Frank O’Hara Exhibition in London: “Why I Am Not a Painter”

If you’re lucky enough to be in London over the next month, check out the new exhibition devoted to Frank O’Hara at the Poetry Library at the Royal Festival Hall at Southbank, which would seem to be another sign of O’Hara’s increasing prominence in England and his ongoing influence on British poetry.

The show is on from January 26 to March 6.  Here’s the description:

Frank O’Hara died 50 years ago and would have turned 90 this year. This exhibition celebrates one of the most original and compelling poets of the 20th century. Drawing on the library’s extensive holdings, Why I Am Not a Painter reveals the collaborative energy and speed of O’Hara’s creative output and presents a rare opportunity to see a signed O’Hara book.

In addition to print materials there is also a chance to hear an audio recording of O’Hara reading, a video filmed just before his accidental death, and publications with illustrations from artists Michael Goldberg and Larry Rivers.

More information can be found here.

Posted in Art Exhibit, Frank O'Hara

Frank Lima’s Inventory Reviewed in the Chicago Tribune


At the Chicago Tribune, there is a review by Jake Marmer of the new collection of Frank Lima’s work (which I wrote about here).  Marmer notes that the book, published by City Lights, “spans the lifetime of this enigmatic poet, who fell in love with writing as an inmate in a juvenile rehab; went on to form friendships and apprenticeships with Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch and Allen Ginsberg; published a few volumes; battled addictions; was married five times; became a high-profile chef; and wrote a great deal of material that hasn’t been published anywhere until now.”

Marmer writes that “for many readers, this is an introduction to Lima’s work, and it was an excellent decision on the publisher’s part to include three essays to help contextualize the material. The two opening essays, by editors [Garrett] Caples and Julien Poirier respectively, provide the first instance of Lima’s comprehensive critical biography, meticulously cobbled through research and interviews with Lima’s friends, colleagues, and family members. An essay by [David] Shapiro bookends the collection, offering — in addition to insightful critique and close readings — personal memories of the poet.”

You can read the rest of the review here.


Posted in Allen Ginsberg, Book Review, David Shapiro, Frank Lima, Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch

Frank O’Hara’s “Virtual Popularity” on Social Media


At the British website Dazed, Helen Charman has an interesting take on what she calls “the Frank O’Hara-ization of social media,” a phenomenon I’ve been tracking myself over the past couple of years: “Searching his name on Tumblr, Pinterest or Instagram,” Charman writes, “brings up post after post quoting his work, often illustrated by drawings of coffee cups, watercolour love hearts or a generic #inspirational sunrise.”

Charman is right — I’ve been struck by how often quotations by O’Hara appear on various social media platforms these days, often far from the rarefied precincts of contemporary poetry.  In particular, a handful of O’Hara quotes and clips appears with striking regularity: especially the lines made famous by Mad Men (“Now I am quitely waiting / for the catastrophe of my personality / to seem beautiful again, / and interesting, and modern”); the now ubiquitous video of O’Hara reading “Having a Coke With You“; the once-obscure poem “Animals” which seems to have found special favor in England recently due to its placement on the Tube as part of London’s “Poems on the Underground” program; and, as Charman points out, the exuberant, impossible-not-to-like last lines of  “Steps”: “oh god it’s wonderful / to get out of bed / and drink too much coffee / and smoke too many cigarettes / and love you so much.”

Charman acknowledges that “it’s easy to dismiss these ‘inspirational quotes’ posts” and “to be snobby about O’Hara’s virtual popularity.”  But, she argues, “O’Hara’s online popularity goes deeper than its Instagram-ability. As well as the more straightforward love poems, the most recurrent quotes deal with sexuality, loneliness and social anxiety; themes that resonate particularly with Tumblr users.”

But “what is it about a long-dead poet that strikes a chord” today?  Charman suggests that a key factor may be O’Hara’s inspiring and very contemporary way of treating sexuality: “As young people increasingly identify as existing somewhere on a sexual spectrum, it isn’t surprising that O’Hara’s subversive queerness is appealing. Although he predominantly had relationships with men, O’Hara declined to conform to a rigid sexual identity. His poems are full of declarations of love for men, women, celebrities and inanimate objects, serious and silly in equal measure.”

