Volume 76, Number 27 | November 22 - 28, 2006

Memories of O’Hara, on the eve of his 80th birthday

By Edward Field

I am often coupled with Frank O’Hara these days, because of our poems about the movies and movie stars, considered to be a genre we pioneered. But before all that, when we had our brief affair in 1955, I’d come to a dead end in my poetry, and I’d just walked out of my group analysis that had shredded my already-shaky ego. I felt burned out, so when Frank invited me up to his place after we met at the Egan Gallery, I was willing to try anything.

Frank came from a middle-class family in New England, was educated at Harvard, and didn’t suffer over his homosexuality; he enjoyed it. Perhaps it was just the difference between a Jew and a non-Jew, but while I was mired in neurosis and Marxism, he was free of all that, and the New York I drifted miserably about in, was a playground for him. In a nutshell, though I was only two years older than Frank, I was hung up in the thinking of the old order, the Depression Era, whereas he was the vanguard of a new non-ideological mentality that declared New York to be the art capital of the world.

Seeing how Frank operated in his world was a revelation. Never alone, he was the golden boy at the center of a crowd of talented people who saw themselves as remaking the art world — Larry Rivers, Jane Freilicher, de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, The New York School. He wrote his poetry almost casually on his lunch hour at his job at the Museum of Modern Art, and didn’t promote himself as a poet, although everyone knew that he was a major figure, even among his friends John Ashbery, James Schuyler and Kenneth Koch, the nucleus of the New York School of Poets. It was startling to me that he saw both poetry and sex as fun. AC-DC sex was a feature in his crowd, and his long-term affair with Larry Rivers went on in-between Rivers’ involvement with wives and girlfriends.

Sorry to say, my fling with Frank ended before the summer ended, but he set me off in a new direction and I will always be grateful to him.

Edward Field writes about Frank O’Hara at greater length in his memoir “The Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag, and Other Intimate Literary Portraits of the Bohemian Era.”

In honor of O’Hara’s 80th birthday, the Poet’s House, the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, and MoMA are hosting the Frank O’Hara Festival from Nov. 28-30. For information on specific events, visit http://poetshouse.org/progcoming.htm.

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