Having a Coke with You

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Having a Coke with You

Frank O’Hara 1960

Author Biography

Poem Summary



Historical Context

Critical Overview



For Further Study

Frank O’Hara’s love poem, “Having a Coke with You,” was first published in a small press magazine called Love. O’Hara wrote the poem four days after returning to New York City from a business trip in Spain on April 21, 1960. “Having a Coke with You” is one of many love poems that O’Hara composed during his love affair with Vincent Warren, a dancer with whom O’Hara was madly in love. “Having a Coke with You” expresses O’Hara’s idea that poems can be as direct and personal as telephone conversations. It describes the affection O’Hara felt for Warren. By listing the details of his love for Warren, then comparing them to his own activities in Spain, and great works of Western art, O’Hara compares art to the real experience of a lover’s company and beauty. O’Hara was an associate curator for the Museum of Modern Art in New York and while in Spain, organized a show called “New Spanish Painting and Sculpture.” References to paintings and sculpture, such as Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase and Marino Marini’s Horse and Rider, suggests that the artists were not necessarily in love with their subjects. Throughout the poem O’Hara juxtaposes life and art. Life, in O’Hara’s interpretation is always the better of the two; it is dynamic and unmediated.

The poem is short, written in long, largely unpunctuated lines, giving it a breathless quality. His use of repetition, detail, and imagery give the poem a cartoonish and hallucinatory sensation.

Author Biography

The first child of Russell J. and Katherine Broderick O’Hara, Francis Russell O’Hara, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 27, 1926. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Grafton, Massachusetts, where his father managed the family’s three farms. Rural life, however, never appealed to O’Hara. He was drawn to the activity and energy of cities. “I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass,” he once wrote, “unless I know there’s a subway handy or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life.” O’Hara’s first love was music. He began taking lessons at the age of seven and later studied piano at the New England Conservatory, nurturing a desire to become a concert pianist. After serving two years as a sonar operator on the destroyer U.S.S. Nicholas, O’Hara enrolled at Harvard University under the G.I. Bill of Rights. He first majored in music and then English literature. At Harvard, O’Hara made friends with a number of artists, musicians, and poets, including Edward Gorey, Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery, and James Schuyler. Later, the four were known as members of the New York School of Poets. Encouraged by poet and teacher John Ciardi, O’Hara enrolled at the University of Michigan and won a prestigious Hopwood Award for his poetry. He also received a master of arts degree in literature in 1951.

After graduating from the University of Michigan, O’Hara moved to New York City, working at a number of low-level jobs at the Museum of Modern Art. He began writing reviews for Art News before landing a position as special assistant to the director of MOMA’s (Museum of Modern Art) International Program. O’Hara befriended many artists and poets in the city. In particular, he became friends with Abstract Expressionist painters such as Jackson Pollock, Larry Rivers, Willem de Kooning, and Franz Kline. His knowledge and passion for the art world directly influenced his poetry. “Sometimes I think I’m in love with painting,” he once wrote. O’Hara’s reputation as a poet—already established in literary circles—burgeoned in 1957 with the publication of Meditations in an Emergency, his first book with a commercial press. That reputation became national in 1960 when Donald Allen published a large group of his poems in the ground-breaking anthology The New American Poetry, 1945–60, a book that poet and Beat cultural icon Allen Ginsberg described as “a great blow for liberty.” Other O’Hara poetry collections include Oranges (1953), Second Avenue

(1960), Odes (1960), and Lunch Poems (1965). Having a Coke with You was originally published the same year as Odes, appearing in a small press magazine called Love and then later in his collection entitled Love Poems (Tentative Title).

O’Hara was appointed associate curator for MOMA in 1965 and was in line to be promoted to full curator when, on July 25, 1966, he died after being hit by a dune buggy on Fire Island in New York the day before. The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara, published posthumously and edited by Donald Allen, received the National Book Award in 1971.

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[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

Poem Summary

Lines 1–10

The first line of “Having a Coke with You” is a predicate to the title. The speaker lists the reasons why he would rather have a Coke with the person he loves. The list of names in the first line refers to the cities in Spain on O’Hara’s itinerary. The second line refers to a hangover the author had after a night of food and drink in Barcelona; he had vomited in the gutter of Cuixart’s house. Lines three through six provide the details of his adoring love affair. St. Sebastian, referenced to in the third line, was a Roman martyr and is considered to be a protector against the plague. His death is often foreshadowed within the poem by images of arrows piercing his body. The last four lines of the stanza underscore the speaker’s belief that being with his lover is a more enjoyable experience than observing art. The speaker compares the dynamics of his feelings for his love to motionless statues: “it is

Media Adaptations

  • The Academy of American Poets sponsors a Frank O’Hara page at http://www.poets.org/poets/poets.cfm?prmID=165 (January 2001), with links to articles on the poet.
  • A Frank O’Hara website, at http://www.frankohara.com/Pages/MainPage.html (January 2001), incorporates links to other O’Hara websites.
  • American Poetry Archives released Frank O’Hara Second Edition in 1978. This video features outtakes from the 1966 NET series USA: Poetry and shows O’Hara discussing poetry with filmmaker Al Leslie.
  • Recycled Video put out a film diary by Jonas Mekas called Lost, Lost, Lost, which includes Mekas discussing his friendships with O’Hara and other poets such as Allen Ginsberg and LeRoi Jones.
  • New Albion Records released Three Voices: for Joan La Barbara in 1989. This compact disc features O’Hara’s poem “Wind” set to music by Morton Feldman.

hard to believe when I’m with you there can be anything as still / as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary.” The final lines offer a simile. The speaker compares himself and his lover to a “tree breathing through its spectacles.” This surreal image joins the qualities of a statue and the qualities of a human being.

