51 years ago today, Frank O’Hara was buried in Green River Cemetery, in Springs, New York, just steps away from the grave of one of his heroes, Jackson Pollock, two days after being struck down by a dune buggy on Fire Island.
O’Hara’s sudden death at the age of 40 in a bizarre accident left the New York art and literary worlds reeling. The funeral itself has become the stuff of lore. Brad Gooch opens his biography of O’Hara (City Poet) with a lengthy and colorful description of the funeral, where a long list of famous writers and artists gathered to mourn and where emotions ran high:
The mourners arrived from all points. Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler drove down from Provincetown (because small planes made Frankenthaler nervous). The poet Bill Berkson flew in from Newport. Alex and Ada Katz made the trip down from Maine. Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky chanted “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama” all the way from Manhattan in Larry Rivers’s car. Barnett Newman had vowed never to return to the Hamptons after Pollock’s funeral in 1956, but he and his wife, Annalee, reneged and rented a limousine and driver…Al Leslie heard the news on the beach and came straggling to the cemetery in his swimsuit with towel… Willem de Kooning wore splattered workclothes as did many of the other painters and sculptors…A yellow bus hired by the Museum of Modern Art made a sweltering three hour trip from Manhattan filled with curators, directors, assistants, and secretaries.
O’Hara’s longtime roommate and sometime lover Joe LeSueur “appeared weeping, supported on one side by the poet Barbara Guest and on the other by the painter Robert Dash.” O’Hara’s close friend and protege Bill Berkson spoke movingly, “John Ashbery broke down trying to read the last several lines of O’Hara’s ‘To the Harbormaster,'” and Larry Rivers delivered his notorious “violent eulogy, full of raw fury,” describing in excruciating, graphic detail how O’Hara’s body looked in the hospital after the accident and eloquently expressing the pain of losing his “best friend.”
“As the coffin was lowered into the ground,” Gooch writes, “mourners filed by. Reuben Nakian, a white-haired sculptor, had attached to it a terra-cotta sculpture of his Voyage to Crete series, from a show then at the Museum of Modern Art, curated by O’Hara. Stephen Holden, a young poet [and now film critic for the New York Times], tossed in a laurel wreath. Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky intoned Indian sutras, while Jack Smith, the auteur-director of Flaming Creatures, snapped photographs.”
Descriptions like this of O’Hara’s funeral testify to the incredible range of his friends admirers — with scruffy bohemian poets mourning alongside the most celebrated of painters, classical composers, actors, and avant-garde filmmakers mingling with museum officials, and wealthy patrons of the arts, poets of the New York School grieving with their Beat counterparts, and so on.
For example, in this wonderful photograph, one can see Allen Ginsberg and Kenneth Koch walking away, grief-struck, from O’Hara’s graveside arm in arm.
And here is a photograph of Larry Rivers reading his famous eulogy, with Bill Berkson and Edwin Denby to the left behind him, and John Ashbery (with sunglasses) to the right.
As I mentioned in this post a couple of years ago, the New York Times covered O’Hara’s funeral in an article entitled ‘200 Pay Tribute to Frank O’Hara.’ Among other things, the piece discusses Larry Rivers’s eulogy and John Ashbery’s moving recitation of “To the Harbormaster,” while managing to misspell the names of John Ashbery, Edwin Denby, and David Shapiro.”
Many poets would soon write moving elegies for O’Hara, including James Schuyler, who titled his “Buried at Springs.”
So interesting to see the people the NYT felt worth mentioning up front, like the (dually misspelled) Denby and Ashbury. Yet now It’s Ginsberg, Koch and Katz who seem the important figures. Finally, as you know, Andrew, I find Schuyler’s hornet sting elegy unsettling, bordering on the vengeful.
The photograph didn’t come through.
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On Thu, Jul 27, 2017 at 9:37 AM, Locus Solus: The New York School of Poets wrote:
> Andrew Epstein posted: ” 51 years ago today, Frank O’Hara was buried in > Green River Cemetery, in Springs, New York, just steps away from the grave > of one of his heroes, Jackson Pollock, two days after being struck down by > a dune buggy on Fire Island. O’Hara’s sudden death at t” >
Thanks, Bill — there was a problem with the photo when I originally posted it, but I fixed it and I think it’s working now. — Andrew
Andrew, you don’t know me, though I commented on your fb post today.
I treasure your scholarship in this subject matter, as it’s one that means a lot to me on many levels.
For the last several years, I’ve been a Community Teaching Assistant for Al Filreis’s great massive open online course, Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo) taught every fall through the University of Pennsylvania and Coursera. Like many, I’ve long held a passion for the New York School (it doesn’t hurt that I live here!)
Through Al’s generosity, I’ve been running an off-season online study group on the works of John Ashbery for the last three years. Of course, in that time, I feel we’ve only scratched the surface of this incredible artist, as each scratch reveals more worlds and words to explore.
I’m ending this year’s session (and probably the last session) tomorrow, aptly, I think. I’ve been writing my final thoughts to share with the group and considering which poems might serve as a final ‘comment.’ My thanks certainly go to the participants – this is rich work that is especially suites to group discourse – and especially, always, to Al, but also to the many resources I’ve relied upon, for information and even more, for the spirit of what the New York School was and is. Your blog is extraordinary in its scope and embodying what makes this time period so irresistible.
So, I’d be remiss not to extend thanks to you, even though this is starting to resemble an exceedingly embarrassing fan note. But I really have loved your posts and insights, and they’ve sparked my own directions of inquiry and enjoyment.
Maybe this fall, given all the notes I’ve taken, I’ll write something about these years ‘with’ Ashbery. But right now, as I’m thinking about all those I appreciate as I close down my discussions, John Ashbery is on the top of the list, but I wanted you to know that you are, too.
Happy 90th to JA. And my thanks to you. Looking forward to continuing to read your wonderful posts about him, and all the members of the New York School.
Thank you so much for these generous and kind comments. I’m so pleased that you’ve found this blog to be useful, for yourself, and for your role as leader of a ModPo study group discussion on Ashbery. What a fun job that must be! ModPo is truly amazing. I hope you do write something about the experience of three years of Ashbery immersion and community discussion. Thanks again for getting in touch — it’s really gratifying to hear from you and it means a lot to me! Take care – Andrew
I am a friend of Al Leslie who gave me a lithograph with a quote from Frank O’Hara as a wedding gift when Scott Holderer and I wed. n.b.Alfred at 90 is still working and continues to show.He produced a wonderful series of prints on O’Hara’s death still available on his website.
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