Frank O'Hara's Crane
Massachusetts-raised and Harvard-educated, Frank O'Hara (1926–66) came into his own after moving to New York City in autumn 1951. Like one of Hart Crane's golden boys “who step / The legend of their youth into the noon” (HCCP 3), O'Hara, through a manic whirl of writing, partying, talking, and drinking, quickly established himself as arbiter elegantiarum for the New York avant-garde. Publishing little verse during his lifetime—a mere five, slim small press volumes1—he seems to have concentrated primarily on creating, maintaining, and promoting an “intimate community” of men and women who excel in the arts.2 He cultivated personal ties with abstract expressionist painters (Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline); experimental composers (John Cage, Morton Feldman); up-and-coming visual artists (Jasper Johns, Joan Mitchell, Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers); luminaries in the world of dance (Merce Cunningham, Edwin Denby); and young, equally urbane poets (John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, LeRoi Jones, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler). No general inquiry into mid-twentiethcentury U.S. avant-garde verse can ignore the charismatic, ubiquitous O'Hara. Like Olson and like Ginsberg, he was a larger-than-life figure who brought others together and catalyzed the production of extraordinary new work.
Recent criticism on O'Hara has highlighted the relationship between O'Hara's fixation on community, his sexual identity, and his poetics.3 Most notably, Lytle Shaw has argued that O'Hara is a “coterie” poet, one who actively displaces naturalized forms of kinship—the family, the literary canon— with “appropriated, superimposed, chosen and seemingly 'arbitrary' structures of relationship” such as intense friendship, romantic love, and casual acquaintanceship. The consequence, according to Shaw, is a forthrightly artificial “family” that is invented and reinvented in the process of writing. Re