Frank O’Hara was born in Baltimore, Maryland in March of 1926. His parents, Joseph and Katherine O’Hara raised their son in Grafton, Massachusetts. When he was a young man he attended St. John’s High School.
O’Hara went on to study piano at the New England Conservatory in Boston. He spent four years there before joining the military and serving in the South Pacific and Japan. He was stationed as a sonar man on a destroyer, the USS Nicholas during WWII.
After the end of the war, he attended Harvard College and graduated with a degree in music. He was a deeply artistic person, finding passion in composition and visual arts. It was also during this time period that he began to write poetry. He was drawn to works by writers such as Arthur Rimbaud and Vladimir Mayakovsky.
His conflicting artistic passions culminated with his switching to an English degree. He graduated in 1950 and went on to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He left with his Masters of Arts in 1951. It was in this same year that he published his first collection, A City Winter and Other Poems. O’Hara had moved to New York and into the apartment of Joe LeSueur, who would be one of his lovers over the next decade. He found work during this period at the Museum of Modern Art selling postcards at the front desk.
O’Hara was also working for ArtNews writing essays and reviews about painting and sculpture. He was considered to be an important member of the New York School of poets along with writers such as James Schuyler and Kenneth Koch. O’Hara also began teaching at The New School. He would go on to work as Assistant Curator of Painting and Sculpture Exhibitions at MOMA.
Later Life and Death
His second collection, Oranges: 12 Pastorals, was published in 1953, followed by Meditations in an Emergency in 1957. His final collection, Love Poems, was released in 1965. O’Hara’s short life came to an end in July of 1966 when he was struck by a jeep. He died the next day of a ruptured liver.
After his death, the posthumously published collection, The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara won the 1972 National Book Award for Poetry. He is now considered to be one of the foremost figures of mid-century American poetry, recognized for his personal tone and autobiographical subject matter.