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Return To New York’s Heyday with Poet Frank O’Hara

September 04, 2013

A back table at The Five Spot. New York City, 1957. By Burt Glinn

I have a profound sense of nostalgia for a New York I never experienced. It’s a magical place that resembles some impossible combination of a Woody Allen film, an Allen Ginsberg poem, and a Simon & Garfunkel song.

It’s a place where, had I actually been there, I would have slipped into something saucy and gotten up to all kinds of shenanigans with folks like those in the above photo from 1957: sculptor David Smith, poet Frank O’Hara, painter Larry Rivers, painter Grace Hartigan, sculptor Anita Huffington, poet Kenneth Koch, and painter Helen Frankenthaler.

Luckily, I can visit this long-lost / never-had place by watching the following video of Frank O’Hara reading his energetic poem, “Having a Coke with You.” He recites quickly, candidly, with cigarette in hand and faint car horns blaring in the background. There’s one line in particular that always makes me swoon:

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

The poem is about immediacy, intensity, simplicity. It’s about how merely sharing a coke can seem like the most triumphant and romantic of acts, which, with the right person, at the right moment, it is.

Main photo: A back table at The Five Spot. New York City, 1957. By Burt Glinn / Magnum Photos.

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Tory Hoen is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. She spent five years as the Creative Director of Brand at MM.LaFleur (where she founded The M Dash!) and has written for New York Magazine, Fortune, Bon Appétit, and Condé Nast Traveler. She loves doughnuts and inter-species friendships. Read more of Tory's posts.

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