Lines 11–23

Lines eleven and twelve refer to an art exhibition O’Hara recently attended. Still caught in the intensity of his feelings for his lover, the speaker cannot appreciate the beauty of the paintings; he wonders why someone would take the trouble to paint them. The speaker continues the comparisons. In the first stanza, he compares his lover to great works of Western art. His lover, for example, far surpasses all art except in the rare case of Rembrandt’s Polish Rider. The painting, oil on canvas painted in 1655, depicts a writer who was evicted from Poland for publishing a pamphlet in Amsterdam in the defense of free-thinking. The painting expresses the sympathy of the painter for the just cause of free-thinking. O’Hara is drawn to the subject matter and the beauty of the painting. The Frick is a museum in New York City that houses many of the world’s art masterpieces. Line seventeen notes how his lover moves “so beautifully” and refers to Warren’s life as a dancer. Futurism was an art movement in the early twentieth century that valorized machines, motion, and speed. Art from this movement attempts to depict successful active positions of a subject simultaneously.

O’Hara underscores his obsession with Warren when he suggests that the dancer occupies his entire attention and he does not even think of art that “used to wow me” when he’s in the presence of Warren’s dancing. He comments on Marcel Duchamp’s painting Nude Descending a Staircase, and Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo, implying that they pale in comparison to Warren’s love. In lines 20 through 23, O’Hara extends his thinking by suggesting that all the great painters would have been greater if they focused less on technique and research and focused more on finding passionate subjects. This idea embodied the image of having the “right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank.” The meaning behind this verse revolves around the need for painters to play a creative role in their paintings. He repeats this idea when he says that Marino Marini “didn’t pick the rider as carefully as the horse.” Marino Marini was a twentieth-century Italian sculptor whose work consisted largely of horses and riders. His best known work is Horseman (1952), housed in the Walker Art Museum of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The artists were more concerned with representations of beauty than real life beauty. O’Hara concludes, “it seems they were all cheated out of some marvelous experience.”


Art and Experience

“Having a Coke with You” privileges the flux of experience over the static nature of art. Rather than representing a thing, such as a face or a horse and its rider, O’Hara’s poem attempts to represent the rush of emotion itself. O’Hara captures the breathless quality of experience by launching into the poem immediately, making the first line a continuation of the title, and then piling up perceptions and thoughts. Beat writers Jack Kerouac and Allen

Topics for Further Study

  • In line 20 the speaker asks “what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them[?]” Who were the Impressionists and what role do they play in this poem? Can O’Hara’s poem be considered an Impressionist poem? Why or why not?
  • O’Hara’s poem addresses the relationship between art and life. Using examples from your own experiences, describe the ways in which art can be said to imitate life and vice versa.
  • Write a love poem comparing the object of your love to a thing or an activity that you also love. How does your poem compare to O’Hara’s poem in terms of relating your two love objects? Do they share a certain tone, style, form, and rhythm?
  • O’Hara wrote this poem in 1960, before public professions of love for the same sex became accepted. Rewrite this poem as you think O’Hara might write it today.

Ginsberg wrote in a similar way. They transcribed their thinking as it happened and revised very little. Fellow New York School poets John Ashbery and James Schuyler also practiced this kind of poetic composition.

Love and Passion

It has often been said that love is blind. O’Hara plays with this notion, suggesting that although blindness may perhaps be a consequence of love, it is also pleasurable, desirable, and an emotional state from which people can learn. O’Hara’s poem is replete with visual imagery and allusions. The smiles of the speaker and his lover take on a “secrecy”—alluding to the public discretion to which gay couples had to adhere in mid-century America—but, it also enhances the relationship. The speaker describes the way in which their selves mix, as they drift “back and forth / between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles.” Being in love causes the speaker to think about how others can possibly live in the world without love. At an art museum, he sees “no faces . . . just paint,” and proclaims to his lover “I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world.” This type of hyperbole is often common to those who are passionately in love and want to express that love to the object of one’s feelings. In poetry, this tradition is long. One can think of Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress,” for example, in which the speaker uses hyperbolic flattery in an attempt to seduce a woman. O’Hara’s goal, however, is not seduction but rather an adequate description of his love. This description also carries with it a lesson for others. That lesson, spelled out in the poem’s final two lines, is similar to the argument that Marvell attempts in his poem: life is short; seize the day, and choose love.



“Having a Coke with You” is addressed to a particular reader. This reader, O’Hara’s lover Vincent Warren, understands the significance of the references because he is aware of the circumstances. O’Hara named his practice of addressing poems to individuals “Personism,” claiming that he could use the telephone instead of writing the poem if he chose. Such a practice puts readers in the position of voyeurs, reading a text ostensibly meant for someone else.


As in many of his poems, O’Hara uses lists to create a poetic effect. In the first stanza, he catalogues reasons for why having a Coke with his lover is better than almost anything. The accumulation of details, in addition to developing a rhythm for the poem, creates a sense of intimacy and establishes the authenticity of the speaker’s claims. Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg are two of the most well-known poets who used lists extensively in their poems.


The absence of end punctuation marks and the lower case beginning of sentences help create the sense that all of the ideas and perceptions in the poem are equal and that the poem is a spontaneous expression of the poet’s emotions.

Historical Context

O’Hara wrote “Having a Coke with You” in 1960, the same year that Donald Allen’s anthology The New American Poetry: 1945–1960 was published. This anthology gathered together many of the poets, including O’Hara, who were experimenting with form and subject matter and who did not make their living teaching in universities. Allen grouped poets according to schools, such as Black Mountain, New York, San Francisco Renaissance, and Beat Generation, groupings which literary historians and critics still use today. In his introduction, Allen writes “Through their work many are closely allied to modern jazz and abstract expressionist painting, today recognized throughout the world to be America’s greatest achievement in contemporary culture.” Critic Christopher Benfey questions the connection between abstract expressionist painting and poetry with which it is supposedly “allied,” claiming that “one advantage of the label [New York School, in which Allen included O’Hara] was that it asserted a merely geographical common ground between these poets and ‘New York School’ painters such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.” Benfey writes that although the poets and painters might share a kind of New York City brashness in their respective arts, “nobody was claiming any specific technical or aesthetic parallels, or implying that these poets were ‘Abstract Expressionist’ poets, or ‘Action’ poets, or ‘drip’ poets.”

