Frank O'Hara

Art & Culture | History

The Home & History of the Prolific New York Poet

Frank OHara East Village history

About Frank O'Hara

 & why it made the Carpe City list

  • Known for his on-the-fly, un-metered style, poet Frank O’Hara’s work is often compared to personal diary entries. As the New Yorker wrote in 2008, “O’Hara didn’t instrospect or recollect much. His poems lacked the formal appliqué of rhyme and meter, and, where most poets deposited words with an eyedropper, O’Hara sprayed them through a fire hose.”
  • As Frank put it himself, poetry should be “between two persons instead of two pages.”
  • O’Hara was a central figure in the informal group of writers & artists of the 50s and 60s deemed the “New York School,” alongside the likes of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.
  • After landing a gig selling postcards at midtown’s MoMA, O’Hara managed to finagle his way up to curator without any formal training.
  • During his MoMA lunch break he’d often write, hence his aptly named collection, “Lunch Poems.”
  • Openly gay, O’Hara published his poem Homosexual at a time when the American Psychiatric Association still listed homosexuality as a disorder and President Eisenhower signed an order banning gay women and men from working in the federal government.
  • Some East Village references you’ll find in O’Hara’s poems include Five Spot, an East Village jazz club from the 50s and 60s, as well as St. Brigid’s Church on Avenue B.
  • O’Hara’s lover Joe LeSeur called their 9th St. apartment a “terrible mistake,” given the alcoholic super, cockroaches, and “black rat the size of a well-fed cat.” Apartments in the building now start at $5,000 a month.
  • O’Hara died tragically at the young age of 40, killed accidentally by a jeep on Fire Island.

Carpe City Trivia

Tell me more about the New York school

Well, thanks to O’Hara’s position at MoMA, he’s credited with being responsible for quite a few of the connections between artists and poets that came to be known as the New York School. Many also overlapped with O’Hara at Harvard University. The collection of artists – including painters, poets, musicians and more – drew inspiration from Surrealism, avant-garde works, and stream of consciousness. Want to see more? Check out the Upper East Side’s Anita Shapolsky Gallery, which specializes in New York School art.

Give me something that will impress my next Netflix and chill date

Watch closely and you just might catch O’Hara’s Meditations in an Emergency resurface several times in Season 2 of Mad Men. You’ll spot the book being read by a character in a bar in both the first and last episodes (the latter of which is actually titled after the book), as well as in Episode 12, where Don Draper finds his copy of the book out in California.


Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O’Hara on Mad Men

Give me an example of Frank O'Hara's so-called "diary" like poetry

Here’s a short excerpt from Frank’s A Step Away from Them that should give you the gist.

It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk
where laborers feed their dirty
glistening torsos sandwiches
and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets

Meditations in An Emergency on Amazon
Meditations in An Emergency on Amazon

By: Kim Bielak
Photography by:

Anne Crays

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