I want to write about Frank O’Hara because I love him. The first time I heard a recording of him reading “Poem (Lana Turner Has Collapsed!)” even he couldn’t stifle a giggle. His laughter sprang from joy - a natural response. It’s a funny poem.
O’Hara was also Curator at the Museum of Modern Art, and frequent contributor of Art News. His book, Art-Chronicles-1954-1966, explores the New York School of painters and sculptors. Pollock, Rivers, Nakian and Frankenthaler are among those he discusses and/or interviews.
Throughout the book, I was struck at how he greets the reader as an equal. He doesn’t overplay his knowledge, and yet doesn’t chum up to the artists. It helps that the artists themselves respected his own art – poetry. And perhaps his own involvement with the New York School helped the tone of his insights.
He’s not trying to tell us or the artist his perspective of the world. Instead, he’s trying to shed light on how the artist thinks, and what his/her process is.
O’Hara’s early work can be found in Early Writing. These are poems and vignettes from 1946-1950. O’Hara was in his twenties then, and throughout the book, you can see the evolvement of his writing. Like all writers, his juvenilia consists of suicide, depression and anger at the world’s hypocrisy. You can also get a sense of his wordplay. Some work feels like a bunch of garbled words looking for a meaning. But every now and then, he finds his true voice. Poems such as The Militarists and Ballad combine humor, everyday life and lightness that he would soon become known for.
He didn’t separate High and Low Culture. The only thing that mattered was his ability to communicate to people. He wasn’t interested in correcting their sensibilities.
I’ve been thinking even more about Frank O’Hara lately. Perhaps it’s because I’ve come to the conclusion that it takes more courage to be joyful than depressed. In a painting filled with darkness, the light draws your attention.
I also appreciate how confident he was in his own voice. He wasn’t trying to impress anyone. 5 Participants in a Hearsay Panel in Art Chronicles, a script “conceived and recorded by Elaine de Kooning after three evenings of private discussion by Joan Mitchell, Elaine de Kooning, Frank O’Hara, Mike Goldberg and Norman Bluhn) draws upon the intellectual humor of the period.
Joy. Naturalism. Lightness. The missing element.