Frank O’Hara’s Life and Writings


Frank O’Hara,
Collected Poems

Frank O’Hara’s Life and Writing

To date, early 2013, the most complete book on Frank O’Hara’s life and work is Gooch, Brad. City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O’Hara. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1993.

In 1974 I compiled an anthology of what I felt were Frank O’Hara’s best poems for a radio program on the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s radio national service. I had recently bought the 1972 Collected Poems and based my selection on a thorough reading of the 586-page book, edited by Donald Allen, who had compiled the ground-breaking The New American Poetry a dozen years before.


Frank O’Hara, on the phone

During the 1970s the Australian poet John Forbes completed an Honours Thesis on John Ashbery, and began some higher degree research work on Frank O’Hara at the University of Sydney under the supervision of James Tulip. The work was never submitted. Forbes’s own poetry was profoundly influenced by the work of O’Hara and Ashbery. Material relating to John Forbes’s notes for his Thesis on Frank O’Hara is held at the University of Queensland Library Fryer Library:

Later I commissioned features on O’Hara’s work for «Jacket» magazine. These articles are free to read, and form a wide-ranging and useful body of work on the continuing influence O’Hara’s quirky writing continues to have on later generations. Links below will take you directly to these items:

Jacket 6 – Frank O’Hara – What’s With Modern Art? These reviews of art shows appeared in the “Reviews and Previews” section of «Art News» 1953–55. The collection is published in the chapbook «WHAT’S WITH MODERN ART?», compiled and edited by Bill Berkson, and you can purchase it from Dale Smith, c/- 2925 Higgins Street, Austin, TX USA 78722, Tel 1–512-44482–8277 /

Jacket 10 Frank O’Hara Feature


Frank O’Hara, Barbara Guest (center) at the closing of the Cedar Bar, New York, 30 March, 1963, detail, photo copyright © Fred W.McDarrah, 1963, 2000

‘Perhaps, despite the pejorative flavor of the word, it might be more accurate to call them a “coterie”— if we define as coterie a group of writers rejected by the literary establishment who found strength to continue with their work by what the anarchists used to call ‘mutual aid’.  — John Bernard Myers

Russell Ferguson: Frank O’Hara and American Art
Lytle Shaw: On Coterie: Frank O’Hara
Ron Koertge: prose poem – Homage
John Latta: poem – Elogio di Frank O’Hara
David Lehman: poem – Ode to Modern Art

Jacket 16: Angel Hair anthology special: Frank O’Hara: Two poems: “A Raspberry Sweater”, to George Montgomery; and “To John Ashbery”

Jacket 16: Dale Smith reviews Hymns of St. Bridget by Bill Berkson and Frank O’Hara (The Owl Press, 2001, $14) from Angel Hair 6, Spring 1969

Jacket 22: Terence Diggory reviews Hyperscapes in the Poetry of Frank O’Hara: Difference/ Homosexuality/ Topography by Hazel Smith, Liverpool University Press, 2000, 230 pages. This piece is 2254 words or about five printed pages long.

Jacket 23: Olivier Brossard: The Last Clean Shirt: a film by Alfred Leslie and Frank O’Hara: This piece is 9,000 words or about twenty printed pages long.


Still from The Last Clean Shirt

In 1964, American painter and film maker Alfred Leslie and poet Frank O’Hara completed the movie The Last Clean Shirt. It was first shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1964 and later that year at Lincoln Center in New York, causing an uproar among the audience. The movie shows two characters, a black man and a white woman, driving around Manhattan in a convertible car. The Last Clean Shirt is a true collaboration between a film maker and a poet since Frank O’Hara wrote the subtitles to the dialogue or rather the monologue: the woman is indeed the only character who speaks and she furthermore expresses herself in Finnish gibberish, which demanded that subtitles be added.

Jacket 36 – Late 2008 – Ian Davidson: Frank O’Hara’s Places (This piece is about 18 printed pages long.)

Frank O’Hara’s Death


Frank O’Hara,
Collected Poems

Frank O’Hara’s Death

Australian poet Bruce Beaver’s fourth book, a breakthrough volume, was Letters to Live Poets, published in 1969. In the first poem in the book, written to US poet Frank O’Hara, he writes:

      God knows what was done to you. [….]
      After I heard (unbelievingly)
      you had been run down on a beach
      By a machine
      Apparently while sunning yourself

This mistaken account of Frank O’Hara’s death a few years earlier was repeated and widely believed in Australia. Brad Gooch researched his death thoroughly, and two decades ago presented a detailed account in his 1993 biography of O’Hara, City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O’Hara. It happened not in the sunlight, but late at night, at 2:40 a.m. on Sunday morning July 24th, 1966. O’Hara was tired and drunk.

