March 27, 2018

Frank O’Hara: There he was! The center of all beauty! Writing those poems! Imagine!


If you woke up feeling especially talkative, energetic, and sweet this morning, it may be because today would’ve been the ninety-second birthday of legendary poet Frank O’Hara. Born in Baltimore and raised mostly in Massachusetts, O’Hara was one of the decisive American writers of the twentieth century.

Often regarded as the energetic center of the “first generation” of the New York School—a French-leaning group of predominantly gay, predominantly Ivy-League-educated writers that also included John AshberyKenneth Koch, and James Schuyler—and famous for his endless wit, devotion to his many friends, and deep connection to modern art, O’Hara wrote poems soaked in dailiness, brimming with gently astringent humor, and electric with the energy of New York City. By the time of his death in an accident on Fire Island—he was just forty—he had already created a body of work that would continue to exert a massive influence for generations.

There’s a lot of great O’Hara to read: his legendary 1959 declaration Personism: A Manifesto (“Pain always produces logic, which is very bad for you”); his devastatingly paratactic The Day Lady Died; the classic Why I am Not a Painter; and much more.

It’s also a good day to watch Frank O’Hara. His crucial poem Meditations in an Emergency made a prolonged, uncharacteristically grim cameo on Mad Men, and his piece Having a Coke With You shows up really weirdly in the 2001 Beauty and the Beast update Beastly. But nothing is better than seeing Frank Having a Coke With You himself. It’s that rarest of love poems — something so airy, sweet, and beautiful that nothing can ever seem to make it corny.

If you have a little more time, here’s a sixteen-minute video that ends with that clip, and also shows O’Hara walking, talking, smoking, smiling, typing, talking on the phone, collaborating with friends, and performing other characteristic acts: