Frank O'Hara

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Francis Russell O'Hara (June 27, 1926 – July 25, 1966) was an American poet who, along with John Ashbery, James Schuyler and Kenneth Koch, was a key member of what was known as the New York School of poetry.


  • 1 Life
  • 2 Work
  • 3 Bibliography
    • 3.1 Books in lifetime
    • 3.2 Posthumous works
    • 3.3 Minor works
    • 3.4 Exhibitions
    • 3.5 On O'Hara
  • 4 External links


Frank O'Hara, the son of Russell Joseph O'Hara and Katherine Broderick, was born in Baltimore and grew up in Massachusetts, where he attended St. John's High School in Worcester. He studied piano at the New England Conservatory in Boston from 1941 to 1944. O'Hara served in the South Pacific and Japan as a sonarsman on the destroyer USS Nicholas during World War II.

With the funding made available to veterans he attended Harvard, where he roomed with artist/writer Edward Gorey. Although he majored in music and did some composing, his attendance was scatty and his interests disparate. He regularly attended classes in philosophy and theology, while writing impulsively in his spare time. O'Hara was heavily influenced by visual art, and by contemporary music, which was his first love (he remained a fine piano player all his life and would often shock new partners by suddenly playing swathes of Rachmaninoff when visiting them). He did have favorite poets: Arthur Rimbaud, Stephane Mallarmé, Boris Pasternak, and Vladimir Mayakovsky. While at Harvard, O'Hara met John Ashbery and began publishing poems in the Harvard Advocate. Despite his love for music, O'Hara changed his major and graduated Harvard in 1950 with a degree in English.

He then attended graduate school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. While at Michigan, he won a Hopwood Award and received his M.A. in English Literature 1951. That autumn O'Hara moved into an apartment in New York City with Joe LeSueur, who would be his roommate and sometimes his lover for the next 11 years. Known throughout his life for his extreme sociability, passion, and warmth, O'Hara had hundreds of friends and lovers throughout his life, many from the New York art and poetry worlds. Soon after arriving in New York, he was employed at the front desk of the Museum of Modern Art and began to write seriously.

O'Hara was active in the art world, working as a reviewer for Art News, and in 1960 was made Assistant Curator of Painting and Sculpture Exhibitions for the Museum of Modern Art. He was also friends with artists like Willem de Kooning, Norman Bluhm, Larry Rivers and Joan Mitchell. O'Hara died in an accident on Fire Island in which he was struck and injured by a beach buggy during the early morning of July 24, 1966. He died at age 40 the following day and is buried in Springs Cemetery on Long Island.


O'Hara's early work was considered both provocative and provoking. At Michigan, Karl Shapiro awarded him a Hopwood Prize for his manuscript "A Byzantine Place". His writing was immediate and was often quickly typed out, as many critics have noted. One collection, Lunch Poems, was so named (by City Lights publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti) because O'Hara wrote the poems in it on his lunch hour. This seemingly careless approach to poetry rubbed some of O'Hara's contemporaries the wrong way. Robert Lowell once chastised him at a public poetry reading for reading a piece he had written on his way to the reading. High and low cultural references mingle easily in his poems, which often have dreamlike lyricism. The famous "I do this, I do that" style -- a phrase he coined and a form that he arguably pioneered -- combined the picaresque ramblings of traditional American poets like Walt Whitman with the aleatory stylings of O'Hara's European heroes Mallarme and Mayakovsky.

His most-anthologized poems are "Why I Am Not a Painter" and "The Day Lady Died", about singer Billie Holiday. O'Hara was notoriously disorganized. A legend holds that before publishing O'Hara's poems, Ferlinghetti had to fly from San Francisco to New York and search through all of O'Hara's coat pockets to find them. It is unknown how many of O'Hara's poems may have been lost. A sometimes-playwright, O'Hara once absentmindedly left his typewriter and a finished play in a train station. His devoted friends created a collection to buy him another typewriter; the play was never recovered. In 1952 his first volume of poetry, A City in Winter, attracted favorable attention; his essays on painting and sculpture and his reviews for ArtNews were considered brilliant.

