THE RELEVANT QUEER: Poet and Art Critic Frank O’Hara, Born March 27, 1926

Frank O’Hara by Kenward Elmslie, date unknown

“I embraced a cloud but when I soared it rained.”

TRQ: Frank O’hara, Born March 27, 1926

Poet and art critic Frank O’Hara was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He earned his bachelors degree from Harvard University in 1950, and a masters from the University of Michigan in 1951. During the 1960’s, O’Hara was an assistant curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, though primarily he considered himself a poet.

A member of the New York School of artists and writers inspired by jazz and surrealism, O’Hara’s poetry mixes the personal with glimpses of urban experiences. In 1960 O’Hara collaborated with artist Norman Bluhm on a series of “poem-paintings.” Inspired by jazz and the Abstract Expressionist paintings of acquaintances like Jackson Pollock, O’Hara references fragments of quotes, daily conversation, and advertising. O’Hara became one of the most important post-war American poets, influencing the work of Bill Berkson, Alice Notley and Ted Berrigan, among others.

O’Hara had hundreds of friends and lovers over this course of his life, and his queerness remained largely visible but under the radar through the efforts of critics and friends alike. He once commented to roommate and occasional lover Joe Lesueur that homosexuality is about freedom just as much as it is about sex. Lesueur says, “O’Hara seized on this and sought out what he wanted when he wanted it.” In 1959 O’Hara met Vincent Warren, a Canadian ballet dancer who became his long-time partner. The poems inspired by Warren are some of O’Hara’s finest.

On July 25, 1966, O’Hara died after being hit by a jeep while on vacation on Fire Island. He was forty years old. Warren died fifty-one years later, in 2017.

Frank O’Hara. Ph: Unknown





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