An unprecedented eyewitness account of the New York School, as seen between the lines of O'Hara's poetry
Joe LeSueur lived with Frank O'Hara from 1955 until 1965, the years when O'Hara wrote his greatest poems, including "To the Film Industry in Crisis," "In Memory of My Feelings," "Having a Coke with You," and the famous Lunch Poems—so called because O'Hara wrote them during his lunch break at the Museum of Modern Art, where he worked as a curator. (The artists he championed include Jackson Pollock, Joseph Cornell, Grace Hartigan, Jane Freilicher, Joan Mitchell, and Robert Rauschenberg.) The flowering of O'Hara's talent, cut short by a fatal car accident in 1966, produced some of the most exuberant, truly celebratory lyrics of the twentieth century. And it produced America's greatest poet of city life since Whitman.
Alternating between O'Hara's poems and LeSueur's memory of the circumstances that inspired them, Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O'Hara is a literary commentary like no other—an affectionate, no-holds-barred memoir of O'Hara and the New York that animated his work: friends, lovers, movies, paintings, streets, apartments, music, parties, and pickups. This volume, which includes many of O'Hara's best-loved poems, is the most intimate, true-to-life portrait we will ever have of this quintessential American figure and his now legendary times.
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.