Jack Kerouac VS. Frank O’Hara

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Jack Kerouac VS. Frank O’Hara

Jack Kerouac and Frank O’Hara, two different but powerful writers, had a brief feud that lasted for the better part of a year before it finally faded away.

Jonny Metro
on Jul 17, 2011
Beat Generation Author Jack Kerouac - Tom Palumbo (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kerouac_by_Palumbo_140x190.jpg)

It began on March 2, 1959 during a poetry reading at the Living Theatre in New York. While Frank O’Hara read on stage, Jack Kerouac (almost definitely inebriated) sat in the audience, listening. He found O’Hara’s lisping speech grating on the ears, and began to heckle the poet, shouting out accusations that he was ruining American poetry.

O’Hara, not to be intimidated, snapped back at Kerouac: “That’s more than you ever did for it!”

Shortly after, there was a brief intermission, but the break did little to calm Jack Kerouac down. After Frank O’Hara took the stage again, the heckling continued, growing in intensity and venom until O’Hara finally apologized to the audience and left the stage, saying “This may seem uninteresting, but it’s no more uninteresting than Jack Kerouac.”

Some time later, the two ran into each other at the Cedar Tavern. It is unknown who started the confrontation, but since alcohol was on the premises, it was probably Kerouac. He began taunting and teasing O’Hara, asking him “What’s the matter? Don’t you like me?”

O’Hara sneered at Kerouac and told him, “It’s your writing I like, NOT you.”

Speculations and Justifications

The true reason behind Kerouac’s heckling is unknown. Although he and Frank O’Hara ran in distinctly different circles, there had never before been any animosity between the two. In fact, there had always been a professional mutual respect. Kerouac had even previously suggested to the editors of Yugen magazine that O’Hara’s work be considered for publication.

Allen Ginsberg was in the audience of the Living Theatre that night, and he theorized that Kerouac’s outburst was caused by “grief and fear and paranoia” brought on by his alcohol abuse.

Kerouac, on the other hand, expressed a decidedly different rationalization in a letter to friends Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Peter Orlovsky. He theorized that it was brain damage, caused by a beating ha had received the previous year at the hands of a drunk in Greenwich Village.

Heckled Out Of Hate?

Some biographers, though, have speculated that the real reason runs deeper. Jack Kerouac’s true sexual orientation has been questioned since well before his death, and it is widely believed that he was bisexual at the very least. Although belonging to a social group that professed relaxed sexual mores, Kerouac was still quite conservative in many respects. If he was repressing his homosexual tendencies, it is very likely that they would manifest themselves in the homophobic comments that he was known to make, especially when intoxicated. O’Hara’s lisp would have been just enough to set the drunk, self-loathing Kerouac off.

An Apology

The brief feud between the two formidable authors apparently came to an end in October of that same year when Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky paid a visit to Frank O’Hara’s apartment. Unable or unwilling to say it out loud, Kerouac sat down at O’Hara’s writing desk and typed out an apology, claiming that the reason he was acting so “extraordinary” was because he was jealous that Kerouac’s friend and fellow poet Gregory Corso, who was also on the audience that night, was enjoying O’Hara’s reading.

Corso The Cause?

Gregory Corso had been a friend and member of the Beat Generation in good standing, but in the mid-1950s, he had been invited to Cambridge by poet Bunny Lang, where he began to run in Frank O’Hara’s orbit. Although he never completely severed his ties with the Beats, Kerouac occasionally felt bitter that his friend distanced himself from the group that he held so dear.

A Resolution

Was petty jealousy the sole reason behind the Jack Kerouac/Robert Frank rivalry? It seems unlikely, but whatever the reason was, Kerouac’s apology seemed to smooth things over. Although they would never become hard and fast friends, the two ceased exchanging foul words.

In fact, following Kerouac’s October apology, there is scarcely an account of the two of them together.

Although this feud may seem but a minor footnote in the lives of both Jack Kerouac and Frank O’Hara, it also doubles as an interesting, albeit unclear, glimpse into the troubled mind of a legendary author.


Jack Kerouac’s Collected Letters,Vol. 1 and 2, edited by Ann Charters

Subterranean Kerouac by Ellis Amburn

Memory Babe by Gerald Nicosia

Copyright Jonny Metro

Read more at Suite101: Jack Kerouac VS. Frank O’Hara | Suite101 http://suite101.com/article/jack-kerouac-vs-frank-ohara-a380256#ixzz2Fhqlpoas


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