MHC Seminar 1, Professor Casey Henry

Category: Oharaballard (Page 1 of 2)

O’Hara/Ballard Reflection

From the three O’Hara’s poems I read, my favorite is “A Step Away From Them”.  I like the poem’s rhythm  and how it matches the fast paced NYC life.  I also like how this poem gives insight into the dynamics present in NYC even today. NYC is the metropolis of America and is known for many great things. However, it is interesting that O’Hara decided to really focus on describing the mundane details of the city, such as “laborers feed their dirty glistening torsos sandwiches and Coca-Cola”.  In fact, the only “big” destination O’Hara mentions is Times Square, perhaps to orient the reader. I relate to this poem  because when I walk in the city, I also like to notice the little shops, the diverse people, and small details of the city similar to O’Hara’s descriptions.

Regarding, Ballard’s “Billenium,” I found this dystopian portrayal of a city from the overcrowding perspective very intriguing especially his descriptions of “pedestrian traffic” and the intensity of it. Before reading “Billenium” I thought the traffic in NYC was bad.  Though the short story presented the energy of the streets  in a negative view, when I read about it I thought of the energy in the streets of NYC  in positive way. There is a certain  excitement in NYC that could be linked to Manhattan’s grid.  I read on that because the layout of Manhattan is so straightforward,  it intensifies the fast pace of the city.  Photographer Joel Meyerowitz said that the streets of Manhattan “run for miles straight ahead, and so the energy on the street is funneled this way. And when you participate in that, you become part of the energetic dimension of life on the streets.”   The grids of European cities like London and Paris, are more complicated so they “are for meandering” whereas “New York is for purposefully charging forward.” The images below illustrate this.



Frank O’Hara and J. G. Baillard: Contrasts in Utopia

Frank O’Hara’s view of New York City seems distinctly blissful and optimistic compared to J.G. Baillard’s view, mainly because of how the city seems to just sort of blend into the background of his poems. The subject is hardly ever the city itself — the subject of Having a Coke With You is instead O’Hara’s lover — and yet New York City plays an essential part in setting the relationship. Mentions of the art in the Frick museum downtown or how his lover’s beauty has somehow diminished the works of Marcel Duchamp, a prominent New York dadaist, make sure that the subject of the poem is not the city itself, and yet the city gets the appraise and  mention it is worthy of in his works.

In a way, the Frick itself functions as a way for O’Hara to experience his love through the city, mentioning how he’s thankful “[he hasn’t] gone yet so [they] can go together for the first time.” The city is a place he wants to experience in his newfound love, and he wants to live vicariously through the eyes of his lover as he experiences its beauty for the first time, almost as a parallel to the newness of their courtship.

Baillard’s view meanwhile encompasses a sort of claustrophobia that is understandable in such a massive setting as New York City. In his hyperbolic futurist view, he manages to create a setting where people are not used to a room that isn’t filled with people (which realistically isn’t too far from the truth concerning the city — try finding a train that isn’t overcrowded during the day), and yet when his characters finally find a space that isn’t full of people, the setting becomes curious and new. Of course, this whole line of plot embodies a variety of dystopia that is more psychological than tyrannical, as it’s not necessarily the government’s fault that Ward and Rossiter aren’t used to closed spaces. Of course, the city eventually manages to corrupt the space, and Ward becomes the thing he hates when he turns into its landlord.

Bjork’s song “Enjoy” sort of embodies the exaggerated idea of city-goers that Baillard has characterized in Ward and Rossiter. One could say this song represents the city lover who has become so obsessed with the crowd and the speed of the crowded city that they’ve lost their sense of personality. Bjork’s song uses metaphor to discuss what it feels like to become in tune with the speed of the bustling activity of London in 1995, which could be translated into this futuristic overcrowded New York City.

