HAVING A COKE WITH YOU
is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
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
and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
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
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it
– Frank O’Hara
‘Having A Coke With You’, written by Frank O’Hara in 1960, is a fresh and conversational poem, describing perfectly the narrator’s feelings towards his lover. Inspired by his long-time partner, Vincent Warren, O’Hara explores the ways in which his love for him is both simple and yet utterly complex.
Through O’Hara’s powerful imagery, we are fluently immersed in his world of complete infatuation and delight. The poem is a magnificent exploration of joy, and the process of experiencing such joy through shared experience. On lines 15 and 16, the speaker says: “and anyway it’s in the Frick / which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together for the first time”; these lines express not only his excitement towards experiencing new things with his partner, but also conveys the strong association between his own happiness and his partner’s. The shared experience as a source of joy acts not only as a way of sharing their lives, but also as the way in which they are able to renew their love and excitement through new experiences. The speaker seems to be in love with being in love, and is keen on having as many new experiences with his partner as possible.
O’Hara further explores the complexity of love in the following 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”. The idea of the unpleasantness of the definitive, combined with their “drifting back and forth”, uncovers their need for dynamism in the relationship – which I believe they get by finding the amusing in the ordinary.
Love has been a key theme and inspiration for an incredible number of poets, and there are a huge number of beautiful love poems out there. The most striking element of ‘Having A Coke With You’ is the simplicity of it. There is almost no punctuation; the enjambment in this poem is one of its most noticeable features. Every line seems to flow seamlessly into the other, taking us along the narrator’s sensations and thoughts. Through this stream of consciousness, the poet goes back and forth between art pieces and his lover, associating everything that brings him joy with his partner. He even writes about his partner in the same way he does about the art pieces, thus transmitting the idea that his partner brings him even more joy than all the art he describes. Once again, we are introduced to the idea that doing something you love is even better when you can share it with someone you hold very dear.
I must say that Frank O’Hara reciting his own poetry is outstanding. His lightheartedness stands in stark contrast with the complexity of the feelings he describes, which is why I find this poem so special. His vocabulary is simple, and through this use of everyday words he is able to make the situation and feelings he describes relatable for the reader. In comparison to other love poems which speak about love as an out-of-this world, almost mystical experience, O’Hara’s depiction is profoundly humble and modest. This is exactly what makes ‘Having A Coke With You’ so beautifully engaging.
I find that, given the current state of affairs, this poem is really comforting. It depicts how, often, we do not need elaborate activities and plans to feel content. As lockdown policies start easing down, we are slowly being able to meet up with those who we have been apart from for so long. ‘Having A Coke With You’ is a masterpiece in the sense that it describes perfectly how many of us must be feeling right now, experiencing the utmost joy of having a Coke (or perhaps a coffee!) with our loved ones.
Words by Valentina Ferraro
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