“Frank O’Hara’s Lessons for Being Gay” by Christopher Richards (at the Millions)

Just in time to respond to the dramatic news about the Supreme Court’s rulings on DOMA and Prop 8, the Millions has published a warm tribute titled “Frank O’Hara’s Lessons for Being Gay,” by Christopher Richards.  “In this moment of giving thanks and talking about what the new gay future looks like, I’d like to propose a toast to a man we owe more to than we have ever admitted: Frank O’Hara.”

Richards discusses O’Hara’s distinctive sensibility and inspiring stance towards the world:

What I find so essential, celebratory and let’s-throw-a-parade-gay about him is his ability to love whatever is aesthetically pleasurable that he comes across … What I think I learn from his poetry—if anything as auspicious as learning happens from contact with verse—is how to like. What we prefer, what we enjoy, and what we desire are as singular as a fingerprint and in O’Hara’s work having a coke with the man he loves is as sublime as a masterpiece by Leonardo or Michaelangelo.

I don’t think there’s a love poem that means more to me—and notice here that I don’t make any claims as to whether or not it’s the love poem that should mean the most to you—than O’Hara’s love poem for Vincent Warren “Having a Coke With You.”

The other day, I mentioned that the Supreme Court’s historic decision on gay marriage brought James Schuyler’s poem “Freely Espousing” to mind because it exuberantly defends our freedom to marry and love whatever and whoever we choose.

Richards picks up on something quite similar at the heart of O’Hara’s work, because it so vividly expresses the idea that

there’s joy in loving what you love, a purity in expressing it exactly in its unchecked, effusive and messy truth, and O’Hara felt no shame in putting that feeling out there with an exclamation!

As Richards mentions, it wasn’t always easy or permissible to discuss O’Hara as a gay poet, let alone as an icon for gay pride.  But surely that — like so much else — has changed, changed utterly.

And O’Hara certainly was proud of who he was.  As he wrote in “Homosexuality,” a remarkable, and remarkably brave, poem written in the dark, McCarthyite days of 1954:

                                 It’s wonderful to admire oneself
with complete candor…

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