O’Hara’s New York

While reading Frank O’Hara’s short poems, one can easily understand that he had a painterly eye and a silvery personality. O’Hara in a limited number of lines has the literal power to paint an image of New York many New York agree with. In his piece, “Having a coke with you”, he displays a peaceful, more serene impression of New York. With the lines,

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
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

I imagine, the picture and video placed below. Among the city’s clamor rests a humming silence. In between the filing of masses from one location to another lives hushed composure. New York, because of the effect this one being has on him, is painted with a different lens. For O’Hare, with this person, he finds beauty in the chaos. He finds joy in the simplest things. Even the leisurely act of sharing a coke becomes sensuous. This concept is fortified when he states, “which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet…”. O’Hare has not experienced anything yet even when he has. He wishes to relive his life once again with this person, and only then will they haven meaning to him. He has visited the Polish Rider in the Frick multiple times, but has not seen it with eyes swayed by this one person.

O’Hare’s descriptions of life in New York is romanticized by his delicate descriptions. Phrases like “move so beautifully” and “like a tree breathing through its spectacles” highlight the purity in New York that many fail to realize exist. With buildings soaring into the sky, it becomes difficult to see the clouds beyond it. With the blaring sounds of cabs honking, it becomes nearly impossible to hear the Gray Partridge’s chirping songs. Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York, zooms out of the city and shows the grander scheme of things. Looking at New York in all its grandeur, one truly appreciates its hidden charm.


O’Hare’s poem “A Step Away from them” enticed me as well. It takes an entirely different approach as the aforementioned poem where it exposes the multifaceted workings of the city, as apposed to blurring the noise to make the silence louder. It speaks of one man walking through the city, and by the end of his journey, he takes note of the different people and cultures he comes in contact with in a short amount of time. O’Hare demonstrates the epitome of a diverse state when almost every stanza illustrates a different element that is only one cog that helps build what New York is. He sees laborers eating their lunch, girls trying to keep their skirts from flipping over the grate, cats playing in sawdust, a negro standing in a door way, Puerto Ricans, etc. This creates the perception that New York is disorganized with different people doing different things (something like the picture below). But what many must realize is that New York is just that. New York is an amalgamated system with every kind of person from every race and any culture. That is the beauty behind it, and it always will be.


New York City and Frank O’Hara

In Frank O’Hara’s poem, “A Step Away From Them”, O’Hara seems to be taking the reader through visual snapshots of his lunch break walking down the streets of New York City. Reading it, the first image that I visualize in my head is something like this:

This is quite a familiar scene in many parts of the city, especially where I live (Main Street, Queens) in which the streets are constantly under construction and crowded. The descriptions that O’Hara gives, “laborers feed their dirty glistening torsos sandwiches, skirts are flipping above heels and blow up over grates, sign blows smoke over my head, higher the waterfall pours lightly,” conveys a sense of the liveliness of the city as well as its busyness. That rushed feeling for me can only be felt walking on the streets of New York City. Most of the population walk really fast either going to work, getting of work, or like O’Hara, on their way to lunch. Though NYC is famously known for “never sleeping”, making it seem like time is unlimited, it is actually in fact very limited. For me, there is usually a specific location I have in mind when walking in the city. For O’Hara, it is the same as well: walking to get lunch and then walking back to his work place.

During the first sentence, the location with the “hum-colored cabs” led me to think of this:

In a similar way that O’Hara admires NYC, I think of why I like NY. Though the bustling streets are filled with many people, that sense of hurriedness feels comforting and like home. At the same time, many parts of NYC can be completely opposite. Like my hometown in Queens, it feels more rural (in an urban location), where it is the perfect place if you want solitude. The liveliness of the city makes the place unique and filled with a very diverse group of population. The diversity is what I love about New York City. Although there are many places with that similar diversity, there is just nothing like New York.

Reflection on Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems

Frank O’Hara uses poetry to take a snapshot of his life in New York during a time where there is a struggle between the ancient and the modern as well as the perfect and the imperfect. To say the least, it seems that O’Hara has quite a love/hate relationship with the city. In his poems “A Step Away From Them” and “Personal Poem,” from his Lunch Poems Collection, this idea of New York City is expressed through extreme detail of personal life, all alluding to different, greater themes.