Pop Art overlapped with and, in many ways, grew out of Abstract Expressionism. The late 1950s and 1960s saw artists such as Larry Rivers and Robert Rauschenberg mix familiar imagery from popular culture, high art, and nostalgic Americana to create paintings and collages that challenged the idealism of Abstract Expressionism. Rivers’ painting, George Washington Crossing the Delaware, for example, appropriates imagery the famous nineteenth-century painting—George Washington standing on the bow of a boat—into modern context, rein-vigorating what had become a pictorial cliché. Jasper Johns, Roy Liechtenstein, and Andy Warhol embodied the fully-flowered spirit of Pop Art in their appropriation of brand names, symbols, and their use of cartoon imagery. Influenced by these artists, O’Hara frequently draws on popular culture in his own writing. Coke, after all, is unquestionably one of the most recognizable consumer brand names. However, O’Hara’s contribution to contemporary culture went beyond his own poetry in 1960. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Spanish exhibition, which O’Hara was organizing and to which he alludes in his poem, opened in July. Many critics in the art community were suspicious of the exhibition, as Fascist Generalissimo Franco was in power in

Compare & Contrast

  • 1960: The Picasso exhibition at Tate Gallery, London, opens.

    Today: Most of Picasso’s paintings can now be found online at (http://www.tamu.edu/mocl/picasso/) which is called the On-line Picasso Project.
  • 1960: The American Heart Association issues a report attributing higher death rates among middle-aged men to heavy smoking of cigarettes.

    2000: The tobacco industry is under siege, as individuals and states file suit after suit against cigarette manufacturers. In July, 2000, a Miami, Florida, jury orders big U.S. cigarette companies to pay $145 billion in punitive damages.
  • 1960: Charles Van Doren is among thirteen contestants on the television game show “21” arrested for perjury in testifying that answers to questions were not given to them in advance.

    1994: A major motion picture based on the 1959–1960 “21” scandal is released. Quiz Show is directed by Robert Redford and stars Ralph Fiennes, John Turturro, and Rob Morrow.

Spain and they assumed had given his approval for the works to be included in the show.

In general, the circles in which O’Hara moved in the 1960s were bohemian and liberal. The Beat movement of the 1950s gave way to the Civil Rights era, and John F. Kennedy’s election in 1960 promised hope and change for America’s poor. Martin Luther King, Jr. led sit-in demonstrations against racial discrimination, and in 1961 the Congress of Racial Equality sponsored a series of “freedom rides” to force the federal government to speed up integration of interstate commerce. Though he worked in the rarefied air of museum high culture, O’Hara often embraced the unheralded, the marginal, and the unknown.

Critical Overview

Although O’Hara never hid his homosexuality, he never wrote openly gay poems until he met Vincent Warren. O’Hara critic Alan Feldman notes that “Having a Coke with You” was one of the last love poems O’Hara wrote to Vincent before he began having doubts about him. Feldman writes that “Having a Coke with You” is about “simple joy,” and that it “evoke[s], perhaps better than any poem in the language, what might be called a date mood.” Feldman explains that “On a date (a really good one, that is) we try to focus on the person we are with as though to extract the maximum amount of pleasure from even the smallest details and gestures.” Biographer Brad Gooch conceptualizes the poem, noting that when O’Hara returned from Spain he became caught up in an exhibit he was working on in his capacity as associate curator and that writing the piece allowed him “to put his work in the proper perspective with life.” Gooch also observes that it was one of O’Hara’s last love poems to Warren, and notes that one possible reason for their breakup was because shortly after O’Hara returned from Spain he discovered that both he and Warren had syphilis. Warren admits that it was probably he that had given it to O’Hara. George Butterick writes that the love poems O’Hara wrote to Warren, including “Having a Coke with You” “are all affirmative, delicate, precise, poems of frontal immediacy, heartfelt, with feeling no longer hidden behind a bravado of brilliant images and discordant segments.” Critic Helen Vendler is forward in her assessment of the poem, claiming that it is “one of the most beautiful of many [of O’Hara’s] love poems.”


Chris Semansky

Semansky publishes poetry, fiction, and essays regularly in literary magazines and journals. In the

“However, O’Hara, like the other poets with whom he is often linked— John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler—was not really a philosopher or even a critic, although he wrote many art reviews and copy for museum catalogues. He was an artist himself and saw words as a kind of paint that captured and created experience.”

following essay, he considers the aesthetics of “Having a Coke with You.”

Frank O’Hara’s love poem “Having a Coke with You,” written to his lover Vincent Warren, takes as its theme the function of aesthetics. Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy that concerns beauty and taste. Questions it attempts to answer include: what makes art, art?; why do we like some kinds of art and not others?; what is the point of art?; and what is the relationship between the beautiful and the good? O’Hara, who worked as a curator for the Museum of Modern Art, literally makes Warren into a work of art within his poem, and suggests that love itself should be considered a criterion when judging a work of art.

Historically critics and writers have judged art by its effect on the viewer. In the early nineteenth century, the word “aesthetics” largely meant the manner in which art was apprehended through the senses, with an emphasis on the visual. Issues such as art’s relationship to society didn’t become a major concern until the twentieth century. However, O’Hara, like the other poets with whom he is often linked—John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler—was not really a philosopher or even a critic, although he wrote many art reviews and copy for museum catalogues. He was an artist himself and saw words as a kind of paint that captured and created experience. O’Hara critic Alan Feldman notes that O’Hara and the other New York School poets

are not interested in the concept of the soul or the business of the soul. . . . They are not interested in death and violence except in its capacity for energizing language. . . . Their poems never contain a message to help us make some kind of moral order in our lives. They are neither concerned with timeless values, nor with portraying average, everyday reality. Instead they’re interested in the colors and textures of life as momentary, isolated phenomena, detached from intellectual, moral or religious pattern.

In treating Warren as an art object himself, O’Hara paints a portrait of the dancer indirectly, by focusing on what makes Warren loveable to him. This is the same tact a painter might take in creating a portrait of a lover, emphasizing the lover’s hair, or smile, or eyes. O’Hara emphasizes individual parts of Warren such as his orange shirt and his love for yogurt, but also emphasizes their own relationship, “the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary.” All of these details are specific to O’Hara’s taste and to the relationship itself. That is, another poet writing of Warren would not necessarily even mention these details. By referring to places and incidents about which only Warren would know the significance, O’Hara is practicing “Personism,” his own theory of poetry. Ironically, O’Hara does not care if readers get the references in his poems or not. In his essay “Personism,” written for fellow poet LeRoi Jones’ magazine Yugen, O’Hara writes:

But how can your really care if anybody gets it [the poem], or gets what it means, or if it improves them. Improves them for what? For death? Why hurry them along? Too many poets act like a middle-aged mother trying to get her kids to eat too much cooked meat, and potatoes with dripping (tears). I don’t give a damn whether they eat or not. Forced feeding leads to excessive thinness (effete). Nobody should experience anything they don’t need to, if they don’t need poetry bully for them.

