'A Step Away From Them' by Frank O'Hara


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It's my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk
where laborers feed their dirty
glistening torsos sandwiches
and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets
on. They protect them from falling
bricks, I guess. Then onto the
avenue where skirts are flipping
above heels and blow up over
grates. The sun is hot, but the
cabs stir up the air. I look
at bargains in wristwatches. There
are cats playing in sawdust.On
to Times Square, where the sign
blows smoke over my head, and higher
the waterfall pours lightly. A
Negro stands in a doorway with a
toothpick, languorously agitating
A blonde chorus girl clicks: he
smiles and rubs his chin. Everything
suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of
a Thursday.Neon in daylight is a
great pleasure, as Edwin Denby would
write, as are light bulbs in daylight.
I stop for a cheeseburger at JULIET'S
CORNER. Giulietta Maina, wife of
Federico Fellini, bell' attrice.
And chocolate malted. A lady in
foxes on such a day puts her poodle
in a cab.There are several Puerto
Ricans on the avenue today, which
makes it beautiful and warm. First
Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollock. But is the
earth as full of life was full, of them?
And one has eaten and one walks,
past the magazines with nudes
and the posters for BULLFIGHT and
the Manhatten Storage Warehouse,
which they'll soon tear down. I
used to think they had the Armory
Show there.A glass of papaya juice
and back to work. My heart is in my
pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry, A Step Away From Them: A Critical Analysis

Frank O'Hara's "Poetry, A Step Away From Them" is a captivating piece of poetry that blends vivid imagery with clever wordplay to create a work that is both playful and profound. Written in 1956, the poem is an expression of the poet's inner thoughts and feelings as he wanders through the streets of New York City. In this essay, we will explore the themes and techniques employed by O'Hara in "Poetry, A Step Away From Them" and examine the significance of the poem in the context of O'Hara's wider body of work.

Background

Frank O'Hara was a prominent member of the New York School of poets, which emerged in the 1950s and 60s. The New York School was known for its experimental and avant-garde approach to poetry, drawing inspiration from modernist art and literature. O'Hara was heavily influenced by the Abstract Expressionist movement, which was flourishing in New York City at the time. His poetry often incorporated elements of stream-of-consciousness writing, which he used to explore his own thoughts and emotions.

"Poetry, A Step Away From Them" was originally published in O'Hara's 1957 collection, "Meditations in an Emergency". The poem is notable for its use of free verse, which allows O'Hara to experiment with line breaks and rhythm. The poem is also notable for its use of everyday language and imagery, which is a hallmark of the New York School's approach to poetry.

Analysis

The poem begins with the line, "It's my lunch hour, so I go / For a walk among the hum-colored / Cabs". This opening is significant because it sets the scene for the rest of the poem. O'Hara is walking through the city during his lunch break, and he is surrounded by the noise and chaos of the city. The "hum-colored cabs" suggest that the city is alive and buzzing with energy. The use of the word "hum" also creates a sense of movement and activity, which is reinforced by the use of enjambment between the first and second lines.

As O'Hara continues his walk, he begins to observe the people and objects around him. He describes a woman on the street as "beautiful", and he is captivated by a fire truck rushing by. The poem is filled with these fleeting observations, which are presented in a stream-of-consciousness style. O'Hara is not interested in telling a coherent story, but rather in capturing the essence of a moment through vivid imagery.

One of the most striking images in the poem is the description of the woman on the street. O'Hara writes, "She's gone. She's / Nothing. But while she was / There I saw blue eyes and golden / Hair". This passage is significant because it highlights the ephemeral nature of human experience. The woman is only present for a moment, but O'Hara is able to capture her beauty and essence through his words. The use of enjambment also creates a sense of movement and transience, which reinforces the idea that nothing in life is permanent.

As O'Hara continues his walk, he begins to reflect on the nature of poetry itself. He writes, "But I guess my / Heart didn't leap at first glance / To her, nor did all the coffee I've / Had this morning". This passage is significant because it suggests that O'Hara is struggling to find inspiration for his poetry. The fact that he has had "all the coffee" he can drink suggests that he is trying to force himself to be creative, but he is not finding the inspiration he needs.

