NY Times reviews Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems: “the little black dress of American poetry books”


Three editions of Lunch Poems (circa 1990, 2000s, and 50th anniversary edition, 2014).

Three editions of Lunch Poems (circa 1990, 2000s, and 50th anniversary edition, 2014).

Apparently, the season of celebrating Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems continues!  The New York Times has just posted a glowing review of the new 50th anniversary edition of the book by the always-great Dwight Garner, one of the paper’s daily book reviewers.

Garner is always a delight to read, has excellent and eclectic taste, and must be thanked for single-handedly bringing the regular practice of reviewing books of poetry to the New York Times daily book coverage.  It’s great to see him weigh in on the reissue of O’Hara’s book:

“Frank O’Hara’s ‘Lunch Poems,’ the little black dress of American poetry books, redolent of cocktails and cigarettes and theater tickets and phonograph records, turns 50 this year. It seems barely to have aged.”

Garner gives some background on O’Hara, offers quotes from “Music,” “The Day Lady Died,” “Steps,” “Poem (Lana Turner has collapsed)” and other favorites, and points out how fresh and radical the book was when it appeared.

“Lunch Poems was urbane and sociable, a cheerful rebuke to the era’s more determined academic verse … America in 1964 was straining to break out of black and white and into color, and Lunch Poems was part of the brewing social drama. The directness of O’Hara’s voice was a tonic. Taxis are preferable to subways, he declared in one poem, because ‘subways are only fun when you’re feeling sexy.'”

Garner closes by offering O’Hara’s little book some high praise:

“This is a book worth imbibing again, especially if you live in Manhattan, but really if you’re awake and curious anywhere. O’Hara speaks directly across the decades to our hopes and fears and especially our delights; his lines are as intimate as a telephone call. Few books of his era show less age.”

An ironic sidenote: Garner doesn’t mention it, but the New York Times didn’t even bother to review this now-beloved future classic when it first appeared in 1964 — another sign of how dramatically O’Hara’s reputation has evolved over time.

One small quibble: Garner mentions that O’Hara died when he “was hit by a beach taxi on Fire Island.”  It wasn’t a beach taxi that killed O’Hara — in fact, the beach taxi he had been riding in got a flat tire, and while waiting for another to arrive, O’Hara was struck down by a speeding dune buggy that was being driven illegally on the beach.

You can check out the whole review here.


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