O’Hara, Frank. “Poems Retrieved”, edited by Don Allen, City Lights, 2013.
Previously Unpublished Treasures
My title of “Previously Unpublished Treasures” is not totally accurate. This collection of Frank O’Hara’s poems was actually published in 1977 by Grey Fox when it was discovered after the publication of the “Collected Poems” in 1971. Now it has a new introduction by Bill Berkson who had been O’Hara’s friend and expert on his poetry as well as a poet himself and an art critic. We quickly see a poet for all seasons who wrote many kinds of poems in many different forms about many different things. They like O’Hara (was) are urbane and hip, filled with abstraction, humor, mystery, poignancy and lyricism. Here is what poetry was in the America of the 50s and 60s.
O’Hara was born and raised in my new home state of Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard, mastered at the University of Michigan and moved to New York where he worked for MOMA. He wrote for “Art News” and is considered as an original member of the New York School. He died early, killed in an accident in 1966 and he has been a source of fascination ever since because of his innovative poetry and life style. He was erudite and he was always able to surprise. His poetry is complicated and complex but spirited and what is so interesting is that his reputation has continued to rise even this long after his death. We are able to fill in his life through his verse and his tone. His love for color warms us and his fearlessness excites us. It is too bad that so much of his fame came after he left us and that he could not enjoy it himself. Nonetheless, his importance is still here and we read him anew all the time.