Subverting Propriety : The Intimate, Habitable Poetics of Frank O'Hara




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My dissertation investigates the impact of the poetic texts of Frank O’Hara, particularly working to situate him as a war poet, a resistor of societal pressures and dominant political ideologies, and a poet who defied conventions of what it meant to be a man in mid-century America. Studying O’Hara’s 800 published poems to reveal his attitudes and conclusions about these important issues, I contrast O’Hara’s poetic content with theoretical constructs from queer theory and the theories of institutional domination of marginalized peoples, with historical documents, and cultural and intellectual history relative to his lifetime. O’Hara’s poetry about war, Cold War politics, and the mid-century crisis of masculinity have heretofore not been systematically studied in a historical context that is focused on O’Hara’s poetry resulting from his life experience as a Navy sailor or as a homosexual man. Historians agree that World War II emboldened homosexual men to live in full view after the War, despite there having been an urban homosexual subculture in New York and other cities for decades. While other authors also historicize O’Hara’s poetry, few have dealt in any depth with his World War II service, his love of Russian culture, or his resistance to the prevailing political doctrines of his time. However, read in this way, O’Hara’s poetry becomes a compelling voice of resistance to the aftermath of World War II and the early Cold War period. I utilize the theoretical work of queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, particularly her work on paranoid and reparative reading of literature for queer readers, and suggests that her work be expanded to include reparative writing as well. In addition, the theories of the methods of everyday survival for marginalized peoples suffering from institutional dominance studied by Michel de Certeau are shown to be validated in O’Hara’s poetry. I then review the attitudes and policies of the World War II United States military with regard to the homosexual man, providing biographical context for 18-year-old Navy enlistee Frank O’Hara. A review of the post-war poetry O’Hara wrote about the war in undergraduate and graduate school follows. I assert that his war experience created a political framework for O’Hara’s life that provided rich subject matter for the remainder of his life. O’Hara’s propensity for a love of Russian culture during an historical time when Russia was the avowed enemy of America follows, underscoring that his attitudes about gender and race were political impediments in mid-century America. O’Hara’s life choices, as a homosexual American man, are next contrasted with those life choices, stressors, and obligations of the “organization man,” who faced a decade of personal crisis as American gender roles were in extreme flux and redefinition. My Epilogue looks at O’Hara’s continuing influence on queer poetry in a poem by contemporary poet Tommy Pico. Pico’s use of the poetic form O’Hara invented, the “I-do-this, I-do-that” poem, enhanced by 21st century social media posts, reveals an ongoing significance of the ground-breaking work O’Hara produced some six decades ago.



O'Hara, Frank, -- 1926-1966. -- Poems, Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, Goodman, Paul, -- 1911-1972, United States -- Politics and government -- 1945-1953, United States -- Politics and government -- 1953-1961, Masculinity in literature, Abstract expressionism, Gender identity in literature


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