O'Hara became one of the most distinguished members of the New York School of poets, which also included Ashbery, James Schuyler, and Kenneth Koch. O'Hara's association with the painters Jackson Pollock and Jasper Johns, leaders in the New York School of painting, became a source of inspiration for his highly original poetry. He attempted to produce with words the effects these artists had created on canvas, though many of his poems also speak to the ways in which he felt the emotional power of painting exceeded that of poetry. In "To Larry Rivers", for example, O'Hara wrote, "You do what I can only name". He collaborated with New York School painters to make "poem-paintings." O'Hara's most original volumes of verse, Meditations in an Emergency (1956) and Lunch Poems (1964), are impromptu lyrics, a jumble of witty talk, journalistic parodies, and surrealist imagery.

O'Hara influenced a generation of younger poets -- including Joe Brainard, also famous for his collage-based visual art, Ron Padgett, and Ted Berrigan, high school friends who moved to New York from Tulsa, Oklahoma drawn in large part by their desire to meet and work with O'Hara, who soon included them in his large circle of friends. Berrigan became well-known for employing O'Hara's "I do this, I do that" form in his own poetry.


Books in lifetime

  • A City Winter and Other Poems. Two Drawings by Larry Rivers. (New York: Tibor de Nagy Gallery Editions, 1951 [sic, i.e. 1952])
  • Oranges: 12 pastorals. (New York: Tibor de Nagy Gallery Editions, 1953; New York: Angel Hair Books, 1969)
  • Meditations in an Emergency. (New York: Grove Press, 1957; 1967)
  • Second Avenue. Cover drawing by Larry Rivers. (New York: Totem Press in Association with Corinth Books, 1960)
  • Odes. Prints by Michael Goldberg. (New York: Tiber Press, 1960)
  • Lunch Poems. (San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books, The Pocket Poets Series (No. 19), 1964)
  • Love Poems (Tentative Title). (New York: Tibor de Nagy Gallery Editions, 1965)

Posthumous works

  • In Memory of My Feelings, commemorative volume illustrated by 30 U.S. artists and edited by Bill Berkson (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1967)
  • The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara. edited by Donald Allen with an introduction by John Ashbery (1st ed. New York: Knopf, 1971; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995)
  • The Selected Poems of Frank O'Hara. edited by Donald Allen (New York: Knopf, 1974; Vintage Books, 1974)
  • Standing Still and Walking in New York. edited by Donald Allen (Bolinas, Calif: Grey Fox Press; Berkeley, Calif: distributed by Book People, 1975)
  • Early Writing. edited by Donald Allen (Bolinas, Calif: Grey Fox; Berkeley: distributed by Book People, 1977)
  • Poems Retrieved. edited by Donald Allen (Bolinas, Calif: Grey Fox Press; Berkeley, Calif: distributed by Book People, 1977)
  • Selected Plays. edited by Ron Padgett, Joan Simon, and Anne Waldman (1st ed. New York: Full Court Press, 1978)
  • Amorous Nightmares of Delay: Selected Plays. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997)

Minor works

  • "Hartigan and Rivers with O'Hara." (1 folded sheet, 10 p.) by Frank O'Hara, Grace Hartigan, and Larry Rivers from "An Exhibition of Pictures with Poems by Frank O'Hara . November 24 through December 24, 1959" (New York: Tibor de Nagy Gallery, 1959)
  • "A Cordial Invitation to Celebrate The Sixtieth Birthday of Edwin Denby at a Dinner to be Given By His Friends. Friday March 15, 1963 with "Edwin's Hand" by Frank O'Hara (1963)
  • Belgrade, November 19, 1963. (New York: Adventures in Poetry)
  • Audit/Poetry. Vol. IV, No.1 "Featuring Frank O'Hara" (Buffalo, NY at 180 Winspear Avenue, 1964)
  • "New Paintings" by Michael Goldberg (New York: Martha Jackson Gallery, 1966) with "Why I Am Not A Painter" by Frank O'Hara on front cover dated 1956
  • Hotel particulier. (broadside) (Pleasant Valley, NY: Kriya Press, 1967)
  • Two Pieces. (London: Long Hair Books, series one, 1969) includes "THOSE WHO ARE DREAMING, a play about St. Paul" and "COMMERCIAL VARIATIONS" dated 4/52)
  • The End Of The Far West: 11 Poems. (New York by Ted Berrigan, 1974)
  • Hymns of St. Bridget. by Bill Berkson and Frank O'Hara (New York: Adventures in Poetry, 1974)
  • Macaroni. (broadside, includes "In Memoriam" by Patsy Southgate) (Calais, VT: Z Press, 1974)
  • Down at the box-office. (broadside) (Bolinas, Calif: Yanagi, 1977)


