Sunday, April 4, 2010

Podcast 10: Frank O'Hara

For the month of April (National Poetry Month), I am taking a break from recording my own work. I will be devoting my Sunday podcasts to poets who have influenced my writing. Each week I will read and record a few poems by a different poet.

I am kicking off this project with poems by Frank O'Hara. This will come as no surprise to most of you. O'Hara is my favorite poet and the poet that has influenced me the most. The title of my blog even comes from a O'Hara poem.

I first read him in college when I took a 20th century poetry course. We read a poem or two of his and I chose him for my final research paper. After that, my interest grew and grew. In graduate school I was lucky enough to take a fantastic class that focused solely on the New York School Poets. The New York School's main group was Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery, and James Schuyler. In that class, I dug deeper into O'Hara's work and fell even more in love.

O'Hara's work is personal. He writes, almost entirely, from his own experiences (much like me). He includes very personal details and references his friends constantly in the poems (lucky for him he had many famous friends). In many ways, O'Hara does all the things people tell you not to do, and I love him for it. Reading O'Hara, gave me the permission to do what I want in poetry and to make it my own. He also loved pop culture and wrote about movies, celebrities, and art. Again, this is something I love to do in my own work.

I also admire O'Hara for his openness about being gay in a time period that was extremely homophobic. He is a hero for me and someone I can always come back to and read again and again. He died too young (at age 40), yet he wrote more poems than most poets who live twice as long.

In 2006, I had my first serious poetry reading at Florida State, and strangely enough, it got scheduled for the 40th anniversary of the day that O'Hara was killed. He was hit by a beach taxi on Fire Island in 1966. Forty years later, I was standing in a rundown bar in Tallahassee, Florida reading my poems and feeling that O'Hara was there with me.

If you haven't read his work, I highly recommend it. In this podcast, I am reading one of his most famous poems "Steps" and a less famous poem that I love called "St. Paul and All That." I hope you will enjoy them.

-Stephen (Loving Frank)

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