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The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara Paperback – March 31, 1995

4.8 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This first paperback edition charts the writer's career from his New York School poetry of the early 1940s until his untimely death in 1966.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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"Slangy and sharp, genially surreal, the work of the quintessential New York poet shines like polished granite."--"Entertainment Weekly
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 586 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (March 31, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520201663
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520201668
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #284,352 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
For those less famililar with O'Hara there is only one place to start: City Lights' superb little pocket collection, "Lunch Poems."

This collection is enormous, and much of it--especially the early work--is not stylistically representative of his best and most well-known work. It is also dreadfully organized. The poems are not presented by date of publication or date written. Nor do the poems include either date. That information is in a separate index--organized, infuriatingly, by date. So unless you've memorized the year of each of the thousands of poems in this 600 page book, it's not terribly useful. I do hope this book is re-edited substantially for future publication. In the meantime, it will have to do.

At his best, Frank O'Hara's poems are wonderfully accessible, sparklingly natural, delightful, and have the ability to delicately carve out a perfectly captured nanosecond of living breathing space and time with insight and sincerity.
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Format: Paperback
An earlier reviewer describes O'Hara's poetry as shallow and vacuous. Shallow, maybe. But not vacuous. O'Hara's interested in the minutiae of daily life - buying a pack of Gauloises on the way to friends for dinner, seeing a headline about Lana Turner collapsing, the hard hats worn by construction workers. Read one poem and you might come away thinking it's trivial. But his life's work - taken as a whole - is an intelligent, alert, funny and perceptive record of a life lived to the full (I think someone else may have said that before me, somewhere). Thing is, O'Hara's interested in surfaces - things, events, trivia - because they have meaning. So his poetry is shallow in a very real and virtuous sense. He's not trying to make big statements, a la Charles Olson or Robert Lowell. What I find amazing is how moving his poetry can so often be, as in The Day Lady Died. On one reading, it's simply a list of things he does on the way to friends for dinner. But the impact is enormous. The poem gets you right up close to O'Hara as he learns of Billie Holiday's death and remembers hearing her sing. Nothing vacuous about that.
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Format: Paperback
When the critical dust really settles, I think O'Hara will be seen as a crucial American poet -- in the ranks of Whitman, Dickinson and Stevens. Cultured, perceptive, meaningful, playful, and always funny, he took American poetry light-years beyond the "well-made" poets of the midcentury, and the tormented stylings of the 'confessionals' (Lowell, Plath, Berryman et al.)

He introduced a new kind of literary voice into serious poetry: highly personal, specific, catty, generous, vivid and oddly friendly, with an unpretentious humor, and a sense of physical placement, that were often almost mystical. (See "A Step Away from Them.") He showed that you didn't have to be 'heavy' to be profound. In the process, this added an entirely new dimension to serious American writing, the effects of which are still only starting to be understood -- and not just in poetry, but in other forms, too.

Frank could do it all: existential crisis ("1951," "Adieu to Norman..."); artistic meditation ("Ode on Causality"); high erotic comedy ("To the Film Industry in Crisis," "Ave Maria," and the minor, but inspired, "The Lay of the Romance of the Associations"); and poignant confusion ("Getting Up Ahead of Someone (Sun)". And this is not listing the famous "I-do-this-I-do-that" poems, or the transcendent "A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island".

(One caveat for newcomers to this work: the book was compiled and edited by Donald Allen after Frank's sudden death. Mr. Allen scrupulously, and wisely, chose to include all of the materials he found, not making any editorial judgements about quality. But the fact is that O'Hara was an uneven writer, and about 20% of these poems are, well, pretty bad. You just have to exercise some caution, and avoid making snap judgements.
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Format: Paperback
Here's an idea for Ph.D. candidates in American Lit, searching for that breakthrough dissertation topic: Frank O'Hara was the (almost-literal) bridge between, on the one hand, the high aethestic seriousness that began in English with Wilde, and culminated in early Modernists like Hart Crane, Eliot and Wallace Stevens; and on the other, what we might call the pan-aesthetic, media-saturated 'hyper-culture' of serious early 21st-century thought, which is equally at ease in poetry, movies, pop music, foreign cultures, the avant-garde, and cartoons -- and blurs the barriers between all of them.

Frank did it first, in case you were wondering. He was as funny as Wilde and as dead-serious as Stevens, plus as silly as a Tarzan movie (which he loved). A hard set of balls to juggle, but juggle them he did, and brilliantly.

For those who think this poetry is too 'casual' to be ranked as first-class, consider the following: Frank was arguably the most cultured man in America in his generation. An art curator, skilled classical pianist, Harvard grad and Navy veteran, fluent in several languages, he basically had all of English and French poetry saved to hard disk in his brain, as well as the last 400 years of Western painting and music. It's almost silly to think about. All of this material forms the background for his impressionistic, seemingly-flip meditations on rainy days, radios, painting, blueberry blintzes, Khrushchev, and love in all its manifold forms. But he's actually built a kind of socio-artistic City with this stuff: read one way, the Collected Poems is the autobiography of a culture at one of its critical historical moments (it's also the autobiography of an individual, and the autobiography of New York.
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