The concept of 'surface' as a poetical device that Perloff introduces in this book has become one of the most influential and important for post 1960s poetry. It is one of those ideas that, once understood, feels so correct (almost obvious) that it seems strange that no one has thought of it before. If you like Frank O'Hara this book will definately invigorate your enjoyment of him, opening up a new way of reading his poetry. This is one of those rare academic books that sucseeds in communicting a real enthusiasm for its topic, is not in the slightest pompus or dry, and communicates its complex and new ideas with graceful clarity. Perloff writes in a way that feels totally uncontrived, and what could be more appropriate for a book that deals with the poetry of Frank O'Hara? This book is a ground breaking study that brings O'Hara's poetry to life; a vivid sense of O'Hara's personality is present in the book, just as it is in his own poetry. And I think it is this sympathy between the approach of Perloff and her subject that makes the book such a good read, as well as a technically brilliant one.
This book first came out in 1977, when O'Hara didn't hold the place in the poetry world that he does today. Given O'Hara's original reputation as a dilettante who wrote poems quickly and seemingly without great thought, Perloff is concerned to show how extremely well-read he really was, to establish the breadth of his poetic lineage (Mayakovsky, Apollinaire, Reverdy, Williams and more), and to emphasise the Surrealism and complexity in his work. This book has close readings of many of the poems in the Selected (though she quotes page numbers, naturally, from the Collected) and a fair bit of useful background on the state of American poetry at the time he was writing, polarised between allusive, ironic academics, and the more informal Beats, West Coast Poets and the `New York School' that O'Hara came to be considered part of. There's analysis of what made O'Hara's work so unique and how he did it, his collaborations with painters, his friendships with Kenneth Koch, Jasper Johns and others, his work at MOMA, and the reactions to his sudden death. In this re-issue there's a new introduction looking his sexuality and the phenomenon of his growing reputation. I found it invaluable when I was trying to get my head round some of O'Hara's less accessible poems. Only one problem: the book itself (or my copy) was not well-made - the pages quickly started falling out. If you're seriously into O'Hara, maybe the hardback would be better.