Frank O’Hara as Modernist for the People Essay

Frank O’Hara as Modernist for the People Essay

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    The poetry of Frank O'Hara is intimately connected to New York City.  He explores the role of the individual subject in the city and the mechanics of the city itself; yet because he engages the urban landscape in an urbane manner many readers of Frank O'Hara view him as the prankish patron of the New York art scene who occasionally took pen to paper.  Take this review by Herbert Leibowitz as an example:


A fascinating amalgam of fan, connoisseur, and propagandist, he was considered by his friends, in an excess of enthusiasm, as the Apollinaire of his generation, an aesthetic courtier who had taste and impudence and prodigious energy . . . From the start O'Hara exhibits a precocious air of command and a throwaway charm, as if to the verbal manner born . . . and indeed his world is full of events - parties, thoughtful acts, homosexual encounters, a painting or film to be commented on - that he supports with a sophisticated naïve wonder and generous emotion. [1]


Leibowitz's remarks occasion the publication of The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara and decorate the back cover of the paperback version.  I find it a little strange that a publisher reprinted a portion of this particular review of O'Hara's poetry.  Leibowitz basically pans the book and dismisses O'Hara as a poet of minor importance.  He views Frank O'Hara as "a Pan piping on city streets".  This is a backhanded compliment at best but it does solder a connection between lyric poetry and the cityscape.  Consider that O'Hara is following in the footsteps of another lyric poet of the urban landscape, Charles Baudelaire.  Baudelaire attempts to embrace modernity, as he sees it, and to write the poetry of the city and the crowd.  Although his intentions...

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[7] Neal Bowers.  "The City Limits: Frank O'Hara's Poetry".  Frank O'Hara: To Be True to a City, ed. Jim Elledge, University of Michigan Press, 1990 (321).

[8] This section is very problematic.  I don't want to make reductive generalizations and assertions about Modernism.  At the same time, I do not want to explore the work of any one writer in too much detail.  I'm going to allude mainly to Eliot and Pound, for simplicity's sake.

[9] Frank O'Hara.  "The Day Lady Died".  The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara, ed. Donald Allen.  University of California Press, 1995 (325).  Hereafter cited parenthetically by title of poem and line number.

[10] Kevin Stein.  "Everything the Opposite: A Literary Basis for the Anti-Literary in Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems"  Frank O'Hara: To Be True to a City, ed. Jim Elledge.  University of Michigan Press, 1990 (358).


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