Interview with Alex Katz — on Frank O’Hara, drinking, and poetry


Alex Katz, “Self-Portrait with Sunglasses”

I’ve written before about the painter Alex Katz and his close friendships with and connections to the New York School poets.  In the April issue of Apollo, there is a lively interview with Katz by Matthew Sperling, in conjunction with an exhibition of his portraits which is currently on display in Paris.  In the interview, Katz discusses Frank O’Hara, poetry, and the New York scene of the 1950s and 1960s:

I could not keep up with someone like Frank O’Hara. If I went to lunch with him, I had to go home and go to bed. He would wake up and have a bourbon and orange juice for his breakfast, and then he would go and have a lunch, and a lunch consisted of a French restaurant and a lot of wine. Then when he finished work there was cocktails, and after cocktails he went to the theatre. He would meet all his friends at the theatre. And then after the theatre there comes the dinner, and with the dinner comes the serious drinking. And the conversation goes like this: ‘Tomorrow you’ll call me up, Frank, and you’ll say “Did I say anything bad?”’

When Sperling asks Katz “Do you get as much from the other poets as from O’Hara’s work?” he responds:

It’s kind of funny: Kenneth [Koch]’s stuff was the most popular in the ‘50s, and then Frank’s. Kenneth’s stuff is brilliant, and technically he could write a long poem as good as Don JuanSeason on Earth is as good as Don Juan, in continuous energy. John [Ashbery] controlled the ‘60s. John took avant-garde art and brought all that into it. He was all over the ‘60s; Frank and [Allen] Ginsberg were out of it. And at the end it was Jimmy Schuyler who became everyone’s hero.

But of them all, I prefer Frank, because of the emotional extension. There’s nothing contained. I could never do that. I don’t have the courage to do what Frank did. He’s the poet of my time, and I like him better than anyone, and I like him better than any older poet.

The whole interview can be found here and more details on the Paris exhibit of Katz’s work can be found here.




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