Ultimately, she argues, “Frank O’Hara’s virtual popularity, however selective, isn’t divorced from the ‘real’ subject matter of his work: it’s because of it.”

You can check out the whole piece here.

Posted in Frank O'Hara | Leave a comment

An Illustrated Version of Ron Padgett’s “How to Be Perfect” for the New Year

Timed for the New Year, the Paris Review has posted the first ten lines of an illustrated version of Ron Padgett’s poem “How To Be Perfect” under the title “Resolutions.”  The charming illustrations are by the artist Jason Novak:



You can see the rest here.  Happy new year!


Posted in Poems, Ron Padgett, Visual Art

Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore Talks Poetry with Daniel Kane

The musician Thurston Moore — one of the founders of the groundbreaking experimental rock band Sonic Youth — has deep and long-standing ties to the New York School of poets, and to avant-garde poetics more broadly.  After all, he did recently record a song called “Frank O’Hara Hit” with his current band, Chelsea Light Moving (which I wrote about here), he has taught poetry workshops at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa, has appeared frequently at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s, has often mentioned his practice of collecting small-press, underground poetry publications, and has even started his own small press.

This connection has never been more apparent, though, than in a fascinating, wide-ranging interview with Moore that has just been published in Postmodern Culture. Moore is interviewed by Daniel Kane, who has written extensively on the links between New York poetry and the punk tradition.

In a rich and freewheeling conversation about literature and art that begins and ends with Moore’s “commitment to poetry,” Moore and Kane discuss everything from conceptual art to the Ramones, Clark Coolidge and Brian Eno, Patti Smith and Jack Spicer.

For example, Moore teases out connections between conceptual artists like Vito Acconci and Dan Graham, arty punk of the 1970s, and the origins of bands like Sonic Youth (“When I met Kim Gordon, she was an artist who had come to New York to be an artist … and she got involved with playing music with Dan Graham. And Dan Graham was somebody who always sort of looked at rock music as something that was really correlative to what he was doing as a conceptual artist”).

Moore also discusses the importance of 0 to 9, the now-legendary magazine edited by Acconci and Bernadette Mayer:

I think their idea was to interrelate this kind of contemporary New York School writing, these John Ashbery kind of lines that were filled with very artful non-sequiturs and were simultaneously very visual on the page, and then sort of doing things where they were taking pages out of a Daniel Defoe book, or out of the phonebook, and putting these various kinds of pages together, seeing their connectivity, figuring out what that meant, what that could evoke. That was really smart, and so 0-9 subsequently became this kind of infamous poetry magazine. It really did try to explode what could be considered writing.

Kane notes that 0 to 9 was deliberately “staging, however tacitly, an argument with that Frank O’Haraesque ‘I do this, I do that’ style so beloved by second generation New York School poets,” which leads the pair into a discussion of minimalism, which surprisingly triggers an interesting turn in which Moore cites the Ramones as an example of minimalism’s influence:

And the Ramones was this kind of high-concept band that I always suspected were a kind of glam variant of minimalism: the leather jacket and jeans, this uniform look, it’s almost like the Bay City Rollers! (laughs). It was around the same time! When that first Ramones album came out, there was a lot of talk about how this was coming out of minimalism. These are not academics though, these are weirdos from outside the margins who are doing something that is so pure …

When Kane asks “So we can draw a line from, like, Sol LeWitt to the Ramones?” Moore responds:

Yeah! The Sol LeWitt people were responding to the Ramones! They were going to see the Ramones, Dan Graham was certainly going to Ramones shows, and even more so going to see the No Wave bands, bands that had even less to do with any reference to R & B, or really any kind of rock ‘n’ roll … A lot of the dialogue that started happening around those bands in 1976 and ‘77 was coming from the art world. It had less to do with anything coming out of the music culture and more to do with what was coming out of the art culture, as far as dialoguing about that. Patti Smith was coming out of this relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, Talking Heads were coming out of art school, and even Richard Hell had his dalliances with art world women!

