Sometimes, the poems are more than you need. Sometimes you just want to know Frank O’Hara’s SAT scores. On days like this we society members like to reach for some of our favorite literary biographies, memoirs and letter collections; books that give us glimpses into the daily lives that inspired some of our favorite works. In particular we’ve found a number of these titles that focus on those poets who made their names in the 50s and 60s, names like Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, John Berryman and yes, the lovely Frank O’Hara himself:
Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Is there anything more thrilling than when two of the greatest writers of one generation are also best friends? This collection chronicles one such relationship between Bishop and Lowell, whose exchange of letters lasted across three decades and thousands of miles. Even if you just pick this one up thirty pages at a time, you’ll be struck by the closeness of these two minds, and probably come to understand both of them in a new light.
Poets in Their Youth: A Memoir, by Eileen Simpson. Written by John Berryman’s first wife, this book gives a look at the culture of several poets in their early years, back when they, too, were collecting rejections and getting their hearts broken all over the place. Through her relationship with Berryman, Simpson describes her interactions with such names as Randall Jarrell, Robert Lowell and the ever-tragic Delmore Schwartz with startling honesty and without judgment. Read it in one night with a bottle of wine, and maybe some tissues if you’re prone to weepiness.
City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O’Hara, by Brad Gooch. Not many other writers are so entrenched in a particular time and place as Frank O’Hara was in New York City in the 50s and 60s. If you’re like us and you think you were actually supposed to live in that era, and if you’re even a minor fan of O’Hara’s, this one will take you where you want to go. Plus Gooch tells the story with admiration and intelligence at once, just like we would, if only we’d been there.