Poets and painters have been in dialogue since as far back as anyone can tell.
But, for Frank O'Hara (1926-1966), the seminal New York School poet who worked as critic for Art News and curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York squat in the middle of the 20th century, art had been of especial significane. O'Hara's poems often evoke the artists that had been instrumental to his development as a writer and thinker in their characteristic expression of the intimate and casual details of the poet's personal life. John Ashbery, in his introduction to The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara, notes that O'Hara's early poetry "is anything but literary. It is part of a modern tradition which is anti-literary and anti-artistic, and which goes back to Apollinaire and the Dadaists..." (vii). Though most of these painters are the Abstract Expressionists of the 1940s and 50s with whom O'Hara was friends, Ashbery's insightful depiction of the poet as an inheritor to a lineage of avant-garde artist-provocateurs can be traced back to Marcel Duchamp among others: O'Hara passionately addresses Marcel Duchamp's alter ego and signature, Rrose Selavy in one of his very first poems. Homage to Rrose Selavy, which follows, was written in Cambridge in November of 1949, when O'Hara was only 19 years old. It was first published in Generation, Spring 1951, and can now be found in The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara printed by the University of California Press.
Homage to Rrose Selavy
Towards you like amphibious airplanes
peacocks and pigeons seem to scoot!
First thing in the morning your two eyes
are shining with all night's funny stories
and every time you sit down during the day
someone drops a bunch of rubies on your lap.
When I see you in the drugstore or bar I
gape as if you were a champagne fountain
and when you tell me how your days and nights
seem to you you are my own stupid Semiramis.
Listen, you are really too beautiful to be true
you egg-beater and the next time I see you
clattering down a flight of stairs like a
ferris wheel jingling your earrings and feathers
a subway of smiling girls a regular fireworks
display, I'll carry you to Venice!