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All library services will be closed on Wednesday, June 19th in observance of Juneteenth. Early voting will still be available at Riverfront Library and Will Library from 9am-5pm.

Frank O'Hara: A Poet for the People

A native of Maryland, Frank O’Hara (1926 – 1966) grew up in Massachusetts, studied piano at Boston's prestigious New England Conservatory, and served in the Navy in World War II.

As a student at Harvard after the war, O'Hara began to write and publish his first "mature" poems. But it was when he moved to New York City in 1951 -- and got a steady day job at the Museum of Modern Art, where he worked for the rest of his life -- that his career as a poet really took off.

It was also in New York that he became friends with, and was inspired by, fellow poets James Schuyler, John Ashberry, and Kenneth Koch, as well as painters like Jasper JohnsJackson Pollock, and Larry Rivers (sometimes called "the Godfather of Pop art").

O'Hara, who was also highly regarded as an essayist and art critic, published a number of celebrated books of poetry in the 1950s and '60s. Poetry, he believed, should sound and feel like an interaction "between two persons instead of two pages." Here, in the middle of National Poetry Month, we're celebrating a single, slender O'Hara volume, Lunch Poems (1964), that perfectly captures that "between two persons" sentiment, again and again. There might be a more charming, effortlessly lyrical, and amusing volume of poetry out there -- but if there is, we haven't heard of it.  

Here is just one example of the unpretentious, quirky verse that fills the book's pages:

Lana Turner has collapsed!

Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up

Frank O’Hara died on July 25, 1966, at just 40 years old, after he was struck by a car while vacationing on New York's Fire Island. Larry Rivers, who was in a relationship with O'Hara in the 1950s and remained close to him in the years afterward, gave the eulogy at his funeral. The posthumous book, The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara, edited by Donald Allen, shared the 1972 National Book Award for Poetry

Frank O'Hara portrait
Frank O'Hara by K. Elmslie


Ben Cosgrove is a Librarian at YPL's Riverfront branch. He's currently reading Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art, by the British science writer, Rebecca Wragg Sykes. 


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