The two also have an intriguing exchange about a 1982 event at the Public Theater devoted to “language and noise” which featured Language poets like Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews performing with Sonic Youth on the same bill.  Although he had some awareness of the poetry scene at the time, however, Moore acknowledges that he wasn’t as engaged in the world of the Poetry Project and the New York School as he now wishes he had been:

To go to the Poetry Project to actually get involved with what was going on … Ted Berrigan was still reading there, Joe Brainard … my God, in retrospect I wish I had hung out there, but I was too young. I didn’t think I was going to get seriously into poetry, even though people like Barbara Barg, Susie Timmons, Eileen Myles were around, but it didn’t mean anything to me. There was no poetry scene that was going on that was directly informing Sonic Youth at the time. My writing, my notebooks, wasn’t correlative with what was going on at the Poetry Project. I didn’t have any real awareness of what that lineage was, even though I knew a little bit about it from being there. I didn’t really know what the structure was then. There was nobody telling me about it, it was another thing happening in the landscape. It was quite a while before I would actually see Ted Berrigan walking around all the time, and I’ve always said to his son Anselm that I thought he was a cult leader!

Moore credits the musician and writer Richard Hell with getting him more interested in poetry, and underground poetry publications, which alerted him to the parallels between what the poets and the musicians were up to:

I started seeing that stuff, and I thought that it was like what we were doing with records, as far as independent means of production, but it was even more underground. It was the same thing that led me into the improvised music world, with people like Derek Bailey. That was even more on the margins of what we in Sonic Youth thought we were doing. We thought we were the most marginalized hipsters in the world and this stuff was even more so. It made me want to investigate it and get involved with it, certainly improvised music, and it was poetry publications that got me into the poetry. I started amassing this stuff, I started reading it, I started figuring out what it meant historically…

Moore wryly jokes that he may have missed his calling by not tapping in to that scene earlier: “And I was writing poems, too … my God, in retrospect, I would have done anything to be in Bernadette Mayer’s class in 1978. Things might have turned out differently in my life then, who knows?”

Kane responds “Well, it’s probably for the best. You may have made the dreadful mistake of becoming a full-time poet …” and Moore laughs and says “Yeah, I might have.”

There’s much more — check out the whole interview here.


Posted in Bernadette Mayer, Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, Clark Coolidge, Dan Graham, Frank O'Hara, Interview, John Ashbery, Music, NY School Influence, Patti Smith, Poetry Project at St. Marks, Richard Hell, Ted Berrigan, Thurston Moore, Vito Acconci

On Frank O’Hara’s “To the Harbormaster” and Larry Rivers

Larry Rivers and Frank O’Hara, working on “Stones”

The Paris Review posted this 2011 piece by Olivia Cole again today: it’s a brief look at the relationship between Frank O’Hara and Larry Rivers, and the beautiful poem “To the Harbormaster” that O’Hara wrote about Rivers.  It begins:

Lately I’ve been thinking about Frank O’Hara and his sometimes terrible taste in men. I can’t help but see the painter Larry Rivers as a thoroughly undeserving recipient for one of my favorite poems, O’Hara’s “To the Harbormaster.” The pair’s messy entanglement started (inevitably) at a party, with a drunken kiss and grope behind a curtain. The two were hidden, but O’Hara was wearing his trademark white tennis shoes, and the two pairs of shoes, his and Rivers’s, were in full view of the heaving room. O’Hara’s letters to Rivers maintain that he could take him or leave him, but, like those trainers peeping out from underneath the curtain, the poems rather give the game away.

Cole then turns to the poem:

In “To the Harbormaster” O’Hara’s optimism becomes carefully crafted romantic delusion. He recasts the relationship with Rivers, presenting himself as the unreliable lover: “I am always tying up / and then deciding to depart,” he writes. The doubts and hesitations are presented as his own: “Though my ship was on the way it got caught,” he says, before breaking the line and offering, rather unimaginatively, “in some moorings.” (It’s a kind of a watery equivalent of the dog ate my homework.) I love that the feelings spill into just over a sonnet. In what would be the sestet, O’Hara somehow seems to accept that his imagination has run away with him. The final lines are both a declaration and an acknowledgement of the truth: “I trust the sanity of my vessel” and “if it sinks,” it may well be in answer to reason: “the waves which have kept me from reaching you.”