This attitude towards poetry and by extension to art itself is populist in sentiment. That is, although himself a student of art and someone responsible for acquiring art for MOMA’s many exhibitions, O’Hara implicitly expresses a disdain for art that might be technically and formally brilliant but lacking in passion and feeling. The feeling in “Having a Coke with You” is as much the feeling of frivolity and fun. The very title suggests as much. Having a drink with someone is often what people do on dates. That the drink is a Coke, as opposed to say, a scotch and water, emphasizes the

What Do I Read Next?

  • John Ashbery was a close friend of O’Hara’s whose poetry helped to define the New York School style of writing. His long poem, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, published in 1975, won the Pulitzer Prize, The National Book Award, and The National Book Critics Circle Award.
  • John Gruen’s 1972 The Party’s Over Now: Reminiscences of the Fifities–New York’s Artists, Writers, Musicians, and Their Friends includes a chapter on O’Hara’s focusing of his own activities as a lyric writer for musicals.
  • John Bernard Myers edited the anthology The Poets of the New York School, which includes O’Hara’s work. This anthology contains a useful introduction by O’Hara’s first publisher, who provides a history of the New York School and how it came to be.
  • Rosanna Warren is a poet who, like O’Hara, has been deeply influenced by painting. Her poems, however, are less colloquial than O’Hara’s poems and more conventionally formal. Her collection Each Leaf Shines Separate offers many poems about art.
  • Richard Howard’s Alone with America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States Since 1950 is a veritable encyclopedia of Howard’s reviews and assorted essays on some of the twentieth century’s most influential poets, including O’Hara.
  • Alexander Smith Jr.’s Frank O’Hara: A Comprehensive Bibliography, published in 1979, provides a thorough list of criticism on O’Hara through 1978.
  • Donald Allen edited The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara, published in 1971. Allen, an anthologist and critic, is one of the foremost authorities on mid-century American poetry.
  • In the October 1998 issue of New Criterion, John Simon reviews David Lehman’s book The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets, arguing that O’Hara, Ashbery, Schuyler, and Koch have never “written what I would call a single poem of any importance.”

lightness of the occasion. O’Hara juxtaposes this feeling of lightness with references to some very “heavy” people, artists, and paintings. St. Sebastian, for example, who O’Hara says Warren looks like a “better happier” version, is a Christian martyr who died for his beliefs. Da Vinci and Michelangelo are two of the world’s most famous artists and known for the profundity and gravity of their art, and Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase is considered a masterpiece of modern perspective, are compared as well. By preferring having a Coke with Warren to any of these, O’Hara privileges the immediate and the popular and suggests that the true value of art is not in surviving time but in being in time. He underscores the distinction between art, life, the past, and the present when he writes “it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still / as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it.” Viewing museum art, which has been judged “great” by critics, history, and collected and exhibited, can never approach the experience of being in love, O’Hara suggests. Feldman sees this focus on the present as an attempt, conscious or not, to ignore the possibility that the relationship might not last. Feldman writes:

Explaining Vincent’s beauty, or even describing it, would be as tedious and unnecessary as explaining why a sunny spring day is lovely. But such blithe joy is, however, too carefree to last. This is not mentioned, yet perhaps O’Hara is signaling such an awareness by deliberately confining his admiration for Vincent to aesthetics. The question of whether Vincent is or is not the “right person” seems to be irrelevant to O’Hara as the identity of the person standing “near the tree” is to an impressionist painter whose only concern, after all, is points of light.

In poetry there is a tradition that takes as its subject other poems or works of art. These types of poems are called ekphrasis; they are representations of representations or mirrors of a sort. By treating Warren as a work of art and comparing him to other works of art, O’Hara is saying that Warren himself has representational meaning. For O’Hara, this meaning resides in the idea that rather than imitating art, life betters art. Ironically, however, O’Hara uses an art form, the poem, to make this claim. He achieves verisimilitude—the notion that art can create the illusion of reality—by explicitly criticizing the shortcomings of other art that, to him, has not achieved his standard of reality, which is based in a more psychological rather than empirical version of experience. At the heart of O’Hara’s poem, then, is the idea that art the world praises is emotionally cold because it concentrates too much on the illusion of appearance rather than feeling. O’Hara, on the other hand, approximates reality through the illusion of spontaneity. His poem has the feel of a diary entry jotted down in the heat of the moment, as opposed to the obviously well planned and meticulously detailed paintings to which he refers. Tradition, O’Hara suggests, can blunt the emotions and lead to cold art, if followed for the sake of tradition itself. He writes “and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them / when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank.” Rather than studying the masters, O’Hara suggests that poets “just go on your nerve,” something readers cannot help but think he would like painters to do as well. When he writes that “it seems they were all cheated out of some marvelous experience / which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it,” O’Hara is saying that the great painters and artists of the past concentrated too much on their art and not what their art was about.

O’Hara wrote scores of poems about his affair with Warren detailing the emotional ups and downs of the relationship, the doubts, the fears, and the jealousies. These poems, written in 1960–1961 during the eighteenth months of their relationship, were addressed to Warren and serve as a chronicle of the inner life of the affair. Their appeal is that although readers might not understand the references, they do understand the tone of the poems because they deal with the universal and familiar subject of love. So while readers might not know that the Spanish cities O’Hara lists in the first line of “Having a Coke with You,” the readers do not need to know that the cities he visited were efforts to recruit artists for a show at MOMA. And while readers might not be familiar with Duchamp’s or Rembrandt’s paintings or futurism, they do not need to. Readers can infer the speaker’s passion for his lover through the familiar gesture he makes of naming the small things he loves about him and by his comparing him to other objects of beauty. For O’Hara, beauty is love.

