Frank O'Hara Pauses before a Newsstand: Teaching Allusions in the "New York School" of Poetry

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Charles Martin

Frank O’Hara Pauses before a Newsstand:
Teaching Allusions in the “New York School” of Poetry



As I wish to discuss the nature of allusion in a poem by Frank O’Hara, it occurs to me that I should begin by defining the term: what exactly do we mean by an allusion? As someone who has spent much of his life teaching in a classroom, I have, over the years, come to think of an allusion simply as something I said that my students did not get: “‘April is the cruelest month;’ Anyone see the allusion here? To another poet? To Chaucer? How about to Whitman? No?” And then of course, I would go on to explain the allusion because I had learned from the best authorities that a student has to understand the allusion in order to understand the poem in which it is embedded. And of course, I wanted my students to understand the poem: I was a teacher, that is to say someone in whom a sea of blank faces produces the same anxiety as the upturned beaks of its hungry offspring generate in an adult chickadee.
  But before we consider the subject of allusions, I need to go back to that place where I began thinking about them: to the poems of . . .
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