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In this chapter, I read Frank O’Hara’s Collected Poems as being an extensive charter for revolutions of mythopoiesis of self and of the imagined community of nation. O’Hara’s poetry works against a high or transcendent symbolism to occult everyday objects and people of his acquaintance, and this is a vital part of his turning the action of mythopoiesis to the personal. We consider this through the idea of “charm effects” and the ways in which the poems plot the self among (and as) the things of the world and as dynamic systems of social engagement.

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  1. 1.

    Marjorie Perloff seizes on O’Hara’s fondness for Apollinaire’s “charming artifice” and promotes it as a part of her conception of O’Hara’s aesthetic strategies (30).

  2. 2.

    Morton Feldman, “Lost Times and Future Hopes” (12).

  3. 3.

    Dan Chiasson. “Fast Company.” This is Chiasson’s impression from his reading of Brad Gooch’s City Poet.

  4. 4.

    I take “auratic” here in its Benjaminian conception of a product of culture that either exerts glamour or has glamour conferred upon it. Benjamin refers specifically to the work’s “presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be” (Illuminations 220). The aura of Frank O’Hara as a living “work of art,” and the effects of glamour this figure still exerts (and the traditions that it is folded into) is taken up in the following chapter (SW 2, 518).

  5. 5.

    For a consideration of Apollinaire’s career as a potentate of myth, see Roger Shattuck’s The Banquet Years: The Arts in France, 1885–1918: Alfred Jarry, Henri Rousseau, Erik Satie, Guillaume Apollinaire. New York: Vintage, 1968. pp. 253–299, and his Selected Writings of Guillaume Apollinaire. New York: New Directions, 1971. pp. 3–13.

  6. 6.

    Perloff takes the opportunity to reflect on the changes of O’Hara’s reputation and her own contribution in her introduction to the 1997 edition of Frank O’Hara: Poet among Painters.

  7. 7.

    In contradistinction to Susan Sontag’s provocative claim that “In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art” (14).

  8. 8.

    We might appreciate how exceptional the figure of Mayakovsky is in O’Hara’s personal mythology by witnessing his declaration in “A True Account of Talking of the Sun on Fire Island” that they are the only two poets ever to have a personal interview with the Sun, and they are in a sense consumed in precisely the same conflagration, or rather this is O’Hara’s preferred thought (CP 306).

  9. 9.

    O’Hara on Reuben Nakian. Art Chronicles 1954–1966. p. 87.

  10. 10.

    See O’Hara’s “On Zhivago and His Poems” (CP 501–509).

  11. 11.

    This notion of the hauntologue, though derived from Derrida’s “hauntology,” is conversant with Heraclitus’ “fragment 62” concerning the life of the dead in the living and the erasure of the living as they ventriloquise the dead: “Mortals, immortals, immortals, mortals, the one living the other’s death and dying the other’s life” Hippolytus, Refutation of all heresies, IX, 10, 6.

  12. 12.

    Nietzsche declares, “To ‘give style’ to one’s character- a great and rare art! It is practiced by those who survey all the strengths and weaknesses of their nature and fit them into an artistic plan until every one of them appears as art and reason and even weaknesses delight the eye” (GS, 290).

  13. 13.

    The poem makes a conception of the poet as artist, interested in all forms of art, and here we might make an account of O’Hara’s career as an art critic, playwright, and museum curator, all of which contribute to or collaborate with O’Hara’s practice of poetics. This is of fundamental importance to O’Hara’s wilful problematising of the role of the poet and the role of poetry in the twentieth century. Lytle Shaw examines the generically destabilising style and intent of O’Hara’s art criticism in his chapter “O’Hara’s Art Criticism” from Frank O’Hara: The Poetics of Coterie.

  14. 14.

    John Ashbery. “Memorial Day 1950”

  15. 15.

    The phrase is Kenneth Koch’s “All the Imagination Can Hold”—a notion he borrows from O’Hara’s poem, “Radio” (CP 234).

  16. 16.

    Available at There is further work to be done in analysing footage of poets reading as concurrent textual tributaries of voice, image, milieu, and symbol. This would follow the interest of Steve Evans in undoing the metaphysical priority of meaning in graphic (written) text over sonic text. The sample quoted above is talismanic; the grain of O’Hara’s voice, its measure, and calculated breaks constitute an affective text. It offers a set of semiotic keys in its vocal turns and ranges which inflect the way his poems are read on the page. The technology allows a shift from an historically limited community of coterie to an infinite community and changes the relationship of the reader to the dead poet. O’Hara’s charm carries.