Source: Chris Semansky, Critical Essay on “Having a Coke with You,” in Poetry for Students, The Gale Group, 2001.

Cliff Saunders

Saunders teaches writing and literature in the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, area and has published six chapbooks of poetry. In the following essay, he praises “Having a Coke with You” as a vibrant, kinetic poem in which O’Hara celebrates the experience of new love while also, somewhat ironically, revealing his preference for ongoing life (i.e., process) over finished art (i.e., product).

Although O’Hara spent many years in the service of art, both as a critic and as an associate curator for the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, he clearly prized life more than art. This preference comes through loud and clear in much of his poetry, and it is the overriding theme of “Having a Coke with You.” Written during his most fertile period of poetic production (1959–1960) and later published as part of Love Poems (Tentative Title) in 1965, “Having a Coke with You” is widely considered one of O’Hara’s most successful love poems. According to noted literary critic Helen Vendler, it is one of O’Hara’s “most beautiful . . . love poems.” Other boosters of the poem are George F. Butterick and Robert J. Bertholf, who, in their entry on O’Hara in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, call it an “affirmative, delicate, precise” poem “of frontal immediacy.” And in his terrific study Frank O’Hara, author Alan Feldman contends that “Having a Coke” “evoke[s], perhaps better than any poem in the language, what might be called a date mood,” noting that the poem “is fun and is marvelous for the very reason that it lacks full awareness of the possibility of pain and sadness in love, or even of mixed feelings.” High praise indeed.

“Having a Coke” displays a number of O’Hara’s stylistic attributes: his unflinching honesty in expressing his feelings, his delightful wit, his breezy and engaging conversational tone, his gift for capturing movement on the page. Also present in the poem are those elements that O’Hara’s detractors have railed against: the numerous “hip insider” references, the lack of verbal compression, the “unmitigated gall” to think that every little thought and perception he possess, constitutes “art,” and is worthy of inclusion in a poem, which, of course, is what O’Hara’s poetry is all about: sheer gutsiness and passion for life. He said himself in his “Personism: A Manifesto”: “I don’t even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve.”

Sometimes, poetry needs a swift kick to the butt in order to get it moving again, to recharge it, to dislodge it from convention and stasis, and, today, O’Hara is widely admired for injecting new life and vitality into American poetry during a time (the ultraconservative 1950s and early 1960s) when it sorely needed a shot in the heart. O’Hara loved life and the twists and turns of human relationships in all their glorious messiness, and the unpredictability, and if the reader comes away with anything from his poetry, it is his intense passion for life. As Feldman points out so insightfully, O’Hara’s poems “try to record the instant at which experience is gathering itself into something that deserves the artist’s attention, a confluence of feeling and perception that is suffused with a sense of its own passing away.” The key, of course, is to trust the validity of one’s own experience, no matter how minor or insignificant the details, and to communicate that experience authentically on the page. Frequently, O’Hara succeeds in doing so, but not always. Some of his longer poems get bogged down with excessive chatter, as if O’Hara could not restrain himself even though he surely knew better. When O’Hara does restrain himself and adheres to organic selectivity in the details, great things happen in his poetry. Case in point: “Having a Coke with You.”

That the poem is addressed to O’Hara’s homosexual lover at the time, dancer Vincent Warren, may be of biographical interest but ultimately is not of thematic concern. The poem is about that joyous state anyone feels when first falling love, and it celebrates the newness, the freshness, of that universal experience, though not in any traditional sense. Rather than rhapsodize about his love in an overtly poetical way, O’Hara expresses his feelings casually and dispassionately, trusting that a faithful recording of his thoughts and feelings that day will get to the heart of the matter. And what exactly is the heart of the matter? Simply stated, it is O’Hara’s realization that ongoing life (i.e., process) is preferable to finished art (i.e., product). To O’Hara, “all the portraits in the world” cannot hold

“Also present in the poem are those elements that O’Hara’s detractors have railed against: the numerous ‘hip insider’ references, the lack of verbal compression, the ‘unmitigated gall’ to think that every little thought and perception he possess, constitutes ‘art,’ and is worthy of inclusion in a poem, which, of course, is what O’Hara’s poetry is all about: sheer gutsiness and passion for life.”

a candle to the active beauty of a living, breathing human face. Notice in line 8 how O’Hara criticizes statuary as being “solemn” and “unpleasantly definitive.” Later, in lines 10 and 11, he expresses equal dissatisfaction with the portrait show he and his lover are attending, accusing it of having “no faces in it at all, just paint.” Art, O’Hara seems to be suggesting in this poem, sucks the life out of life itself.

In typical O’Hara irony, he says he might like to see one painting, Rembrandt’s Polish Rider, as often as the face of his lover, but toward the end of the poem, he accuses twentieth-century Italian sculptor Marino Marini of failing to “pick the rider as carefully / as the horse.” He also has uncomplimentary things to say about the Impressionist painters (“they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank”), and even the Great Masters Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo do not thrill him much any more. To be sure, many of O’Hara’s criticisms in the poem are tongue in cheek, for how could an art critic and museum curator like O’Hara not love art? Still, one gets the sense that if he had to make a choice, “messy” life would win out over “perfect” art every time.

O’Hara knows that art is an indispensable facet of life and worthy of love and respect, but statuary and paintings are static (i.e., rigid and immobile), and O’Hara prizes movement, speed, and kinetic energy. Throughout his poetry, O’Hara shows a clear preference for action over stasis. In fact, as Scott Giantvalley notes in his entry on O’Hara for the Critical Survey of Poetry series, O’Hara was much enamored of “action painting, a style indigenous to New York and led by Jackson Pollock,” a style whose “random quality, abstractness, and emphasis on the process of painting rather than the static permanence demonstrated in a still life or a portrait all have their correspondences in O’Hara’s poetry.” These elements are all present in “Having a Coke with You,” giving the poem a quick-moving, almost scattershot feel to it. One could even call “Having a Coke” an “action poem,” a term used by Butterick and Bertholf in reference to another O’Hara poem.