“A Step Away From Them,” for example, displays a New York in-between the old and the new. As he walks just around the corner on his lunch break he experiences a city that is constantly reinventing and renewing itself, never stopping to focus on the beauty of what has already been accomplished. O’Hara writes, “…and the posters for BULLFIGHT and the Manhattan Storage Warehouse which they’ll soon tear down. I used to think they had the Armory Show there.” O’Hara’s free verse is picked up in speed as the city moves too fast around him, to the point where he can’t keep up, causing the love/hate relationship. Similarly, the song “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” by LCD Soundsystem encompasses this struggle between New York being perfect but also imperfect.

James Murphy, lead singer of LCD Soundsytem, wrote a song that resonates with a lot of New Yorkers struggling to make it. Murphy is disappointed with New York and goes on to list many reasons about why the city is not all people think it is, “…Take me off your mailing list/For kids that think it still exists/Yes, for those who think it still exists.” However, towards the end of the song he admits, he is still undecided about the city, “Maybe I’m wrong/And maybe you’re right.” O’Hara has similar negative feelings about New York in his “Personal Poem,” he writes, “I wonder if one person out of the 8,000,000 is thinking of me as I shake hands with LeRoi and buy a strap for my wristwatch and go back to work happy at the thought possibly so.” O’Hara and Murphy both struggle with New York’s fast changing environment, where both often feel lonely in the big city.

Another song that captures O’Hara’s spirit of taking giant ideas and themes, and turning them into intimate personal narratives is Susanne Vega’s, “Tom’s Diner.” This song purely describes a morning routine in New York City, yet is a popular tune among New Yorker’s for how relatable and telling it really is. All while sitting in this diner with a cup of coffee, the New York lifestyle is just as exposed as O’Hara did in his poems “A Step Away From Them” and “Personal Poem.” In “Step Away From Them,” O’Hara writes, “On to Times Square, where the sign blows smoke over my head, and higher the waterfall pours lightly.” This short and simple line reveals Midtown perfectly to any New Yorker who truly knows, he manipulates every detail is say something more. Vega describes everything she witnesses through the windows of this diner, a true snip it of New York, she sings that the waiter only pours her coffee half way, and before she can complain, he is already gone. Furthermore, she reads the headlines of the New York Post, watches a woman fixed her ripped stocking, and hear the cathedral bells a block away, which make her reminiscent of a past lover. Finally, she ends the song with the line, “I finish up my coffee, it’s time to catch the train.” This line makes the listener reflect on time, as all of this happened during the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee. Even for such a minor morning routine, the detail in her descriptions illuminate greater themes of New York.


Ballard depicts a dystopian society where the population exponentially increases each year resulting in an overcrowded city with meager living conditions. I felt claustrophobic reading the the beginning of the story as Ward described the standard living space of a single which was only over 4 meters while a double was 6 meters and the crowds of people on the streets that could even caused “locks” that entrapped everyone for a period of 2 days in one place. The society was unsupervised and disorganized as they did nothing to regulate the increasing population. I would like to compare it to the world depicted in Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

Here the world is considered Utopian where everything is regulated so that no conflict will occur nor will any of the residents feel unsatisfied with their lives. Everyone gets their food each day for each meal, they are studied closely that they may get the most fitting job when they are of age, and they are assigned to families and partners whom they will compliment and get along well with. Surely this society where everyone is satisfied with their lives as everything is meticulously calculated is much better than the chaotic conditions described in “Billenium”. Until you learn how they adopt “Sameness” and the lengths they have gone to keep it that way.

In return for creating a society where no conflict will occur as it did in the past, they lost their emotions and  their ability to create their own opinion that reflected their individuality and values. Two societies, one where the population increase cannot be controlled and everyone struggles to have a living space and their own privacy, and another where every factor is regulated including the population, food resources, and assigned family units to create “equality” that renders no real emotion in people. They are different worlds yet both are examples of a dystopian society.

