"Memorial Day 1950"

May 26th, 2008

                     At that time all of us began to think
with our bare hands and even with blood all over
them, we knew vertical from horizontal, we never
smeared anything except to find out how it lived.
Fathers of Dada! You carried shining erector sets
In your rough bony pockets, you were generous
And they were lovely as chewing gum on flowers!
Thank You!

Frank O’Hara

From “Memorial Day 1950,” The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara, ed. Donald Allen (Berkeley, 1995).

O’Hara was to the Cold War what Apollinaire was to the Great War—a poet and art critic, a charismatic champion of the contemporary avant-garde. As the assistant curator for the International Program of the Museum of Modern Art, O’Hara helped to prepare overseas exhibits of Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. These touring exhibits represented the joint efforts of both the art establishment and the state to pursue an anti-Communist program of containment by peaceful means of diplomacy. Like many intellectuals of the time, O’Hara professed a strong belief in the diplomatic potential of art to bridge gaps between foreign cultures, or in the case of the Soviet Union, to prevent rivalries from escalating. In his typically witty and conversational style, O’Hara salutes in the poem above not the soldiers who fought in war—O’Hara himself served as a sonar man—but the artists of the previous generation who fought against it.

Further reading: Lytel Shaw, Frank O’Hara: The Poetics of Coterie (University of Iowa Press, 1995).

Entry Filed under: 2819,dada,memorial day


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