Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Frank O’Hara

Hello, hello, and welcome to the middle of the week, dear readers. If you are feeling a little run down or if Friday is feeling a bit too far away, I encourage you to check out Writer’s Quote Wednesday, where bloggers share their favorite quotes to inspire and motivate one another.

For my contribution this week, I have chosen a quote from the American writer and poet, Frank O’Hara.

o_hara_frankFrancis Russell “Frank” O’Hara was born in Baltimore, Maryland on March 27, 1926, and grew up in Grafton, Massachusetts. O’Hara served in the South Pacific and Japan as a sonarman on the destroyer USS Nicholas during World War II.

With the funding made available to veterans, he attended Harvard University. Although he majored in music and did some composing, his attendance was irregular and his interests disparate.

O’Hara was heavily influenced by visual art, and by contemporary music, which was his first love. While at Harvard, O’Hara met John Ashbery and began publishing poems in the Harvard Advocate. Despite his love for music, O’Hara changed his major and graduated from Harvard in 1950 with a degree in English.

He then attended graduate school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and moved into an apartment in New York City with Joe LeSueur, who would be his roommate and sometimes his lover for the next 11 years.

Known throughout his life for his extreme sociability, passion, and warmth, O’Hara had hundreds of friends and lovers throughout his life, many from the New York art and poetry worlds. Soon after arriving in New York, he was employed at the front desk of the Museum of Modern Art and began to write seriously.

O’Hara was active in the art world, working as a reviewer for Art News, and in 1960 was made Assistant Curator of Painting and Sculpture Exhibitions for the Museum of Modern Art. He was also friends with artists like Willem de Kooning, Norman Bluhm, Larry Rivers and Joan Mitchell. He is regarded as a leading figure in the New York School—an informal group of artists, writers and musicians who drew inspiration from jazz, surrealism, abstract expressionism, action painting and contemporary avant-garde art movements.

O’Hara’s poetry is personal in tone and in content and described as reading “like entries in a diary”. Poet and critic Mark Doty has said O’Hara’s poetry is “urbane, ironic, sometimes genuinely celebratory and often wildly funny” containing “material and associations alien to academic verse” such as “the camp icons of movie stars of the twenties and thirties, the daily landscape of social activity in Manhattan, jazz music, telephone calls from friends”. O’Hara’s writing “sought to capture in his poetry the immediacy of life, feeling that poetry should be “between two persons instead of two pages.”

The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara edited by Donald Allen (Knopf, 1971), the first of several posthumous collections, shared the 1972 National Book Award for Poetry.[3]

O’Hara died in an accident on Fire Island in which he was struck and seriously injured by a man speeding in a beach vehicle during the early morning hours of July 24, 1966. He died the next day of a ruptured liver at the age of 40 and was buried in the Green River Cemetery on Long Island.

I love you. I love you,
but I’m turning to my verses
and my heart is closing
like a fist.

Frank O’Hara, Mayakovsky (1957)

Sometimes, as much as we need people and love and all the good things that come with it, we also need to immerse ourselves in words and writing. Sometimes we need to be alone with ourselves. We need to close ourselves off from the world and make time to immerse ourselves in the parts of our minds that are beyond words.

I need that. It’s not enough to have time to write I need to fall into myself. I need to get away from the influence of other people’s words and feelings. I need to be alone to pace, and to drink copious amounts of coffee, and listen to loud music that has no words. I need to write what it is in me that lives behind the ideas planted there by the media and by my upbringing.

I need to get at the parts of myself where I don’t think with logic. The place where I am full of understanding without a word being spoken.

I have to do it. It is the secondary requirement for writing. There are the words and experienced from the outside world, and then there is the pain of processing and of bringing the dark inner world onto the page.

I need to be alone, and I need to close my heart up.

I can’t feel myself when I am with other people and I can find who I am in the background of what other people think that I am. I can’t breathe through this air of obligation and expectation.

Even from the girl I love. She has been the richest and most abundant fuel for my writing. I feel the full spectrum of human emotion because of her, love and something like hatred, friendship and loneliness, acceptance and shame, pride and lowliness, happiness and a deep sadness that may be with me forever.

She is at the base of it all. Everything I say is either about her or written to her.. but even from her, I must close myself off from time to time. I have to shut her out with the rest of the world so I can get to what it is I am trying to say. I love her. I love her more than anything, but I need to turn to my verses.

I don’t think I am alone in my need. Virgina Woolf said “I like to have space to spread my mind out in.” and I think that gets at what I mean. I want to be alone to spread out my thoughts and look at all the contents. It’s just, I need to do it without anyone else getting in to muck it up.

I love the world, I love people, I love my girlfriend too, and all these things give me so much inspiration and motivation for my writing, but there is another need too. One where despite my love for all things that exist outside of myself I need to shut them out and work from what in inside myself only.


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Biographical information via Goodreads and Wikipedia

Original image via Roco Julie


3 Replies to “Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Frank O’Hara”

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