‘Friends of Frank’ poetry reading at library on July 18

 

COURTESY PHOTO |One of the few photos — intentionally blurry — of Frank O’Hara and his friends.

COURTESY PHOTO | One of the few photos — intentionally blurry — of Frank O’Hara and his friends.

Friday Night Dialogues at the Library and the Shelter Island Poetry Project will present “Friends of Frank: Frank O’Hara and the Poets of the New York School” on July 18 at 7 p.m.

Once upon a time in New York City in the 1950s, there was a perfect storm of poetry, art, wit and style that completely transformed the postwar landscape of American poetry. It began brewing in the seminar rooms of Harvard, spread to cheap Manhattan digs after graduation, was stoked by the heady advances of French Surrealism, Cubism and Symbolism, swept up Abstract Expressionism and Action Painting into its vortex, and had two “eyes” — one at the San Remo Bar and one at the Cedar Tavern, with outposts in Southampton and Springs on the East End. Although the term did not become widely used until the 1960s, it was the birth of the “New York School.” American art and poetry would never be the same.

At its center were four talented, fearless, visionary poets in their early 20s: Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch and James Schuyler.

Their grand ambition, according to Kenneth Koch, was “to write poetry that is better than poetry.” John Ashbery, musing on his muse, remarked that “modern poetry gave the poet the license to be strange.” But it has been left to modernist chronicler David Lehman to give us the best summing-up; the New York School, he has written, was “the last authentic avant-garde movement in American poetry.” And its indisputable impresario was Frank O’Hara.

He had, it seemed, a million brilliant friends — and they all wrote poetry.

The “Friends of Frank” reading, like the bar at the San Remo, will be crowded with the likes of Barbara Guest, Anne Waldman, Edwin Denby, Ron Padgett, Bernadette Meyer, Eileen Myles and others, including the 50s Fab Four themselves –— O’Hara, Ashbery, Koch and Schuyler. If that sounds like your cup of tea (or maybe your dry martini), you will want to mark your calendar for this event. Admission is free with donations accepted.

“Friends of Frank” is a reading by the Shelter Island Poetry Project, now in its sixth year of presenting great poetry to our community, read by Shelter Islanders and curated by Bliss Morehead.

BLISS MOREHEAD