I also related to O’Hara’s “Having a Coke with You” to being able to truly experience the city and its many attractions thanks to the people whom you are with. My first thought came to Florine Stettheimer’s poems  where expresses her love for many things including details that come from the city, particularly New York City as she mentions things she loved from certain things in NYC in the first poem, “My Attitude is One of Love.” Then in her next poem, “Then Back to New York,” where she describes the changes people have done to the city and its traditional or former practices yet she finds them interesting and what gives life and spark to NY at the time which she chooses to paint. And she has painted many scenes from her life in the city show from parties, outings, places, and the people she interacted with which are always depicted in her vibrant and lively paintings. If it weren’t for people, Stettheimer may not have experienced such an captivating side of NY.


Living in New York City is an adventure within itself with the bustling crowds of people, the mess that is the MTA, the occasional cockroaches and rats, and the odors of sewage that fill up the air. But amidst these tiny horrors are the subtle joys in life. The hole in the wall bakery shops, the impromptu visits to museums, the spontaneous get togethers in the village. The little things in life that make up for the rude and crude demeanor of NYC. In his work, “Having a Coke With You,” Frank O’Hara paints the enriching lifestyle that comes with living in NYC and being able to share it with someone. For some it might be their significant other. For others it might be their best friend. Whoever it is, O’Hara describes, no amount of art can come close to the feeling of living life to the fullest with the person or people you love the most. In the poem he composes the following line: “ I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world” Naturally, the first song I thought of when I read this was Coldplay’s “A Sky Full of Stars.” In the hook, Chris Martin sings “‘Cause in a sky full of stars, I think I see you,” which resonates the themes of O Hara’s poem of life, love, and happiness.

In the video, Chris Martin walks about the busy city seats singing and bring joy and laughter to everyone he encounters.  The video draws attentions to various forms of street art, colorful umbrellas and balloons, playful bubbles, an explosion of flower petals, basically anything that will make you smile. It ends with the echoes of the crowd singing back the lyrics, a moment filled with pure happiness.

O’Hara Assignment


Frank O’Hara draws ideas for his poetry from the surrounding environment. He focuses on the daily aspects of life in the city and is subsequently able to mold his experiences into poetry. O’Hara’s poetry resonated with me because they made me acknowledge how often I tune out my surroundings when I am in a rush. We live in a world driven by how productively we use our time. As a result, many are guilty of not taking the time to stop for a moment and appreciate what is taking place around. In A Step Away from Them, for instance, O’Hara points out the events he witnesses while on his lunch break. Rather than rushing to get something to eat, like most people in New York would do, O’Hara decides to go on a walk and simply take in the vibrancy of the city. After having roamed the streets of New York for what seems to be a long journey, O’Hara ends his poem by returning to work with “a glass of papaya juice.” In a limited amount of time, O’Hara was able to take the reader on an intricate journey around the streets of New York. From reading A Step Away from Them, my main takeaway is that it is important for people take some time to appreciate what they have in front of them. Life is not all about work. Sometimes it is important to take a break from our routine. and making it to an important meeting on time. A good example of this idea can be seen on this time-lapse video of Columbus Circle. There is so much to marvel at in this particular New York City area, and yet people seem to miss out on it because they hurry to get to their destinations.

Living in a city such as New York tends to have this effect on people. With so much going on in one place, people are forced to move around as quickly as possible in order to keep up with their rapidly changing environments. This idea is expressed in the reading by J.G. Ballard titled “Billennium.” While I do not agree with the idea that New York City is terribly overcrowded, I do acknowledge that at times, a city can feel confined. I feel this way in particular when I use public transportation or when I head over to placed such as Columbus Circle, Times Square or 34th Street. These places make a city feel clustered and to some this may be a wakeup call to moving out into a more rural environment. To me, a city offers the freedom to travel and explore. With the simple ride on the train, I can be in a completely different neighborhood than my own in a matter of minutes. I also enjoy the contrast in culture that a city offers.

