Apr 5, 2016

Frank O'Hara: Gay Poet and Lover of the 1950s

When you think of gay artists of the 20th century, the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the Violet Quill of the 1980s spring to mind.

But in between there was the New York School, a group  mostly gay, ultra-elite Harvard graduates based in New York in the late 1950s and 1960s:

Poets John Ashbery, John Schuyler,  Tom Savage, and Frank O'Hara.

Composer John Cage

Dancers Robert Dunn, Martha Graham, and David Gordon.

Artists Larry Rivers, Ernest Briggs, Albert Kotin, and William Scharf

Not as renegade as the Beats, not as openly gay as the Violet Quill, they occupied a middle ground, producing avant-garde, surreal but decidedly mainstream works, with the gay content visible to those in the know.

Frank O'Hara (1926-1966) was probably the most visible of the group -- literally.  He was photographed and painted nude several times during his life.

His poetry was personal, confessional, with gay friends and lovers mentioned obliquely:

Favorites: going to parties with you, being in corners at parties with you,
being in gloomy pubs with you smiling, poking you at parties when
you're "down," coming on like South Pacific with you at them
shrimping with you into the Russian dressing, leaving parties with
you alone to go and eat a piece of cloud.

According to his friend and former lover Joe Lesueur, he was determined to get with as many people as he could: "big guys, little guys, macho straight men, flagrantly gay men, rough trade, gay trade, friends, friends of friends, offspring of his friends, blonds, blacks, Jews, and—women."

Among his many lovers were Larry Rivers Vincent Warren (1938-), the renowned dancer Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal.

On July 24, 1966, O'Hara was struck by a car on the beach at Fire Island.  He died a few hours later, leaving an army of stunned friends, lovers, and fans.

See also: The Violet Quill

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