  17. 17.

    Hazel Smith. Hyperscapes. The concept is derived from Hans Hofmann, detailed in his 1948 treatise “A Search for the Real in the Visual Arts.”

  18. 18.

    In “The Virtue of the Alterable” Helen Vendler suggests that “Frank O’Hara’s charms are inseparable from his overproduction” (179). In this essay she maintains the myth of O’Hara as the brilliant gadfly, tossing off occasional poems of “bon-ton” insouciance: it is precisely this figure of O’Hara that Perloff wants to reframe as a poet of serious accomplishment. My argument is that O’Hara’s “overproduction” evidences a total practice of poetry as an ongoing critique of what a poem and a poet might now be and that he revolutionises poetry as a technic of self-making. Towards the end of her essay, Vendler seems to develop a taste for such an appreciation of O’Hara, in whom she thinks “a modern ethos of the anarchically personal receives its best incarnation yet,” finally deciding he constitutes “a new species” of poet (194).

  19. 19.

    The initial trace of the poet is stalking and stalked by Byron through the Venetian gondola, the borrowed “pistols,” and the imminent appearance of Manfred in the poem.

  20. 20.

    The poem demonstrates how coterie in O’Hara’s work can describe a conscious attempt to think through competing social frameworks and not merely a symptomatic effect for writing for one’s friends. Shaw notes: “For O’Hara, subject positions enacted in writing would not be stable abstractions for a unified psyche (what the New Critics would call personae) bringing insight to an abstract readership. Instead, the writing self comes from that community as well; its legibility emerges, in part, from the world of proper names inside the poems. ‘In Memory of My Feelings’ bears a crucial relationship to this process, then, because it positions constructed, afamilial relationships as an alternative to more organic structures of community like the family and the nation: selves become legible within social frameworks that seek to explain the self and its feelings. And yet these explanatory frameworks each pressure and condition the self that emerges from them, hunted or haunted by the norms that inhere in narrating life through them. This inflection is precisely what makes such frameworks seem partial and unsatisfactory, which keeps the poem moving from one to the next” (113–14).

  21. 21.

    Denkbild or “thought-image” is derived from Gerhard Richter’s study of Adorno, Benjamin, Bloch and Kracauer. Thought-Images: Frankfurt School Writers’ Reflections from Damaged Life. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2007.

  22. 22.

    Excerpt from THE PARIS REVIEW interview with Charles Olson by Gerard Malanga (April, 1969) Homage to Frank O’Hara 177.

  23. 23.

    Donatus Ars maior iii.6: “allegoria est tropus quo aliud significator quam dicitur.”

  24. 24.

    O’Hara’s description of Apollinaire’s poems and prose, cited by Perloff, p. 30.

  25. 25.

    Terrence Diggory suggests that “Masking and multiple identities are recurring themes in Hartigan’s Oranges (1953), a series of paintings based on prose poems by O’Hara, as well as in individual paintings such as The Masker and Masquerade (both 1954), for which O’Hara posed as a model. Among the many poems that O’Hara composed with Hartigan in mind (including “Poem for a Painter,” “Portrait of Grace,” “Christmas Card for Grace Hartigan,” “For Grace after a Party”) the theme of masquerade finds its culmination in “IN MEMORY OF MY FEELINGS” (1956) See Terence Diggory, “Grace Hartigan” p. 214 Encyclopedia of the New York School Poets.

  26. 26.

    Elsewhere Ladkin refers to this erotic “dream” as “a return to the fundament of sentimentality, the authority of feeling in the body, and in love” (Frank O’Hara’s Ecstatic Elegy: “In Memory of My Feelings” in Memory Wallace Stevens in blackbox manifold 10; n.pag.).

  27. 27.

    See Russell Ferguson, In Memory of My Feelings: Frank O’Hara and America Art. Berkeley: University of California P, 1999, p. 138.

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Hose, D. (2022). Frank O’Hara: Myth as Madrigal. In: The Pursuit of Myth in the Poetry of Frank O'Hara, Ted Berrigan and John Forbes. Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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