On Frank O'Hara
Those as disappointed as I was by William Logan's recent diatribe in the New York Times Book Review regarding Frank O'Hara's Selected Poems will appreciate Edward Mendelson's review in the current New York Review of Books.*
"Frank O'Hara was the most sociable of poets, always happy to read aloud at parties, always praising friends or lovers or anyone else who got his attention, almost always portraying his inner life as if it existed only so that it could savor his outer one. O'Hara loved writers, artists, poems, paintings, bars, cafés, food, sex, film stars, buildings, and much else, and he seemed to toss them all into the mixed salads of his poetry with the same indifference to form and logic, the same domesticated surrealism, that characterized much of the American avant-garde of the period. Almost everyone who remembers O'Hara from his heady days in bohemian New York in the 1950s and 1960s remembers him as the liveliest guest at any party in Greenwich Village or the Hamptons where the artistic and literary avant-garde gathered to celebrate itself."
In addition to a generous and intelligent discussion of O'Hara's work and times, Mendelson provides several interesting observations about the avant-garde, among them:
"Membership in a coterie, school, or group produces different effects on major and minor writers. For minor writers, a group provides a repertory of styles and themes and gives them confidence to work at the height of their powers. They return the favor by compiling group anthologies and writing manifestos, but when the group disintegrates, they may have nothing more to say. For major writers, a group tends to provide themes and publicity in the first few years of their career, when they are already looking elsewhere, and their mature work has nothing in common with the latter work of the rest of the group. The members left behind, now famous mostly because they had once been associated with the major writer, mutter resentfully that he betrayed them."
*The New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 14 · September 25, 2008, p. 28, ‘What We Love, Not Are’ By Edward Mendelson, a review of Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara, edited by Mark Ford, Knopf (2008), 265 pp.