Finally [late on Saturday night] they grew tired of the scene [at the Fire Island Pines bar disco] and made their way down to the beach to hail a taxi. White Cap Taxi Company owned by a Patchogue resident, operated a fleet of a dozen red-and-white covered jeeps with oversized wheels that ran twenty-four hours a day — its drivers being required to wear white caps, although they usually didn’t bother. O’Hara and Mitchell squeezed into one of the taxis, already over­crowded with seven or eight “groupers” — young men and women who pooled their resources to rent a cottage for the summer. They were on their way to the singles community of Davis Park with its own nude beach less than a mile up from Water Island. O’Hara and Mitchell were the only two passengers on their way to the more reclusive Water Island. Within minutes of setting off, however, the taxi threw its left rear tire, leaving its passengers stranded on the darkened beach near Crown Walk, still within the limits of Fire Island Pines. The driver radioed for another taxi while keeping his headlights shining up in the air to warn any oncoming traffic. There was no other illumination from the roadway or the sky, as the first-quarter moon had set a few hours earlier, and little if any light from the houses on the beachfront about 150 feet away. The passengers milled about while the driver tried to fix the tire. J.J. Mitch­ell loitered on the land side of the broken-down taxi. O’Hara, who had been standing by Mitchell, wandered off momentarily toward the rear to look up out at the water. The rest was a bleary nightmare.

Driving down the beach with a girlfriend in the direction of the stalled water taxi was twenty-three-year-old Kenneth Ruzicka from Pat­chogue. His vehicle was an old red four-cylinder jeep built in 1944 with a square, sharp hood and a steel beam across its front serving as a bumper. Living in Davis Park that summer while working driving taxis or doing odd jobs for the summer visitors on the island just a brief ferry ride across the bay from Patchogue, Ruzicka was a popular local boy. With square jaw and dark wavy hair, the handsome young man had been a football star on the Patchogue Raiders as well as a member of the school’s soccer and track teams. His legend in the 1961 yearbook: “Maneuvers smoothly on the football field where he prefers to be.” That night, according to Ruzicka, he and his girlfriend were on their way to a discotheque at Cherry Grove. It was reportedly common practice for Suffolk County police and rangers, as well as local workers, to go for such joy rides in their jeeps.

The time was approximately 2:40 a.m. Claiming to have been blinded by its headlights, Ruzicka attempted to avoid the water taxi upon which he was suddenly bearing down. “There was a light,” says Ruzicka. “I had driven taxi cabs so I knew what the conditions were. If the lights were in my eyes then there must be a flat tire on one side, so you give a wide upsweep so that you wouldn’t be involved with anybody who might be around a taxi.” The maneuver, however, was too little too late. Mitchell yelled “Frank!” as the rest of the passengers jumped back. O’Hara had just stepped out from the darkness and was standing in the path of the oncoming machine. In Ruzicka’s testimony at a hearing of the New York Department of Motor Vehicles in February 1967, he emphasized that he was going slowly, “anywheres from fifteen to twenty. I was up in the soft sand in second gear.” He emphasized O’Hara’s culpability as well. “He was coming towards me, that’s all I could see,” testified Ruzicka. “He didn’t even try to move, he just kept on walking.” That O’Hara was smashed by the right front fender in­stead of the left implies that he was taking a wide arc as he stepped out to face the oncoming headlights. Ruzicka claimed that the wheels did not run over O’Hara. “He kind of fell over the right fender,” he said. “I think just the hood had a little indentation in it, not a permanent dent, just like a buckle, like you hit a refrigerator.” (Pp458–459)

Later, at the funeral on July 28, 1966, O’Hara’s sometime lover artist Larry Rivers spoke.


Frank O’Hara’s funeral: Larry Rivers delivering the eulogy, Springs Cemetery, New York State, 27 July 1966. Other speakers (l to r) the Reverend Renton, Bill Berkson, Edwin Denby, John Ashbery. Photo courtesy Camilla McGrath.

“Larry’s [Larry Rivers, artist] eulogy was searing, cauterizing,” says Henry Geldzahler, then a young curator at the Metropolitan. “He took us out of our bod­ies, threw us first into the grave and then into the sky.”

“Frank was my best friend,” Rivers began, his eyes fixed on the closed casket, his posture akimbo, his saxophone of a voice even and steady. “I always thought he would be the first to die among my small happy group. But I day-dreamed a romantic death brought about by too much whiskey, by smoking three packs of Camels a day, by too much sex, by unhappy love affairs, by writing too many emotional poems, too many music and dance concerts, just too much living which would drain away his energy and his will to live. His death was on my mind all the sixteen years I knew him and I told him this. I was worried about him because he loved me.”

