A few weeks ago, I posted a piece about the four New York apartments Frank O’Hara lived in. I discussed the plaque that has long been above the front door of his apartment at 90 University Place, and a new plaque that the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation was soon to unveil at the building O’Hara lived in at 441 East 9th Street.
I had mused about what the new plaque might say, since the old one on University Place oddly emphasizes Jackson Pollock more than O’Hara himself. This one fortunately strikes a much better note. Here is a photograph of it:
Also, here is a clip of the unveiling ceremony that was held on June 10, 2014, which featured readings and remarks by poets Edmund Berrigan and Tony Towle. Towle, a friend of O’Hara’s, offers some reminiscences and recalls that he moved into the same apartment right after O’Hara moved out, living first with Frank Lima, and later with Joe Brainard. (Among other tidbits, he mentions that after O’Hara moved out, the rent went up from $53 to $56 per month!):
In a long piece on O’Hara just published at the Brooklyn Rail, Tim Keane describes this event in more detail:
O’Hara lived at 441 East 9th Street from 1959 to 1963, years that have been thought to be his most productive. In addition to summing up his career as poet and art critic, the commemorative plaque unveiled earlier this month designates O’Hara as “one of the last avant garde.” That unfortunate final clause proved to be the only major false note during the ceremony, brushing aside as it does the subsequent decades of experimental American poetries. Poet Edmund Berrigan read O’Hara’s poem “Avenue A,” a few yards from that very street. All who were present—small barking dogs, curious bicyclists, and the saleswomen at the local boutiques that now flank the poet’s former doorway—shared a street-fair solidarity as the orchestral sway of “Avenue A” conveyed us “far from our small selves and our temporally united / passions in the cathedral of Januaries.” Poet Tony Towle, a protégé and friend of O’Hara, took over that apartment, along with poet Frank Lima, in 1963, and Towle was on hand to recall his mentor, noting that “it was here that O’Hara wrote much of the work that made up Lunch Poems, almost all of the contents of Love Poems, many of which he wrote for Vincent Warren, and also the unique ‘Biotherm,’ for Bill Berkson.” Towle reminisced about living and working at poetry in that building, when the cockroaches “paraded” through the apartment, the crosstown bus fumes were far worse than they are today, and the rent was $56 a month (which, adjusted for inflation, comes out to about a mere $394 a month in 2014 dollars). Towle then read the iconic poem “The Day Lady Died,” which eulogizes Billie Holiday and celebrates her music as a form of rapture, as O’Hara’s persona is described, “leaning on the john door in the 5 Spot / while she whispered a song along the keyboard / to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing.”