You can read the rest, including the poem itself, here.


Posted in Frank O'Hara, Larry Rivers, Poems

Jean Dubuffet and Frank O’Hara: “You know how wonderful the 20th Century can be”

In this week’s New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl reviews an exhibit currently showing at the American Folk Art Museum in New York called “Art Brut in America: The Incursion of Jean Dubuffet.”  The show is devoted to Dubuffet‘s large collection of “outsider art” — works by “untutored prisoners, children, people hospitalized for mental illnesses, and eccentric loners.”

I was pleased to see that Schjeldahl led off his review with a passage from Frank O’Hara’s wonderful Dubuffet-inspired poem “Naphtha,” which he wrote in 1959, just at the moment an exhibition of the painter’s work was on display at MoMA, where O’Hara was a curator: “Ah Jean Dubuffet / when you think of him / doing his military servce in the Eiffel Tower / as a meteorologist / in 1922 / you know how wonderful the 20th century / can be.” Schjeldahl notes that these “lines, befitting the charisma of the great French artist, come to mind regarding” this exhibit of Dubuffet’s collection of art brut.

Schjeldahl doesn’t mention it, but after O’Hara’s poem “Naphtha” appeared in the journal Big Table in 1960, the poet was shocked and delighted to receive a present from Dubuffet himself, whom he’d never met.  O’Hara wrote to John Ashbery with the news:

The most exciting thing that has happened to me recently is that Big Table forwarded me an envelop the other day and in it was a drawing from Dubuffet.  It is in India ink on his stationery, about the size of this page, the head of a man, and around it is written, so it fills out the rest of the space — “Salut Frank O’Hara … de Paris … le jour de Noël 1960 … à vous … un bon jour … d’un ami … j’ai lue le poème … dans Big Table … bonne année … Jean Dubuffet.”   [Hello Frank O’Hara … from Paris … Christmas day 1960 … to you … a hello … from a friend … I read the poem … in Big Table … happy New Year … Jean Dubuffet].

Jean Dubuffet, for Frank O'Hara

Jean Dubuffet, for Frank O’Hara

In his biography of O’Hara, Brad Gooch notes that “upon receiving the gift O’Hara had reported to [his boyfriend] Vincent Warren: ‘Renée said I should write one about Picasso immediately.”  O’Hara understandably cherished the Dubuffet drawing and proudly hung it in his apartment.

For more on this poem, see Marjorie Perloff’s recent retrospective on O’Hara’ Lunch Poems in Poetry magazine, which features an extended discussion of this poem and its connection to Dubuffet and art brut.

Here is the poem in its entirety:


Ah Jean Dubuffet
when you think of him
doing his military service in the Eiffel Tower
as a meteorologist
in 1922
you know how wonderful the 20th Century
can be
and the gaited Iroquois on the girders
fierce and unflinching-footed
nude as they should be
slightly empty
like a Sonia Delaunay
there is a parable of speed
somewhere behind the Indians’ eyes
they invented the century with their horses
and their fragile backs
which are dark

we owe a debt to the Iroquois
and to Duke Ellington
for playing in the buildings when they are built
we don’t do much ourselves
but fuck and think
of the haunting Métro
and the one who didn’t show up there
while we were waiting to become part of our century
just as you can’t make a hat out of steel
and still wear it
who wears hats anyway
it is our tribe’s custom
to beguile

how are you feeling in ancient September
I am feeling like a truck on a wet highway
how can you
you were made in the image of god
I was not
I was made in the image of a sissy truck-driver
and Jean Dubuffet painting his cows
“with a likeness burst in the memory”
apart from love (don’t say it)
I am ashamed of my century
for being so entertaining
but I have to smile

Posted in Art Exhibit, Frank O'Hara, Jean Dubuffet, MoMA, Visual Art