Poetry News

Grace to be Born and Live as Variously As Possible: Elegies for O'Hara

By Harriet Staff


It's been forty-seven years since Frank O'Hara died and we're still sad about it. Who knows if he would have even been alive now: he would be eighty-seven. What would he have to say about everything that has happened since his death in 1966?

To mark O'Hara's untimely death and to celebrate his memory, Andrew Epstein has compiled elegies for O'Hara on Locus Solus, his blog about poets and artists of the New York School.

As Marjorie Perloff once noted in her landmark book on O’Hara, ”a whole anthology could be compiled of poems written for Frank O’Hara in the five years or so following his death.” She wrote those words in 1977, but no one has yet compiled such an anthology (not to mention one that also gathers the countless poems written for and about O’Hara in the years since), but someone should!

Among the best and most important of these is “City Midnight Junk Strains,” written by O’Hara’s good friend Allen Ginsberg just a few days after O’Hara’s death. I’ve just happily discovered that a recording of Ginsberg’s affectionate and candid poem, which laments ”chattering Frank / stopped forever” and hails his “common ear / for our deep gossip” is available online:

I want to be there in your garden party in the clouds
all of us naked
strumming our harps and reading each other              new poetry
in the boring celestial
Friendship Committee Museum

You’re in a bad mood?
Take an Aspirin.
In the Dumps?
I’m falling asleep
safe in your thoughtful arms.*

Others include David Shapiro’s lovely “Ode” (“Permit me to take this sleeping man / And I will help him on his way … I have something of New York in me / Lying against cement to bring it back”) and Ted Berrigan’s poem “Frank O’Hara"

In another picture, a good-
looking poet is thinking it over, nevertheless, he will
never speak of that it. But, his face is open, his eyes
are clear, and, leaning lightly on an elbow, fist below
his ear, he will never be less than perfectly frank,
listening, completely interested in whatever there may
be to hear. Attentive to me alone here. Between friends,
nothing would seem stranger to me than true intimacy.
What seems genuine, truly real, is thinking of you, how
that makes me feel. You are dead. And you’ll never
write again about the country, that’s true.
But the people in the sky really love
to have dinner & to take a walk with you.

And, of course, no list of O'Hara elegies would be complete without James Schuyler's "Buried at Springs."