Rivers then began describing O’Hara as he looked when he had visited him a few days earlier at Bayview General Hospital in Mastic Beach, Long Island, where O’Hara had survived for almost two days after his accident. The more Rivers went on, the more groans came from the mourners. Some yelled “Stop! Stop!” “He was purple wher­ever his skin showed through the white hospital gown,” Rivers con­tinued. “He was a quarter larger than usual. Every few inches there was some sewing composed of dark blue thread. Some stitching was straight and three or four inches long, others were longer and semi­circular. The lids of both eyes were bluish black. It was hard to see his beautiful blue eyes which receded a little into his head. He breathed with quick gasps. His whole body quivered. There was a tube in one of his nostrils down to his stomach. On paper, he was improving. In the crib he looked like a shaped wound, an innocent victim of someone else’s war. His leg bone was broken and splintered and pierced the skin. Every rib was cracked. A third of his liver was wiped out by the impact.”

A gasp stopped Rivers short. It was O’Hara’s mother. “People had acted as if Frank’s mother wasn’t there,” remembers Elaine de Koon­ing’s sister, Marjorie Luyckx. Suddenly they turned to take in the family scene. Katherine O’Hara, dressed in black and looking terribly frail, was standing by the grave. (p.9)

Text from: Gooch, Brad. City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O’Hara. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1993.

Lots of photos…

Dozens of photos from recent Conferences and Conversations and Readings at the University of Sydney and Gleebooks and Sappho bookstore… Thanks mainly to the indefatigable Kate Lilley… and some visiting American scholars and poets, i.e. Lyn Hejinian, Carla Harryman, and Barrett Watten, and visiting Englishman and poet John Wilkinson… here:

and here:

e.g.: crowd-04

Symposium in Sydney!



A Poetics Symposium
Department of English, University of Sydney
7-8 July 2014

Photo: John Wilkinson (left) and Kate Lilley (background) at Gleebooks, 2014-06-30, photo John Tranter

This exciting 2 day symposium on experimental writing and poetics features Carla Harryman, Lyn Hejinian and Barrett Watten, three of the most significant and influential architects of the movement which has come to be known as Language writing, live and in person. The important English poet-critic, John Wilkinson, will also give a keynote reading. A fantastic lineup of participants from around Australia includes: Pam Brown, Andy Carruthers, Kate Fagan, Toby Fitch, Anna Gibbs, Ross Gibson, Melissa Hardie, Luke Harley, Martin Harrison, Fiona Hile, Eddie Hopely, Ella O’Keefe, Astrid Lorange, Kate Lilley, Philip Mead, Peter Minter, Sam Moginie, Gig Ryan, Chris Rudge, John Tranter, Ann Vickery, Corey Wakeling and Jess Wilkinson.
The Symposium will end with a celebratory reading at Sappho Books, 51 Glebe Point Rd, Sydney, July 8, 7pm.

Also join us for a pre-symposium reading at Gleebooks on June 30, 6 for 6.30pm with Pam Brown, John Tranter and John Wilkinson.

Registration: $60 waged/$40 unwaged; day rate $35/$25


Enquiries: Associate Professor Kate Lilley, Director of Creative Writing, Department of English, U Sydney.

This event is hosted by the School of Arts, Letters and Media and the Department of English at U Sydney.


Photo: poet Pam Brown reading at Gleebooks,
2014-06-30, photo John Tranter

Go Left, Young Person


What does this mean? Apple’s built-in dictionary helps a bit:
loo 1 |lu?| nounBrit. informal
a toilet. [ as modifier ] : loo paper.
ORIGIN 1940s: many theories have been put forward about the word’s origin: one suggests the source is Waterloo, a trade name for iron cisterns in the early part of the century; the evidence remains inconclusive.
loo 2 |lu?| noun [ mass noun ] a gambling card game, popular from the 17th to the 19th centuries, in which a player who fails to win a trick must pay a sum to a pool…
… but no one tells us why it is found to the left, in downtown Balmain, Sydney, Australia.

Free DOS

On Slashdot today:

Jim Hall (2985) writes “In a June 29, 1994 post in comp.os.msdos.apps on USENET, a physics student announced an effort to create a completely free version of DOS that everyone could use. That project turned into FreeDOS, 20 years ago! Originally intended as a free replacement for MS-DOS, FreeDOS has since advanced what DOS could do, adding new functionality and making DOS easier to use. And today in 2014, people continue to use FreeDOS to support embedded systems, to run business software, and to play classic DOS games!”

…who would have thought? … maybe it would run my old version of Wordperfect? Or Word 5.1?

Three Koalas Having a Snooze

Okay, I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff. “Taronga” is Taronga Park Zoo, Sydney’s main zoo area, beside the Harbour. John Ashbery visited there in 1992. He subsequently wrote a poem containing the word “wallaby”, though we may have W.C. Fields to thank for that.*

Three Koalas

* I opened Ashbery’s book “Wakefulness” one day and it fell open to page 24, where I noticed that Australia has had its literary effect: “. . . peanuts fester. A wallaby streaks for the light, / suspenders down, indeed his pantleg is falling.”