Along with the random quality of the poem’s observations (what, for example, do “the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches” in line 5 have to do with anything) and the poem’s overall abstractly kaleidoscopic effect, this quality of action (i.e., speed and movement) is forcefully communicated in a number of formalistic and stylistic choices made by O’Hara. For example, the way in which O’Hara runs the poem’s title into the first line immediately establishes a brisk pace, almost as though O’Hara cannot wait to get on with it. Notice also that the poem has no periods—or, for that matter, any kind of end-stop punctuation. Such punctuation implies fixity and stasis, running counter to the poem’s message. Periods, question marks, and semicolons would only make readers pause, slowing them down, and O’Hara cannot have that. This is New York City he’s describing, after all, where everything is go go go, where thoughts, observations, and sensory perceptions are scarcely made before others are crowding to take their place.

Even the poem’s long lines and the way sentences are extended and fused throughout those lines give the impression that words are pouring out of O’Hara almost faster than he can commit them to paper. Thus, even though the only action in the poem concerns two people walking through an art show, the style of writing is very action-oriented in terms of its liveliness and rapid movement from one observation to the next. This style directly mirrors the poem’s point that life (i.e., kinetic energy, ongoing change, process) may be chaotic and disjointed at times, but it sure beats any portrait or statue that drains the vitality and volatility of life in a quest for static perfection. Life is too short for exercises in representational flawlessness, O’Hara seems to be saying. Unlike those artsy-fartsy Impressionists, I’m going to live my life as fully as possible right now, for I won’t be “cheated of some marvelous experience.”

And he was not, of course, though his sudden death at age 40 in 1966 certainly cheated his readers of an untold number of poetic experiences. In his scant forty years, O’Hara lived more passionately, more intensely, and more fully than most people who live twice as long. He was so busy living, in fact, that he could hardly be bothered with something as mundane as submitting poems to journals for publication and organizing his poems into collections. Others had to do this for him, for O’Hara was notoriously casual about forging a career out of his unique poetic talent. Perhaps O’Hara felt that poetry books, like certain portraits and statuary, are too “solemn” and “unpleasantly definitive.” A poetry collection, after all, is presumably a finished work of art, a product, and O’Hara disliked completion. Rather, he preferred the journey toward completion, the process of life in motion, what Feldman calls “the self that is always becoming.” The circumstance of O’Hara’s death—he was struck and killed by a dune buggy on Fire Island—is often mentioned by poetry lovers as one of the strangest ways a poet has ever died. When you think about it, though, it makes perfect sense in O’Hara’s case. He was constantly on the go, barely stopping for a second, so he was bound to collide hard with something somewhere along the way.

Source: Cliff Saunders, Critical Essay on “Having a Coke with You,” in Poetry for Students, The Gale Group, 2001.

Jonathan N. Barron

Barron is an associate professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has co-edited Jewish American Poetry (from the University Press of New England), and Roads Not Taken: Rereading Robert Frost, (forthcoming from the University of Missouri Press) as well as a forthcoming collection of essays on the poetic movement, New Formalism. Beginning in 2001, he will be the editor in chief of The Robert Frost Review. In the following essay, he considers the impact of postmodernism on O’Hara’s poem.

Reading a Frank O’Hara poem is like being thrown into the middle of a party with some stranger’s intimate friends. One has to do one’s best to make sense of all the inside references, names, places, and things that one would have no reasonable reason to know. For many, this whirlwind of proper names can, depending on who these people are, be a most exhilarating experience. Cast without a net into the sophisticated, funny, and urbane world of Frank O’Hara’s 1960s New York, many never want to leave. For other readers, by contrast, the door cannot be found quickly enough. After the first bombardment of proper names, few experiences could be more annoying. In a discussion of O’Hara’s poetry, the literary critic, George Butter-ick, wrote “the language of the poems is ripe with in-talk of the 1960s; these qualities are indeed dominant in O’Hara’s poems from the start. They also happen to be the reason for their great success. This essay discusses the attraction so many have to O’Hara’s poetry, an attraction due to its refusal to use a generic name, a generalization, or a universal noun where a specific one can be found.

Postmodernism best explains why readers are so often compelled to enter the party that is Frank O’Hara’s poetry. Postmodernism, in other words, explains not only how to read a poem like “Having a Coke With You” but it also explains why its limited, even private poetic style is now one of the favorite forms of post World War II American poetry, a form called the New York School. Without rehearsing the many terms and definitions of either the New York School or of postmodernism, it is enough to know that, at its most simple, postmodernism defines an attitude towards the world and particularly towards language, and that the poetry of the New York School most often expresses that attitude in poetry. At its most basic, postmodernism is the name assigned to a radical skepticism about the existence of fundamental, deep, certain, and final truths. Is there one grand truth, one spiritual, even scientific meaning to life? The postmodernist rejects this possibility and, in so doing, refuses to believe that language, especially poetry, can be a vessel, or container of some grand truth. If there is no truth to begin with, how can one expect poetry to reveal it? And, even if there is a grand truth “out there,” even if there is a God, or a final scientific explanation for the meaning of life, no postmodernist would believe that language has the capacity to reveal it. Like a microscope, language, at best, is just an instrument. It can only allow us to see material facts in this world. To suggest that language has the power to do more than that, they argue, is to traffic in the impossible. If there is some Being, whether God or truth, the postmodernist is

“Is there one grand truth, one spiritual, even scientific meaning to life? The postmodernist rejects this possibility and, in so doing, refuses to believe that language, especially poetry, can be a vessel, or container of some grand truth. If there is no truth to begin with, how can one expect poetry to reveal it?”

convinced that no word, no mere language could possibly express, let alone contain it.