Later in the poem, O'Hara writes, "Oh! Kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas! / You really are beautiful! Pearls, / Harmonicas, jujubes, aspirins!" This passage is significant because it highlights the role of imagination in poetry. O'Hara is able to find beauty in even the most mundane objects, such as aspirin tablets. The use of exclamation marks reinforces the idea that O'Hara is excited by the world around him, and he is eager to capture this excitement in his poetry.

Themes

One of the key themes in "Poetry, A Step Away From Them" is the idea of transience. O'Hara is acutely aware of the fleeting nature of human experience, and he is determined to capture these fleeting moments through his poetry. He is also aware of the transience of inspiration, and he is struggling to find the inspiration he needs to write.

Another key theme in the poem is the idea of imagination. O'Hara is able to find beauty in even the most mundane objects, and he is able to use his imagination to create poetry out of the world around him. This theme is significant because it highlights the role of the poet as an observer and interpreter of the world.

Significance

"Poetry, A Step Away From Them" is significant because it is representative of O'Hara's wider body of work. O'Hara was known for his ability to capture the essence of a moment through vivid imagery and stream-of-consciousness writing. The poem is also significant because it is representative of the New York School's approach to poetry, which was characterized by experimentation and a rejection of traditional poetic forms.

Conclusion

In conclusion, "Poetry, A Step Away From Them" is a captivating piece of poetry that explores the themes of transience and imagination. O'Hara's use of vivid imagery and stream-of-consciousness writing creates a sense of movement and energy that is characteristic of the New York School's approach to poetry. The poem is significant in the context of O'Hara's wider body of work, and it is a testament to his ability to capture the essence of a moment through his words.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry A Step Away From Them: A Masterpiece of Modern Poetry

Frank O'Hara's Poetry A Step Away From Them is a masterpiece of modern poetry that captures the essence of urban life in New York City. The poem is a celebration of the city and its people, and it is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the beauty and complexity of everyday life.

The poem is structured in a series of short, free-verse stanzas that capture the rhythm and energy of the city. O'Hara's use of language is simple and direct, yet it is also rich and evocative. He uses everyday language and images to create a vivid portrait of the city and its people.

The poem begins with the line "It's my lunch hour, so I go / for a walk among the hum-colored / cabs." This opening line sets the tone for the rest of the poem. It is a simple statement of fact, yet it is also a powerful evocation of the city and its people. The use of the word "hum-colored" to describe the cabs is particularly effective. It suggests the constant noise and activity of the city, and it also suggests the energy and vitality of the people who live and work there.

As the poem progresses, O'Hara introduces a series of characters who inhabit the city. There is the "Negro boy" who is "selling papers" and the "blonde chorus girl" who is "stepping into a limousine." These characters are not described in great detail, but they are vividly evoked through O'Hara's use of language. They are part of the fabric of the city, and they are as much a part of the poem as the buildings and streets.

One of the most striking features of the poem is its use of imagery. O'Hara uses a series of vivid, often surreal images to capture the essence of the city. For example, he describes "the pigeons in the park / without any shoes" and "the sunflower / that tiredly follows / the sun." These images are not meant to be taken literally, but they are powerful evocations of the city and its people. They suggest the beauty and complexity of everyday life, and they remind us that there is always more to the world than meets the eye.

Another important aspect of the poem is its use of sound. O'Hara's language is musical and rhythmic, and it is full of internal rhymes and alliteration. For example, he writes "I look / and the whole thing beautifies." This use of sound is not just decorative; it is an integral part of the poem's meaning. It suggests the energy and vitality of the city, and it also suggests the power of poetry to capture that energy and vitality.

At its heart, Poetry A Step Away From Them is a celebration of life. It is a celebration of the city and its people, and it is a celebration of the power of poetry to capture the beauty and complexity of everyday life. O'Hara's poem reminds us that there is always more to the world than meets the eye, and it encourages us to look more closely at the world around us.

In conclusion, Poetry A Step Away From Them is a masterpiece of modern poetry that captures the essence of urban life in New York City. It is a celebration of the city and its people, and it is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the beauty and complexity of everyday life. O'Hara's use of language, imagery, and sound is masterful, and his poem is a powerful reminder of the beauty and vitality of the world around us.

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