The new issue of the Boston-based journal SpoKe has just appeared and it features “A Tribute to V. R. Lang,” an excellent special feature devoted to the writer Violet Lang, known simply as “Bunny” to fans of Frank O’Hara — a.k.a., the one who appears at that crucial moment in one of O’Hara’s most famous poems, “A Step Away from Them,” when he writes “First / Bunny died …”
One of O’Hara’s closest friends and first muses, Lang was a poet, playwright, and creative force who swept through the Cambridge and Harvard literary and theater world like a dynamo before her early death from Hodgkin’s disease in 1956.
The tribute in SpoKe features previously unpublished poems and a play by Lang, along with reflections on Bunny and her importance by Susan Howe, Bill Corbett, Kevin Killian, Alison Lurie, and Allison Vanouse, along with an essay that I contributed about the intense personal and literary relationship between Frank O’Hara and Bunny Lang.
Here’s the start of my essay:
The poet and playwright V. R. “Bunny” Lang roared like a comet through the post-World War II literary worlds of Boston and New York. Lang burned brightly and quickly disappeared, dying tragically young at the age of 32 of Hodgkin’s disease. In her wake, she left behind not only an enduring, if relatively modest, body of writing, but also a deep and lasting impression on the lives and the work of those she touched — or perhaps scorched would be a better term.
Undoubtedly one of the most significant figures to have been singed in this manner, to have been forever altered by his fateful brush with Bunny, was Frank O’Hara. Lang and O’Hara met in 1947 during his time at Harvard and quickly became inseparable. As he recalled in an essay written in 1957, shortly after her death: “I first saw Bunny Lang 10 years ago at a cocktail party in a book store in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was sitting in a corner sulking and biting her lower lip – long blonde hair, brown eyes, Roman-striped skirt. As if it were a movie, she was glamorous and aloof. The girl I was talking to said: ‘That’s Bunny Lang. I’d like to give her a good slap.'”
My essay traces the connection between O’Hara and Lang, including poems and plays O’Hara wrote for and about Bunny. It also argues that Lang’s shocking death at such a young age had a profound effect on O’Hara, leaving a deep impression on his poetry and his worldview. As I write in the piece, “the shadow cast by her death actually causes a darker side of O’Hara’s work to emerge, sparking the painful recognition of loss, transience, and mortality that shade O’Hara’s most powerful work in the later 1950s and early 1960s. The loss of the youthful Lang deepened O’Hara’s ever-present awareness of death and his sense of the ephemeral nature of life and friendship, which was there from the start but becomes increasingly prominent as his work develops. If David Lehman is right when he notes that O’Hara’s ‘distinctive tone’ is ‘two parts melancholy, three parts joy,’ it is the death of Bunny Lang that helps make this ratio so characteristic of his work.” You can see the rest of my essay here.
The issue also contains Corbett’s “Notes on Bunny Lang,” Killian’s essay “The Beat Energy of V. R. (‘Bunny’) Lang,” a piece by Jean Fawkes-Lewis on Lang and the artist Edward Gorey (O’Hara’s college roommate), a short play by Gorey himself, photographs, and much else.
Elsewhere in the issue, fans of the New York School will also want to take note of an excerpt from Bill Berkson’s memoirs and a piece by Ron Padgett.
You can find ordering information for SpoKe 4 here.