According to numerous literary scholars, the New York School in general and Frank O’Hara in particular manifest just this postmodern attitude. Perhaps the one scholar to discuss this dimension most is Mutlu Konuk Blasing. She, however, does not discuss “Having a Coke With You,” a poem surprisingly neglected in O’Hara scholarship. Taking Blasing’s reading of O’Hara’s postmodernism as a given, then, it would be a mistake to read “Having a Coke With You” as a simple code that, once cracked, will reveal a deeper, universal truth. Instead, with a postmodern perspective in mind, one must accept that each detail, each proper noun, each name stands for itself no more and no less. The great American poet, Walt Whitman, in a preface to his always-expanding collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, wrote: “I will have nothing hang in the way, not the richest curtains. What I tell I tell for precisely what it is.” Such is also the case in Frank O’Hara’s poetry. “The naked truth,” for O’Hara, as for Whitman, is that which one can see. That is to say, one can only recognize truth, meaning, even something as profound as love, through the things that make it possible. Is there love? Well, then, there must be a person one loves. Unlike O’Hara, however, Walt Whitman, as a romantic, still depicts a dualism between the material and the spiritual worlds in his poetry. To put an end to that dualism, the early twentieth-century modernist poet, William Carlos Williams, a mentor of sorts to Frank O’Hara, declared: “no ideas but in things.” In effect, Williams, through this bold claim, further refined Whitman’s use of things in poetry. According to Williams, poets would have to banish all abstract language in ways even Whitman would not have been able to do. According to Williams, it is impossible to discuss any idea, any abstraction, and any quality at all, without also, at the same time, depicting the thing that gave rise to it. Williams, therefore, meant to be even more naked, more close to the things of the world than Whitman. With the poetry of Frank O’Hara, the war against abstract language reaches a kind of climax.

In “Having a Coke With You,” it is as if O’Hara had transformed Williams’ “No ideas but in things” to the even more radical “everything an idea!” Even Williams refused to go that far. In his poetry, not all things necessarily lead to deep meaning. Rather, deep meaning can only be discovered in terms of something that gave rise to it. For Williams, as for the great theorist of psychology, Sigmund Freud, sometimes a cigar was just a cigar. O’Hara, by contrast, insists, in his poetry, that everything on this earth from a Coke bottle to his lover’s face has equal meaning, even profound meaning. His relentless insistence on the meaningfulness of every thing is particularly postmodern because it refuses to distinguish (as Williams did) between a realm of important highbrow things on the one hand and unimportant lowbrow things on the other. In O’Hara’s universe all things are equal because all things mean.

To show what happens when all things in a poem carry equally important, equally meaningful weight, one must begin examining the first stanza of “Having a Coke With You.” The poem appeared in Love Poems (Tentative Title) (1965), a collection published out of a New York art gallery, Tibor De Nagy. When the book was published, O’Hara was a well-established figure in the New York art world working at the Museum of Modern Art. And, thanks to O’Hara’s biographer, Brad Gooch, the specific context that gave rise to the poem is also now generally available. But even with this knowledge one must resist the temptation to see the poem as a personal code to crack in order to yield a larger, more universal meaning. In keeping with the postmodern attitude towards truth and language that this poem engages, the biographical details should be read not as a key to some other story in the poem but rather as the total story itself. In other words, the details matter so much in their own right as themselves that one mistakes the very meaning of the poem if one tries to make them mean something else.

Turning then to the poem, O’Hara’s biographer, Brad Gooch, explains that O’Hara wrote it on April 21, 1960, five years before it was published in book form. When he wrote the poem, O’Hara was deeply in love with a dancer, Vincent Warren. The poem was written to celebrate their relationship after a brief time apart. Specifically, on March 23, 1960, O’Hara left his home in New York City for Madrid where he was to gather material for a show on Spanish painting. His place of work, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, a major cultural institution in the United States, planned to open the show as a major production celebrating the recent work of Spain. After its New York debut, it was to travel throughout the United States. O’Hara’s job, therefore, was fundamental to this production; he would be in large part responsible for making the show possible. These facts, then, explain why there are so many allusions to art in “Having a Coke with You.” Art, particularly Spanish art, was all-consuming in the month he spent apart from Warren, the period depicted in this poem. After his month away, O’Hara came back to New York. He wrote this poem as if it were his own conversation with Warren while, quite literally, having a Coke with him.

Not quite a prose poem, certainly not a metrical or traditional poem, “Having a Coke with You” is divided into two stanzas of long lines. Each stanza is full to the brim with details of the trip to Spain. Looking just at the title and first stanza will indicate why the use of such detail matters so much to the poem, and why such use is best understood in a postmodern context. In the stanza’s ten lines, O’Hara declares his love for Warren by contrasting his time without him to his time, now that he is back in New York, with him. The very first line follows from the title as part of a sentence that the title begins: “Having a Coke With You / is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irun, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne.” According to O’Hara’s biographer, Gooch, these cities are, in fact, O’Hara’s “itinerary after Madrid.” In other words, O’Hara does not say: “Being with you is better than any exotic place I might have gone.” Instead, using specific nouns, he contrasts a simple, everyday and, for 1960, a very American experience, having a Coke with his lover in New York, with the European experience of business travel just concluded. A simple Coke, a regular, everyday American encounter, says O’Hara, far exceeds the experience of travel even to exotic locales. Does it matter that these are in fact cities O’Hara actually visited? Does it matter that they are named in the order he visited them? Yes and no. Yes, because the facts rather than some made up fantasy make his love seem all the more sincere. He went to these places and he still loves the Coke with Warren better. The names, on the other hand, do not matter because whatever Spanish cities or sites he might have named would have made the same point: what matters is the specific contrast between travel in Spain and a Coke in New York. O’Hara, in other words, connects the seemingly irrelevant, unimportant, lowly, even trivial event of a Coke with the seemingly more important, more meaningful event of travel in Spain. Not only is a Coke equal to that event, it is, says O’Hara, more important! Here, then, O’Hara has reversed the typical poetic logic that reads one kind of cultural experience, European travel, as superior to the popular cultural experience of drinking soda.

In the second line, O’Hara back-peddles. Now that he has delivered the emotional heart of the poem, he backs away from the potential Hallmark card version of sentimentality that any declaration of love risks. The second line, therefore, undercuts the romantic, sentimental tendency of the poem’s opening line. Just as with the first line, the details of the second matter for exactly what they say. Aware that he is sounding too mushy after his first line O’Hara next claims that having a Coke with Warren is more fun than “being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona.” This cynical and funny line is his way of saying that compared to vomiting in Spain, this Coke in New York really is more fun. But to attack, as this line does, the emotional revelation of the first line is, also, an insult to Warren. On the one hand, it saves O’Hara from seeming to be too sentimental but on the other it risks saying, “I don’t really love you, I just prefer you to being sick.” And so, the poem, in line three, begins a new topic. Rather than merely announce his love of and preference for Warren, O’Hara, from line three to the end of the stanza, tries to understand why he loves this man and why he prefers him. He establishes a rhythm whereby he declares his love, then makes a cynical comment undercutting it, then declares it again.

