ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Frank O'Hara and the Love of the City

Updated on August 27, 2016

Frank O'Hara: For the Love of the City

Frank O'Hara (March 27, 1926 – July 25, 1966) was an American poet and art critic associated with the New York School, a poetic movement that began in the 50s and 60s. Along with a coterie including poets such as John Ashbery, Barbara Guest and Ken Koch, he wrote poems for and about the city and its culture. His poems were inspired by jazz, abstract expressionism, action painting and surrealism, among other contemporary art movements at the forefront of a thriving art culture in New York City.

While he worked at as curator at the Museum of Modern Art, O'Hara would take walks around the city during his lunch hour and write poems that would later become known as his "lunch poems." These poems captured the spirit and culture of New York City, amidst a whirlwind of contemporary brands, scenes and images. These poems were something that came out of the exterior, that involved looking around, and perhaps one could imagine O'Hara jotting down notes furiously in an attempt to capture in language everything around him and endlessly as busy as the city around him. Because O’Hara uses so much content from his surroundings, he opens up poetry as a space where one can find inspiration just by looking around. His poetry inspires us to become more attentive to our surroundings and find the poetry that is around us.

Photograph of Frank O'Hara

Source

Have you read Frank O'Hara before?

See results

"A Step Away From Them"

“A Step Away From Them” is a poem from Frank O'Hara's collection of lunch poems. The poem captures the vibe of the city, its images which are laced with diversity, chaos and its underlying socioeconomic, racial and consumerism issues

It is O’Hara’s lunch hour in New York City, and he walks around keeping tabs of his surroundings, which are constantly under flux. There is the flipping of skirts above the heels, the hum-colored cabs packed in traffic, the cats playing in sawdust, the honking of cars and the blinking of neon lights in broad daylight. There are images of people, a diverse cross-section of New Yorkers of various socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. O’Hara makes note of the laborers on the sidewalk with their exposed sweating bodies, the brief flirting between a black man and a white girl, the Puerto Ricans on the avenue, and the lady wearing foxes putting her poodle in a cab. In his brief snapshots of people, he manages to capture a range of qualities and portrayals: the sexual innuendos represented by the “dirty glistening torsos” and the encounter between the black man and white girl: “A Negro stands in a doorway with a toothpick, languorously agitating. A blonde chorus girl clicks: he smiles and rubs his chin.”

The poem is also packed with images of mass consumerism and references to pop culture. First, there are the workers consuming sandwiches and Coca-Cola, a literal take on the consumerism culture. O’Hara stops to look at bargain wristwatches in the window. A sign in Times Square blows smoke and neon lights shine brightly in broad daylight, a display of extravagance and luxurious consumerism. O’Hara stops for a cheeseburger at a local shop when something makes him think of Giulietta Masina, an Italian actress, who makes him think of her husband and film director Federico Fellini. He consumes chocolate malted and spies a lady wearing foxes, fashionable in the day but redundant in the day’s heat. He makes references to John La Touche and Jackson Pollock, famous contemporaries in the arts and passes magazine stands depicting nudes, a poster for BULLFIGHT and the warehouse that was formerly used for an art show. Lastly, O’Hara downs a glass of papaya juice, an exotic drink that summarizes the exoticism of the city and with a sheet of Poems by Pierre Reverdy in his pocket, ends his lunch break.

Every sentence is laced with key references to the city, the people, the activity, the food and the culture. The details work toward creating a diverse, chaotic and apt portraiture of New York, bringing to the forefront its characteristic consumerism, diversity, summer heat and busy streets. Exotic, sexual and culturally refined tones of the city are all blended into one, the sexuality of the bare-torsoed workers, the street flirtation and the nude magazines happening not far from refined culture, the warehouse formerly housing an art show and O’Hara’s references to John La Touche and Jackson Pollock, artists who have contributed to the New York art scene. In juxtaposing a variety of tones and levels of refinement, O’Hara may be suggesting that the street-level activity and the unrefined have a place in the broader culture of New York. To capture New York is to capture all of its levels of refinements, and O’Hara in creating his poem, associates apparently disparate activities with each other and creates a poem that bubbles with activity and chaos in the sheer enormity that it tries to capture.

Ease of Accessibility

O’Hara’s poem inspires because of the enormity it captures and because of its continuous applicability in our lives. Especially for those living in cities, each and every one of the details presented in the poem is easily replaceable by fresher contemporary images fitted to the reader’s imagination. A window display of the latest electronic devices, neon lights advertising Wing Stop and a dilapidated building once a performance venue may find their way easily into this poem. His poetry shows how poetry can come to life in the minor quotidian details that are seemingly random but can be organized to create notions and patterns about the city life.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)