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Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O'Hara: A Memoir Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374139806
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374139803
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #720,775 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

LeSueur shared four New York apartments (and dozens of famous friends) with the poet Frank O'Hara during the last 10 years of the poet's life. Because O'Hara moved in the now-legendary New York art world of the 1950s, and because his poems constantly bring up friends, acquaintances, lovers and social events, O'Hara's readers usually welcome knowledge of his life and times. Admirers, disciples and critics of the charismatic and increasingly influential O'Hara (1925-1965) will thus line up to read this informative and surprisingly readable memoir from the screenwriter and editor LeSueur, who completed the volume just before his own death in 2001. LeSueur's memoir offers plenty of firsthand knowledge-both facts and anecdotes-nobody else has put in print; it does so, moreover, in an entertaining format, organized (after an autobiographical preface) in 40 short (three to 10 pages) bursts of storytelling, each pegged to a particular O'Hara poem or part thereof. This unusual format arranges LeSueur's copious anecdotes into assimilable chunks, and links facts about the life to the poems they best explain. Readers can learn, among many other tidbits, when (and why) O'Hara stopped "making out with strangers," how he came to write his famed Billie Holiday elegy and how he rescued a drowning boy off Fire Island. LeSueur tells memorable stories not just about O'Hara, but about almost all the eminent poets, composers and painters of '50s New York-Ashbery, Auden, Koch, Schuyler; Rauschenberg, Johns, Kline; Morton Feldman ("Morty") and Gian Carlo Menotti-whose lives intersected with his own. Sometimes chatty, sometimes incisive and sometimes not so sweet, this book should supplant Brad Gooch's O'Hara bio City Poet (widely seen as a clip job) as info-hungry readers' first stop.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The life and mostly wild times of a great American poet, from the man who lived with him from 1955 to 1965.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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To read about O'Hara is to read about the greatness of post-war New York.
Charles S. Houser
What makes these digressions so rich and rewarding for the reader, is the unique perspective LeSueur is able to bring to this material.
I. Sondel
What we are left with here is a wonderfully composed tribute to a great artist and supporter of the arts.
Grady Harp

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a remarkable book. If you ever loved Frank O'Hara's poetry, the book is really a necessity. It gives personal reminiscences about the writing of some of the famous poems: 'The day Lady died', 'A true account of talking to the Sun...', etc. It brings many of the more obscure and personal poems into remarkable focus. It also illumines many of names and references that appear throughout the poems. All of this from probably the closest witness to O'Hara's life, creative and otherwise. For these reasons, it is a quite an unusual treasure.
But beyond its usefulness to O'Hara's poetry, the book is the story of a friendship. And an account of a special time in American arts and letters - told from one of the members at the party. LeSueur's presence in O'Hara's life might have been partly due to charm and good lucks (which he discusses), but that apparently never stopped him from being important to O'Hara. (The famous 'Lunch Poems' is dedicated to him.) We are fortunate that he was a careful observer and was blessed with a remarkable memory. Apparently he died shortly before the book was published, which is poignant, because the book is also a tribute to LeSueur's life, and a celebration.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Charles S. Houser VINE VOICE on December 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At Frank O'Hara's funeral, composer Virgil Thomsom turned to the poet's longtime friend Joe LeSueur and said, "Baby, I hope you kept a journal." Though clearly not drawing upon stale journal entries, LeSueur's memoir of his relationship with O'Hara (which survived the vicissitudes of its ever-changing status...friends to lovers to friends, etc.) is a nice blend of personal memories and feverish impromptu research (Brad Gooch's biography seems to have been ever at his elbow). LeSueur is neither vindictive nor pointlessly benign. He truly understood and appreciated O'Hara's central position in the explosion of art that was happening in New York in the 50s and 60s. Unlike Ginsberg and the Beat poets, O'Hara was equally at ease among literary folk, musicians, and painters (especially the abstract expressionists). To read about O'Hara is to read about the greatness of post-war New York.
DIGRESSIONS is actually helpful, too. Because O'Hara often adopted a casual, off-hand, personal approach when writing his poems, it is great to have someone who was intimate with the poet to explain "who's who" and "what's what." LeSueur, however, is equally comfortable admitting when he's baffled by an O'Hara reference, and explanations (and reminiscences) are never forced.
One other thing--DIGRESSIONS is an enlightening portrait of gay life in New York prior to the Stonewall riots. O'Hara and LeSueur were both openly gay, though they had quite different approaches to meeting their sexual needs. O'Hara seems to have had fewer partners, usually choosing them from his circle of friends and aquaintances. LeSueur seemed to favor one-night stands and casual sex. Perhaps this difference is one reason their friendship continued long after their sexual intimacy ended. If only LeSueur had lived long enough to write DIGRESSIONS ON GAY LIFE BEFORE STONEWALL.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By I. Sondel VINE VOICE on April 11, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Joe LeSueur's memoir of his friend and companion, is a truly illuminating portrait of the artist. What makes these digressions so rich and rewarding for the reader, is the unique perspective LeSueur is able to bring to this material. These are LeSueur's memories of experiences and events shared with O'Hara and their myriad of friends and acquaintances. I found this book to be compelling, intimate and inspiring (indeed, "Lunch Poems" and "Selected Poems" were never too far out of reach, and both read from cover to cover). By virtue of having been a participant or, at the very least having been an eye witness to the events depicted, LeSueur has captured not just a time and place, but the essence of a cherished friend. I found myself reading slowly, savoring each passage. By the end of the book I felt I had really gotten to know O'Hara and his circle of friends, and found myself in tears as I read the last few pages. LeSueur's memoir is a tribute to Frank O'Hara as both an artist and a beloved friend.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Joe LeSueur has provided the cultural history of American arts in the mid-20th Century with this seamlessly interesting and informative inside perspective on the important role of Frank O'Hara - poet, art critic, champion of the visual, musical, and literary arts par excellence. DIGRESSIONS ON SOME POEMS BY FRANK O'HARA is not only a clever and viable means to writing a memoir: it provides insights into the growingly important works of O'Hara who some are now ranking as the 20th century version of Walt Whitman as Poet of the City. While many of the poems introducing each chapter are well known to us, it is the window to the world of O'Hara's life and times that is so well served by Joe LeSueur's writing. Frank O'Hara was bonded with such luminaries as Willem de Kooning, Elaine de Kooning, Larry Rivers, Joan Mitchell, Jackson Pollock, Grace Hartigan, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Lincoln Kirsten, WH Auden, Kenneth Koch - the list is endless. O'Hara was a behind the scenes observor, never hogging the limelight and in fact avoiding it, always with his keen eye on good art, good music, good writing, and always turning out poems that only now are being read seriously by the general public. Joe LeSueur live with O'Hara, joining O'Hara in his flagrantly 'Out' gay life, hobnobbing with all the other gay artists of his time in a way that makes him the recorder of that important preStonewall age, a time when even the giants such as Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber, etc were closeted. At times LeSueur borders on the gossipy side, but that only enhances his subject. What we are left with here is a wonderfully composed tribute to a great artist and supporter of the arts. The overall effect of this book is monumental, and at the same time exceedingly conversational. Very Highly Recommended.
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