Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems!
"Frank O'Hara was the laureate of the New York art scene…. A Pan piping on city streets, he luxuriates in the uninhibited play of his imagination."—New York Times Book Review
Lunch Poems, first published in 1964 by City Lights Books as number nineteen in the Pocket Poets series, is widely considered to be Frank O'Hara's freshest and most accomplished collection of poetry. Edited by the poet in collaboration with Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Donald Allen, who had published O'Hara’s poems in his monumental The New American Poetry in 1960, it contains some of the poet’s best known works including "The Day Lady Died," "Ave Maria," and "Poem" [Lana Turner has collapsed!]. These are the compelling and formally inventive poems—casually composed, for example, in his office at The Museum of Modern Art, in Times Square during his lunch hour, or on the Staten Island Ferry en route to a poetry reading—that made him a cult hero. This new limited 50th anniversary edition contains facsimile reproductions of poems from the original typescript, along with a selection of previously unpublished correspondence between City Lights publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti and O’Hara and between Donald Allen and O’Hara that shed new light on the preparation of Lunch.
Frank O'Hara was born on March 27th, 1926 in Baltimore, Maryland and grew up in Grafton, a suburb of Worchester, in central Massachusetts. He studied piano at the New England Conservatory in Boston from 1941 to 1944 and served in the South pacific and Japan as a sonarman on the destroyer USS Nicholas during World War II.
With funding made available to veterans he attended Harvard University, where his first poems were published in the Harvard Advocate. He attended graduate school at the University of Michigan and received his M.A. in English literature in 1951. That autumn O’Hara moved into an apartment in New York City with Joe LeSeur, who would be his roommate and lover for the next eleven years.
Known throughout his life for his extreme sociability, passion, and warmth, O’Hara had hundreds of friends and lovers throughout his life, many from the New York art and poetry worlds. Soon after arriving in New York, he was employed at the Museum of Modern Art, selling post cards at the admissions desk, and began to write seriously.
O’Hara was active in the art world, working as a reviewer for Artnews, and in 1960 was Assistant Curator of Painting and Sculpture Exhibitions for the Museum of Modern Art. He was also friends with the artist Willem de Kooning, Norman Bluhm, Larry Rivers, and Joan Mitchell.
During his lifetime O’Hara was known as a "poet among painters," part of a group of poets--John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, Bill Berkson, and Barbara Guest--who seemed to find inspiration and support from the painters they chose to associate with.
In the early morning hours of July 24, 1966, O'Hara was struck by a dune buggy on the Fire Island beach. He died the next day of a ruptured liver. O'Hara was buried in Green River Cermetery on Long Island. The painter Larry Rivers, a longtime friend and lover of O'Hara's, delivered one of the eulogies, along with Bill Berkson, Edwin Denby, and Rene d'Haroncourt.