N. Furter, The Rocky Horror Picture Show

In 1977 Marjorie Perloff proclaimed her “growing conviction that [Frank] O'Hara is one of the central poets of the postwar period, and that his influence will continue to grow in the...

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Laurence Goldstein (essay date 1994)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Goldstein, Laurence. “‘The Audience Vanishes’: Frank O'Hara and the Mythos of Decline.” In The American Poet at the Movies, pp. 151-74. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.

[In the following essay, Goldstein contends that O'Hara effectively addresses the crisis in the movie picture industry in the late 1950s in his poetry.]


Not you, lean quarterlies and swarthy periodicals
with your studious incursions toward the pomposity of ants,
nor you, experimental theatre in which Emotive Fruition
is wedding Poetic Insight perpetually, nor you,
promenading Grand Opera, obvious as an ear...

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Kevin Stein (essay date 1996)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Stein, Kevin. “‘Everything the Opposite’ of History.” In Private Poets, Worldly Acts, pp. 43-56. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1996.

[In the following essay, Stein explores O’Hara’s break from literary tradition and places him in the context of the 1950s.]

It may seem surprising to include within a study of “history” in contemporary poetry a poet who would seem deliberately and assiduously to refuse the public in favor of the private. True enough, O'Hara, more than most American poets, shows a fondness for spritzing his poems with references to friends and events in his life, implicitly valuing the personal over the communal experience. It is...

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Caleb Crain (essay date summer 1997)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Crain, Caleb. “Frank O'Hara's ‘Fired’ Self.” American Literary History 9, no. 2 (summer 1997): 287-308.

[In the following essay, Crain utilizes the work of child psychiatrist D. W. Winnicott in order to explicate stylistic aspects of O'Hara's poetry as well as his poetic theory of Personism.]

Inasmuch as the soul is present, there will be power not confident but agent.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

A generation ago, gay male poets were supposed to be meek and ethereal. Frank O'Hara was not. O'Hara was aggressively present in his poems; he aspired to “the...

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Andrew Epstein (essay date winter 2000)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Epstein, Andrew. “Frank O'Hara's Translation Game.” Raritan: A Quarterly Review 19, no. 3 (winter 2000): 144-61.

[In the following essay, Epstein asserts that “Choses Passagès” is a compelling poem that encourages further study of O’Hara’s friendship with poet John Ashbery.]


J'écorche l'anguille par la queue, peut-être un nœud d'anguille, ou il y a anguille sous roche,
je ne fais que toucher barres.
Chapeaux bas! mais, il n'y avait pas un seul chapeau,
et moi; j'avais beaucoup travaillé dans le temps.
J'avais souffert un grand échec, mystérieusement.
Qui se sent galeux se...

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David L. Sweet (essay date summer 2000)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Sweet, David L. “Parodic Nostalgia for Aesthetic Machismo: Frank O'Hara and Jackson Pollock.” Journal of Modern Literature 23, nos. 3-4 (summer 2000): 375-91.

[In the following essay, Sweet investigates the influence of French avant-garde art and the painting of Jackson Pollock on O'Hara's verse and poetic theory.]

In his apologetic letter of rejection to Frank O'Hara for the 1955 Yale Younger Poets prize (awarded to John Ashbery), W. H. Auden wrote: “I think you (and John, too, for that matter) must watch what is always the great danger with any ‘surrealistic’ style, namely of confusing authentic non-logical relations which arouse wonder with...

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Further Reading

(Poetry Criticism)


Gray, Timothy G. “Semiotic Shepherds: Gary Snyder, Frank O'Hara, and the Embodiment of an Urban Pastoral.” Contemporary Literature 39, no. 4 (winter 1998): 523-59.

Discusses O'Hara's poetry as an example of the “urban pastoral.”

Magee, Michael. “Tribes of New York: Frank O'Hara, Amiri Baraka, and the Poetics of the Five Spot.” Contemporary Literature 42, no. 4 (winter 2001): 694-726.

Investigates an influence of jazz music on O'Hara's work.

Shaw, Lytle. “Proximity's Plea: O'Hara's Art Writing.” Qui Parle 12, no. 2 (spring-summer 2001): 143-78.


(The entire section is 175 words.)