  • Jackson Pollock. (New York: George Braziller, Inc. 1959)
  • New Spanish painting and sculpture. (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1960)
  • Robert Motherwell: with selections from the artist's writings. by Frank O'Hara (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1965)
  • Nakian. (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1966)
  • Art Chronicles, 1954-1966. (New York: G. Braziller, 1975)

On O'Hara

  • Charters, Ann (ed.). The Portable Beat Reader. Penguin Books. New York. 1992. ISBN 0-670-83885-3 (hc); ISBN 0-14-015102-8 (pbk)
  • The Poets of the New York School by John Bernard Myers (Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania, 1969)
  • Frank O'Hara: Poet Among Painters by Marjorie Perloff (New York: G. Braziller, 1977; 1st paperback ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979; Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, with a new introduction, 1998)
  • Frank O'Hara by Alan Feldman (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979 . frontispiece photo of Frank O'Hara c. by Richard Moore)
  • Frank O'Hara: A Comprehensive Bibliography by Alexander Smith, Jr. (New York: Garland, 1979; 2nd print. corrected, 1980)
  • Homage to Frank O'Hara. edited by Bill Berkson and Joe LeSueur, cover by Jane Freilicher (originally published as Big Sky 11/12 in April, 1978; rev. ed. Berkeley: Creative Arts Book Company, 1980)
  • Art with the touch of a poet: Frank O'Hara. exhibit companion compiled by Hildegard Cummings (Storrs, Conn. : The William Benton Museum of Art, University of Connecticut, 1983 . January 24-March 13, 1983)
  • Frank O'Hara: To Be True To A City edited by Jim Elledge (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990)
  • Statutes of Liberty: The New York School of Poets. by Geoff Ward (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993)
  • City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O'Hara by Brad Gooch (1st ed. New York: Knopf, 1993; New York: HarperPerennial, 1994)
  • In Memory of My Feelings: Frank O'Hara and American Art by Russell Ferguson (Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles / University of California Press, 1999)
  • Hyperscapes in the Poetry of Frank O'Hara: Difference, Homosexuality, Topography by Hazel Smith (Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, 2000)
  • The Scene of My Selves: New Work on New York School Poets ed. Terence Diggory and Stephen Paul Miller (Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation, 2001)
  • Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O'Hara by Joe LeSueur (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003).
  • Emancipating Pragmatism: Emerson, Jazz, and Experimental Writing by Michael Magee(Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004)
  • Frank O'Hara: The Poetics of Coterie by Lytle Shaw (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2006)
  • Beautiful Enemies: Friendship and Postwar American Poetry by Andrew Epstein (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006)
  • (unofficial home page)
  • Articles on Frank O'Hara at Poetry X [1] [2] [3]
  • Modern American Poetry
  • Crossroads: Tribute to Frank O'Hara
  • Poems by Frank O'Hara
  • Review of O’Hara’s Why I Am Not A Painter
  • Academy of American Poets
  • Jacket Magazine's Frank O'Hara feature
  • Frank O'Hara Directory and Selected Poems
  • Thomas Dreher: Traces: "whatdoyoumeanandhowdoyoumeanit". Frank O'Hara: The 'New York School' between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art
  • Caleb Crain, "Frank O'Hara's 'Fired' Self," American Literary History, 1997
  • Frank O'Hara's Photo & Gravesite
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