Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O’Hara by Joe LeSueur
Published on April 1, 2003
by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genres: Memoir, non-fiction, LGBTQ, gay, queer
“[W]e indulged ourselves, abided by our every whim, did pretty much what we pleased. And why not? There had to be some advantages in being queer, and we made sure that there were.”
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 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.
I should have probably rated this book a little lower than 5 stars, but I just loved reading about queer men in the New York art scene in the 1950s and ‘60s living their lives like they mattered and not giving a fuck about what anyone else thought. It warmed my heart because we don’t see or hear these narratives very much. In case you’re not familiar with Frank O’Hara, he was a queer poet who came to prominence with his poetry collection Lunch Poems in 1965, published a year before he died in an accident on Fire Island. I first read his poetry for a class in my first year of university and of course I remembered the name mostly because he was queer at a time when it was illegal for a man to be such. His poetry can be jarring and incohesive, but it has its moments. This book is a memoir by Joe LeSueur, Frank’s roommate for over a decade and his sometimes lover, if the drinks and the mood was right. Joe handpicks poems that Frank wrote during the time he knew and lived with him and each chapter recounts his memories from what was going on at that time in their lives that may have inspired the poem. It’s catty and unabashed in all the right ways. If you’re an ex-English major nerd like me AND you also loved Patti Smith’s Just Kids, definitely seek this one out.
“I remember my childhood but I remember the movies better.”
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