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PRINT March 2008

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Lytle Shaw’s Frank O’Hara: The Poetics of Coterie

Across the street there is a house under construction,

abandoned to the rain. Secretly, I shall go to work on it.


—Frank O’Hara, “Cambridge,” 1956

THINGS HAPPENED around Frank O’Hara. At his death in 1966, he was known as much for his nonstop social presence at the center of a group—a coterie, aesthetic tendency, or even school—of ’50s and ’60s abstract painters and poets as for his poetry and art criticism. The 1971 publication of his six-hundred-page Collected Poems thus came as something of a surprise to readers who had a better sense of O’Hara’s celebrity than of his published poetry, available until then only in small editions from galleries and alternative presses: Meditations in an Emergency (1957), Odes and Second Avenue (both 1960), Lunch Poems (1964), and Love Poems (Tentative Title) (1965). However elegant, these ephemeral publications were hardly representative

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