Everyone and I
Everyone and I
Frank O’Hara, Billie Holiday and Modern Elegy
This chapter argues that in some central poems O'Hara creates a new form of modern elegy. His work absorbs various influences – American abstract painting, jazz music, Black American culture – and unites them with a distinctively gay sensibility, a background of wartime experience while extremely young, and a strong sense of the inhibitions and repressions of American Cold War culture in the 1950s and early 1960s. This mix produces such now classic modern poems as ‘A Step Away From Them’ and his elegy for the Black American singer Billie Holiday, ‘The Day Lady Died'. The chapter analyses these poems and others, finding in them such things as: a revision of the figure of the ‘flaneur’ in nineteenth-century French poetry; the importance of coterie; the manipulation of modes of camp. The chapter gives detailed attention to the Billie Holiday poem, reading it alongside her own famous song ‘Strange Fruit’ and discovering in it both a new, extremely sophisticated mode of elegiac writing and an exceptionally intense response to a particular phase of Black American cultural life.
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