This rhythm has the effect of making O’Hara’s love for Warren sincere without being sentimental. It also takes O’Hara into a new and more profound dimension because, after line three, he begins to investigate the cause and origin of his love for this man. Rather than investigate his love in abstract language, however, O’Hara always stays on the surface. It is as if line three had said, “Why is having a Coke with Warren so wonderful, really?” To answer that implicit question, there follow four lines that begin with the word, “partly.” Four reasons, four partial explanations, account for his love of this man. Returning in a witty way to the first line’s mention of the town of St. Sebastian, O’Hara now compares Warren to the actual saint, a figure familiar to art history for the many depictions of his martyrdom. O’Hara says, “in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian.” This allusion is not just to a well-known Catholic Saint from the days of ancient Rome but also to the many famous paintings of St. Sebastian, particularly those from the Renaissance. In the typical painting, Saint Sebastian’s martyrdom, his torture by being pierced through his chest with arrows, is the dominant scene. For O’Hara to say his lover looks better than that gruesome depiction, then, is a way to mock that familiar artistic image’s seriousness. At once profound and silly, the line asks the reader to see Warren as a swarthy, thin, bearded man, like St Sebastian in so many paintings, but no martyr. Warren is just a healthy American in an orange shirt. What a postmodern line! For here, O’Hara alludes to a profound moment in Christianity and art history even as he strips that moment of its profundity. But in removing the deeper, high cultural meaning, he does not remove the emotional power or personal truth of the image. While Warren is certainly no martyr, he is, nonetheless, magical and important to O’Hara. Who is to say if he is not, finally, as important as the real Saint Sebastian? After all, O’Hara does love him. The stanza ends by celebrating a real man’s love for another and contrasting that felt experience with the idealism, abstraction, and allegories of art.

While there is not the space to discuss the second half of the poem in detail, it is enough to say that it raises the question asked in the first stanza; only it does so in an even higher pitch. The first stanza asks, where does my love come from? It then answers that question by looking at the beloved; love comes from the very person sitting before the poet and it does not come from an ideal. The second stanza asks a more serious question still, if the felt experience of people and things matters so much what does one say about Western culture’s claim that genuine meaning is to be found not in life but rather in high art or in religious ideals? O’Hara asks how it is that this man before him matters more than the art he just spent a month reviewing in Spain? In the second half of his poem, O’Hara asks if art can ever be as important as “having a Coke with you.” Can art be a place for real meaning? Ironically, he answers his question in the negative. Art cannot hold a candle to the reality of everyday life. In the poem’s second stanza, O’Hara notes that in “the portrait show” the paintings “have no faces.” He contrasts this artistic lack of interest in people with the reality of Warren’s actual face.

By the end of the poem, then, O’Hara concludes with a postmodern defense of the particular. He defends the world of objects, places, and people over and against the abstract, ideal, and unreal generalities of art: “it seems they [the various artists] were all cheated of some marvelous experience / which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it.”

Source: Jonathan N. Barron, Critical Essay on “Having a Coke with You,” in Poetry for Students, The Gale Group, 2001.


Benfey, Christopher, “The Limits of Fun,” in The New Republic, January 4, 1999, pp. 37–42

Blasing, Multu Konuk, Politics and Form in Postmodern Poetry: O’Hara, Bishop, Ashbery, and Merrill, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Breslin, James E. B., From Modern to Contemporary: American Poetry 1945–1960, University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Butterick, George F., “Frank O’Hara,” in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 193: American Poets Since World War II, edited by Joseph Conte, Sixth Series, Gale Research, 1998, pp. 213–26.

Elledge, Jim, ed., Frank O’Hara: To Be True to a City, University of Michigan Press, 1990.

Feldman, Alan, Frank O’Hara, Twayne, 1979.

Giantvalley, Scott, “Frank O’Hara,” in Critical Survey of Poetry, revised edition, edited by Frank Magill, Salem Press, 1992, pp. 2475–76.

Gooch, Brad, City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O’Hara, Random, 1993, pp. 346–54.

Howard, Richard, Alone with America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States Since 1950, Atheneum, 1969.

O’Hara, Frank, The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara, edited by Donald Allen, Knopf, 1971.

———, Lunch Poems, City Light Books, 1964.

———, Meditations in an Emergency, Grove, 1957.

———, “Personism: A Manifesto,” in The Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara, edited by Donald Allen, Vintage Books, 1974, p. xiii.

Prestianni, Vincent, “Frank O’Hara: An Analytic Bibliography of Bibliographies,” in Sagetrieb, Spring 1993, pp. 129–30.

Smith, Alexander, Jr., Frank O’Hara: A Comprehensive Bibliography, Garland, 1979.

Vendler, Helen, “The Virtues of the Alterable,” in Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Fall–Winter 1972, pp. 5–20.

Whitman, Walt, Leaves of Grass: The First (1855) Edition, edited by Malcolm Cowley, Penguin, 1959, p. 13.

Williams, William Carlos, Paterson, New Directions, 1963, p. 6.

For Further Study

Gooch, Brad, City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O’Hara, Knopf, 1993.

Gooch’s text is an informative and in-depth study of O’Hara and his relationship to poetry and art. Gooch’s biography is successful because he describes O’Hara’s life without being psychological.

Lehman, David, The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets, Anchor Books, 1999.

O’Hara is considered a poet from the New York School of poets, a loose group of writers including Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler. Lehman claims that the four constituted the last true avant-garde movement in American poetry.

McClatchey, J. D., ed., Poets on Painters: Essays on the Art of Painting by Twentieth-Century Poets, University of California Press, 1990.

O’Hara was an art critic as well as a poet. This collection presents reviews and essays by well-known poets on painters.

Perloff, Marjorie, Frank O’Hara: Poet Among Painters, Braziller, 1977.

Perloff emphasizes the influences of art on O’Hara’s poetry, weaving useful information from a number of interviews and letters into her study.