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Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me by Ada Calhoun

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 272 pgs.
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Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me by Ada Calhoun is a memoir that seems to have started out as a biography of Frank O’Hara, but really was an attempt by a daughter to capture her father’s attention through the poet that tethered, at least in part, their lives together. Peter Schjeldahl is an art critic who also wrote poetry, essays, and other works, and was immersed in the New York School of poetry in which O’Hara was considered a major poet. Calhoun has felt unseen by her father, according to the memoir, even as she, too, pursued a career in writing, though mostly as a ghostwriter.

Calhoun’s O’Hara journey begins long before she finds the tapes in her father’s drawer and starts to listen to the interviews he conducted when trying to write a biography of the poet. The ghost of the poet has haunted her father and their lives since the start – a father dejected by the cancellation of his biography on a man he admired and a man who threw himself into writing as a critic and more to the detriment of all else, even his own poetry (which some in the book praised to Ada).

For Ada, O’Hara’s poetry was a gift from her father, and through those poems, she experienced New York City in the way that she believed her father must have. She also used this connection to draw her own conclusions about her father and his obsessions, which may or may not have reflected reality for her father. In many ways, she equates O’Hara’s poet-ness with her father’s writer-ness and the obsessiveness it requires to shut everything else out, but what she fails to see early on is how both simply wanted to make connections and to reach out from their own emptiness and fill it up.

Calhoun is on a journey taken by her father years ago, and like many things when we seek something we don’t think we already have, it becomes a competition to do better and be better as a way to prove our worth to someone we desperately want approval from. Maureen Granville-Smith, O’Hara’s sister and executor of his estate, plays a pivotal role in both the journey of Calhoun and her father. What’s more is that Calhoun unravels this late in the memoir – almost too late.

Past the mid-way mark, Calhoun says something about confidence being “the age requirement for everything,” (pg. 134), and there is something to that. We all reach an age where we finally have that confidence we need to overcome certain obstacles or deal with certain moments in our lives, and it is through that we become capable and achieve the seemingly unachievable. This is where were are with the memoir, as well. She has reached that age of confidence where she can finally speak to her father as a writer to a writer and explore how each has lived that life very differently — he shutting everything else out and she carving out time from her other responsibilities to concentrate on writing alone in a chunk of time. And in many ways, she answers her own questions about “How ruthless do you need to be?” to be a writer.

Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me by Ada Calhoun is so much more than a memoir; it’s a peek inside the world and work of enigmatic artists and poets and how their lives unravel while they’re working at their craft and they are completely unaware. Calhoun is equally unaware, but soon she begins to realize that she’s seen the signs all along and that no writer/parent will ever be perfect because we are all flawed, we are all editing as we go along.

RATING: Cinquain

Mailbox Monday #698

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

2 a.m.with Keats by Eileen Cleary for review.

As I read Eileen Cleary’s 2 a.m. with Keats, I felt breathless, suspended in a place of red keys, plum stones, cats, willows, and sphinxes. It would minimize the reach of this brilliant collection to call it an elegy or a eulogy, or even a love story to Lucie Brock-Broido or John Keats – though it is all of those things. Here, in this place where “the elm says Grief and the oak, Grief,” the poems shine and scatter across the pages like “a phantom of stars.” Cleary engages the rhythms of another world, of “sweet music honeyed and unheard,” where “Lucie reaches forty years back. . . .”

Embracing the quirkiness of Brock-Broido’s imagery and the love of Keats’s line, Cleary creates a séance of astronomy, searching for the origins of human and poetic magic, where “looking for signs means I’ve / once been broken.” I will return to 2 a.m. with Keats again and again, to remember Lucie and Keats, to inhale “rose milk . . . mint.” – Jennifer Martelli, author of In the Year of Ferraro

Also A Poet by Ada Calhoun for review.

When Ada Calhoun stumbled upon old cassette tapes of interviews her father, celebrated art critic Peter Schjeldahl, had conducted for his never-completed biography of poet Frank O’Hara, she set out to finish the book her father had started forty years earlier.

As a lifelong O’Hara fan who grew up amid his bohemian cohort in the East Village, Calhoun thought the project would be easy, even fun, but the deeper she dove, the more she had to face not just O’Hara’s past, but also her father’s, and her own.

The result is a groundbreaking and kaleidoscopic memoir that weaves compelling literary history with a moving, honest, and tender story of a complicated father-daughter bond. Also a Poet explores what happens when we want to do better than our parents, yet fear what that might cost us; when we seek their approval, yet mistrust it.

In reckoning with her unique heritage, as well as providing new insights into the life of one of our most important poets, Calhoun offers a brave and hopeful meditation on parents and children, artistic ambition, and the complexities of what we leave behind.

Red London by Alma Katsu from NetGalley.

After an explosive takedown of a well-placed mole within the CIA, agent Lyndsey Duncan has been tasked with keeping tabs on her newest Russian asset, deadly war criminal Dmitri Tarasenko. She arrives in London fully focused on the assignment at hand, until her MI6 counterpart, Davis Ranford, the very person responsible for ending her last mission overseas after they were caught in a whirlwind affair, personally calls for her.

After a suspicious attack on a powerful Russian oligarch’s property on Billionaires’ Row in the toniest neighborhood in London, Davis needs Lyndsey to cozy up to the billionaire’s aristocratic British wife, Emily Rotenberg. Lyndsey’s job is to obtain any and all information related to Emily’s husband, Mikhail Rotenberg, and his relationship with the new Russian president, whom CIA and MI6 believe is responsible for the sudden mysterious disappearance of his predecessor, the Hard Man. Fortunately for Lyndsey, there’s little to dissuade Emily from taking in a much-needed confidante. After all, misery needs company.

But before Lyndsey can cover much ground with her newfound friend, the CIA unveils a perturbing connection between Mikhail and Russia’s geopolitical past, one that could dangerously upend the world order as we know it. As the pressure to turn Emily becomes higher than ever, Lyndsey must walk a fine and ever-changing line to keep the oligarch’s fortune from falling into Russian hands and plunging the world into a new, disastrous geopolitical reality.

Red London is a nuanced, race-against-the-clock story that at times feels eerily set against today’s headlines, a testament to author Alma Katsu’s thirty-plus career in national security. It’s a rare spy novel written by an insider that feels as prescient as it is page-turning and utterly unforgettable.

What did you receive?