Fields? J. Farnsworth Wallaby is a character in the W.C. Fields movie “The Man on the Flying Trapeze”.

Reviving Caslon

Sample of Caslon
From: Reviving Caslon, by William Berkson

Part 1: The Snare of Authenticity

How much should a revival of a typeface look like the original? Well, just as with performing an old song—an analogy Matthew Carter has made—there is something you have to like in the original in order want to revive it. And you can’t depart from the original too much, or you lose the charm of the old song that appealed to you in the first place. But if it is too much like the old versions, it might be stale and dated, irrelevant. So what do you keep and what do you change? And change in what way? That’s the challenge every revivalist faces.

In the process of working on my own revival of Caslon—Williams Caslon—I came to two conclusions about revivals generally. First, the pursuit of authenticity is a snare and a trap. Don’t go there. Second, particularly if it’s an old typeface, it’s going to be harder than you imagined, and you can lose your way in the process. So you’d better start with a very clear goal for your revival, and stick to it.

Here’s the experience that led me to those conclusions. [More: here]

Shall and Will


Chapter II. Syntax
IT is unfortunate that the idiomatic use, while it comes by nature to southern Englishmen (who will find most of this section superfluous), is so complicated that those who are not to the manner born can hardly acquire it; and for them the section is in danger of being useless. In apology for the length of these remarks it must be said that the short and simple directions often given are worse than useless. The observant reader soon loses faith in them from their constant failure to take him right; and the unobservant is the victim of false security.

More (*much* more) at

Australian Bikers


Yes, Australian bikers are different. First, they call themselves “bikies” not “bikers”. Second, they’re fond of large, furry pets.
“A stolen alpaca has been recovered during a raid of a bikie clubhouse in Sydney’s south-west. Police on Wednesday raided headquarters of the Gypsy Jokers outlaw motorcycle gang, uncovering drugs, guns and cash.
But they also found Cleo – a brown female alpaca that was being kept in a paddock at the rear of the clubhouse.”
(From: the Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 19 June 2014.)
(For those British readers who are confused by the statement ” a brown female alpaca that was being kept in a paddock”: in the Australian vernacular a “paddock” is not a toad [that's Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 1 Scene 1] but a field or meadow.)

Kids love the Darkroom

HarrisonChebac_Photography_Man-With-a-Camera-580x325In the age of camera-equipped smart phones and inexpensive digital cameras, the odds are good that most people in high school or younger have never seen a roll of film or used an “analog” camera — much less developed film and paper prints in a darkroom.

But film photography isn’t dead yet, at least not in New England, USA. Plenty of local people, in fact, are still teaching, learning, and doing “analog” photography.

“We have at least 40 accounts with schools buying film, chemicals, and paper for classes,” said Laura Roberts, public affairs liaison at Newtonville Camera in Newtonville, who handles photographic supply accounts at the store. From: [Link]
Photo: HarrisonChebac_Photography_Man-With-a-Camera-580×325

The Difficult William Empson

Martin Johnston outside Exiles bookshop, Oxford Square, Sydney, 1980, at a reading for Canberra poet Robert BrissendenMJ: “…I remember a poetry reading years ago which William Empson gave at a pub in London. And he read a series of very, very opaque poems, and made two comments on them. One of them was “By God I was good, when I wrote that!”. The other was “I can’t really see what the difficulty is.” And his audience evidently could.” Australian poet Martin Johnston, being interviewed by John Tranter, Radio Helicon, ABC Radio National, 1987.
Photo: Martin Johnston, Oxford Street, Taylor Square, Sydney, 1980, outside Exiles bookshop. The poster in the background is a silkscreen poster by John Tranter: “We’re With you, Ray! (Ray Denning, fugitive from Justice, later killed). It’s better to be up and doing than down and being done.” Photo by John Tranter.

Morris’s Horace

Is this a silly fantasy, or is it deeply valuable? William Morris: The Odes of Horace, written and decorated by hand.

‘We seem to have been granted access to a treasure: vulnerable, threatened by the very transience that Horace’s odes resist and lament, and therefore all the more highly to be prized’ Clive Wilmer

The genius of William Morris found expression in many different media. Here, for the first time, we have reproduced one of his gems of manuscript illumination: The Odes of Horace, a treasure of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Produced by the Folio Society.

Production Details: • Limited to 980 copies • Facsimile volume • Printed on Tatami paper in coloured inks with gold and silver foil • Bound in Indian smooth-grain goatskin with 5 raised bands on the spine • Gold blocked on spine, edges and doublures • Shuffled pages • 192 pages • 6¾” x 5″ (I’m not sure what “shuffled pages” means. Cards, yes. JT)