City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O'Hara

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Knopf, 1993 - Biography & Autobiography - 532 pages
9 Reviews
City Poet is the first, and will stand as the definitive, biography of Frank O'Hara, the poet who was at the very heart of New York's literary and artistic life during the 1950s and 1960s. At that historic turning point when the art world's center had shifted from the Paris of Picasso to the New York of Pollock and de Kooning, O'Hara was a catalytic figure embracing the city as his muse. "His presence and poetry made things go on around him", his friend the poet Kenneth Koch has said. And this book brings it all to life: the late nights at the Cedar bar with Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Juan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, Jackson Pollock; the poetry readings at the Living Theatre with Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, LeRoi Jones, or at galleries with O'Hara's fellow poets of the New York School - John Ashbery, James Schuyler, and Barbara Guest. Here are the openings at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery or at the Museum of Modern Art, where O'Hara brilliantly curated one-man shows of the work of Robert Motherwell, David Smith, and Franz Kline. And, here, above all, is the genesis of his poems - often dashed off in a crowded banquette at the Cedar bar - poems whose special quality Allen Ginsberg has perfectly expressed: "He taught me to really see New York for the first tinge. It was like having Catullus change your view of the Forum in Rome". City Poet follows O'Hara from his insular Catholic childhood, to his service in the Navy during World War II, to Harvard, to his great New York years - wherever he was, he was a magnet. "Right away", de Kooning has said, "he was at the center of things, and he did not bulldoze. There was a good-omen feeling about him". O'Hara's presence atparties became so coveted that, according to Helen Frankenthaler, invitations often bore the written promise, "Frank will be there". In this book, Gooch tells the unforgettable story that was suddenly cut short on July 25, 1966, when O'Hara, just turning forty and at the height of his powers, was struck down by a jeep on the beach at Fire Island. His funeral in Green River Cemetery in Springs, Long Island, marked for many the end of the party which had been the fifties art world. This biography celebrates the life of one of the great American poets of the twentieth century.

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Stunningly well-researched and very readable bio of a great New York City poet. Like Gertrude Stein, he created word pictures or added words to pictures. O'Hara lived life on the edge, sadly he drank too much - and even sadder had to die much too early. A poet who howled to high heaven. "One must live in a way; we must channel, there is not time nor space, one must hurry, one must avoid impediments, snares, detours; one must not be stifled in a closed social or artistic railway station waiting for the train; I've a long way to go, and I'm late already." 

Review: City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O'Hara

User Review  - Salvatore - Goodreads

A biography that makes me want to return to all O'Hara's poems to see what I missed the first few times. A biography that makes this pilf prove there was a lot of baggage attached to him the poems do ... Read full review



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About the author (1993)

Brad Gooch is the author of the acclaimed biography of Frank O'Hara, City Poet, as well as Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography, along with other nonfiction and three novels. The recipient of National Endowment for the Humanities and Guggenheim fellowships, he earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University and is Professor of English at William Paterson University in New Jersey. He lives in New York City.

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