Drawing extensively upon the poet's unpublished manuscripts--poems, journals, essays, and letters--as well as all his published works, Marjorie Perloff presents Frank O'Hara as one of the central poets of the postwar period and an important critic of the visual arts. Perloff traces the poet's development through his early years at Harvard and his interest in French Dadaism and Surrealism to his later poems that fuse literary influence with elements from Abstract Expressionist painting, atonal music, and contemporary film. This edition contains a new Introduction addressing O'Hara's homosexuality, his attitudes toward racism, and changes in poetic climate cover the past few decades.
"A groundbreaking study. This book] is a genuine work of criticism. . . . Through Marjorie Perloff's book we see an O'Hara perhaps only his closer associates saw before: a poet fully aware of the traditions and techniques of his craft who, in a life tragically foreshortened, produced an adventurous if somewhat erratic body of American verse."--David Lenson, "Chronicle of Higher Education"
"Perloff is a reliable, well-informed, discreet, sensitive . . . guide. . . . She is impressive in the way she deals with O'Hara's relationship to painters and paintings, and she does give first-rate readings of four major poems."--Jonathan Cott, "New York Times Book Review"
When Frank O'Hara died in 1966 at the age of 40, Allen Ginsberg called him "chattering Frank," "the gaudy poet." Ginsberg was stating a consensus about O'Hara's poetry, that, like the man, it was vivid and witty but not deeply serious. In the first full-length critical treatment of O'Hara's work, Marjorie Perloff attempts to annul the "myth" of frivolity and to "right the balance" between personal legend and poetic worth. Nevertheless, she relies heavily on biographical detail, as well as on literary-historical research, to gain access to the poems. On the one hand, she traces O'Hara's syntactical dislocations, cinematic transitions, and fondness for proper names, specific imagery, and unaccountable juxtapositions to the French surrealists, Rimbaud, Apollinaire, and abstract expressionist painting. But in order to make the substance of the poems at all coherent, she resorts to describing O'Hara's love affairs and daily rounds. Perloff does make a careful case for the poet's learnedness and the sustained (though intensely personal) growth of his technical ability; but the poems are finally full of odd references and haphazard flights, which Perloff never finds a satisfactory way to elucidate. Ultimately, for all her industry, she fails to demonstrate the necessity and authority of any but a few of the poems. (Kirkus Reviews)