Reflection on O’Hara’s work

Out of all the Lunch Poems, I was particular fond of O’Hara’s Having A Coke With you. This poem romanticizes the moment of sharing a drink with a lover and how this moment feels like a lifetime. While reading it, I felt that the speaker was in a daze and that he was entranced by the woman. Thus, the first song I could think of that gave me a back in the day love story feel was, Can’t help falling in Love by Elvis Presley.

This song is a classic, yet it captures the slowing down of time when two lovers are together. It’s a sweet serenade, which intertwines perfectly with how the speaker of the poem is admiring his significant other and how excited he is to endeavor new experiences with her.


As for the NYC aspect, the speaker mentions multiple places, and scenery as to complete the perfect environment. His full heart, his lover, and his beautiful surroundings emphasize the magic of New York City.  A song that echoes this theme would be “Fly to New York” by Above and Beyond.

This song is about a boy with divorced parents, who flies by himself to NYC to see his mother. His father then realizes his son is missing and goes to find him. The mother is also on edge of starting her life with another man but chooses to decline. When the son and father reunite, the mother finds them in the city, and you can feel the bursting of energy between the couple. Even though the storyline is completely different from the poem, the role of NYC in romance is evident in both. The city is showcased as a place with much hope and chance for love, despite the past and present uncertainties. 


This is a google earth image of the street view of the Frick Museum that the speaker mentions in hope to take his lover to visit.

As shown by these images, it is a beautiful building and a perfect place for couples to go to. The plants and colors of the building highlight the elegance and romantic nature of the museum, which is why the speaker most likely wants to take his woman there. 

O”Hara paints NYC as a dream like setting where hopes and dreams do come true in the most famous city of the world. Those who live in NYC know that’s not necessarily the case and that there are a lot of downsides with living in the city such as the smell, crowds, disrespectful people, and the ridiculous prices. However, because the speaker is in love, all these negative aspects fade away in the background and only feelings of bliss and euphoria resonate in the speaker’s heart. 


City Life Viewed By O’Hara and Ballard Has Modern-Day Implications

          I agree with O’Hara when he talks fondly of New York in his poem Personal Poem, as well as his other poems. His poems are seeped with imagery that paints New York as a wonderful place and it seems like the speaker of the poem has special connotations with places in the city that to others would seem ordinary. Even the gritty parts of New York are painted with positivity as O’Hara says:


“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   

They protect them from falling

bricks, I guess.”


          These lines remind me of my own New York City memories. One aspect of my college essay was discussing the memorable moments I have in my own neighborhood. The lines below from my college essay remind me of the nostalgia O’Hara has when he discusses New York.  


          The streets that I wandered and learned to love make up the vast city of New York, which I call home. I memorized every inch, from the cracks in the sidewalk to the homeless people’s signature corners. The brick wall on the south side of Houston between C and D that I came to memorize every morning from kindergarten to my senior year while walking to school– excited eyes turning into tired eyes. These streets capture everything. They capture the metamorphosis of the carefree child, who sang songs while walking down them, to the teenager still singing– but now too soft to be heard. They captured moments on corners: The corner of first kisses, 9th and A, to the corner of first coming out, 7th and B.

          I learned and cataloged those streets like that knowledge was more important than anything.


          Even though I love New York, the dystopian view of city life painted by Ballard in Billennium also resonated with me. The cramped living situation depicted made the reader feel suffocated at times. The idea of an overpopulated city reminded me of New York, specifically of the gentrification that has been spreading across the city. Many people are forced to move due to increase rent. Gentrification causes neighborhoods to lose their soul as well as lose their original residents. Billennium and it’s dystopian feel made me think of the byproducts of gentrification, and the migration of people from suburbia into the city In my neighborhood, local pizza places that have been around for decades, such as Nino’s Pizza, has been replaced with Starbucks and other local chains. This is a different type of nightmare than the one painted in Billennium but is one nightmare faced by people of this city


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