Lunch Poems Turns 50! A Reissue and a Celebratory Reading

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Frank O’Hara’s landmark book Lunch Poems, first published by City Lights Books in 1964.  In honor of the book’s half-century birthday, City Lights is publishing a special 50th anniversary edition, complete with a new foreword by John Ashbery and other ancillary materials about the volume’s publication history, which is welcome news indeed.

Here’s how City Lights describes the new edition on their website:

Lunch Poems, first published in 1964 by City Lights Books as number nineteen in the Pocket Poets series, is widely considered to be Frank O’Hara’s freshest and most accomplished collection of poetry. Edited by the poet in collaboration with Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Donald Allen, who had published O’Hara’s poems in his monumentalThe New American Poetry in 1960, it contains some of the poet’s best known works including “The Day Lady Died,” “Ave Maria,” and “Poem” [Lana Turner has collapsed!]. These are the compelling and formally inventive poems—casually composed, for example, in his office at The Museum of Modern Art, in the street at lunchtime or on the Staten Island Ferry en route to a poetry reading–that made O’Hara a dynamic leader of the “New York School” of poets.

This new limited 50th anniversary edition contains a preface by John Ashbery and an editor’s note by City Lights publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, along with facsimile reproductions of a selection of previously unpublished correspondence between Ferlinghetti and O’Hara that shed new light on the preparation of Lunch.

To celebrate this auspicious occasion, the Poetry Project is hosting a reading of the collection in its entirety on Wednesday, June 11, at 8:00.  The star-studded reading will feature a long list of great poets and O’Hara fans:

Justin Vivian Bond, Peter Schjeldahl, Hettie Jones, David Shapiro, Tony Towle, Michael Lally, Edmund Berrigan, John Godfrey, Trisha Low, Trace Peterson, David Henderson, Patricia Spears Jones, Edwin Torres, Charles North, Karen Weiser, Simone White, Adam Fitzgerald, Vincent Katz, Erica Hunt, Andrew Durbin, John Coletti, Jacqueline Waters, Bruce Andrews, Sharon Mesmer, Vyt Bakaitis, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Arlo Quint, Lisa Jarnot, Lee Ann Brown, Kimberly Lyons, Marcella Durand and more to be announced.

For me, Lunch Poems is one of those special, formative books that stands out because I can remember the details of exactly when and where I got it.  Between my sophomore and junior year of college, I spent the summer of 1990 living in Berkeley, California with a bunch of friends, and during my stay, I was thrilled to visit the storied City Lights bookstore for the first time.  A few months earlier, I’d been introduced to O’Hara’s work in a course on “Contemporary Poetry” I’d taken at Bryn Mawr College (just down the road from my own school, Haverford College) and was blown away by it.   Which explains why I walked out of City Lights bookstore that day not with a copy of Howl, but instead with that small, square, orange and blue volume, Lunch Poems.

I always liked the fact that I’d gotten the book at the famous City Lights bookstore itself.  This turned out to be a fortuitous purchase, as O’Hara quickly became a favorite poet of mine and eventually, some years down the road, a central focus of my doctoral dissertation.

I still have that slightly faded copy that I brought home with me from San Francisco in 1990, along with another, fresher copy I got many years later.  I’m looking forward to adding this new and expanded version to my shelf soon.


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