In Response To:
A Step Away From Them
Frank O’Hara’s I-do-this, I-do-that poems are just my type. I believe that this way of exploring one’s own life makes our every single movement into a poem; our life becomes a long poem, including all our observation and feelings in the real context of life. Reversely it makes poetry more real and closer to us as well.
A Step Away From Them is one of his lunch poems. It celebrates the diverse vitality in New York City life by filling it with many different people’s actions and looks, and also the speaker’s walking and seeing. The sense of movement is very strong and vivid. City scene excites people’s energy and imagination, and many forms of desires are implied. For example, the cat image, woman’s skirt upon her heels, and food image. On the surface, this is a very light happy poem, but the last two stanzas tone are changed into melancholy for O’Hara’s past friends and his feeling of lost. In our class discussion, we thought that “them in the title referred to those dead people. Therefore, we compare this poem with Wallace Stevens The Emperor of Ice-Cream and to make comparisons in their perspectives of life and death. But here, I’d love to offer another possible interpretation that I figured out later.
Yes, I still think that it is about the death. However, I think O’Hara wanted to draw more attention on the relationship between the dead and the living in this poem, but not only to treat them as separated elements. Because he described so many living scenes in this poem and the definite sense of time, we could clearly realize how the speaker is aware of the limited life and want to live fully. Nevertheless, from a close reading, we could also find that there are actually very few real reaction or relationship among those living people. No talk, no conversation, no touch and no communication are applied in the whole living world! Those New Yorkers are indifferent, and what the speaker feels among them is not his personal passionate affection toward the world, but the coldness reflected by his surroundings. His devotion and participation are meaningless. So, he comes to miss his dead good friends among people for this living world could not warm him at all.
It is very sad and pathetic, but the speaker seems to be closer to his dead friends than those are only a step away from him. I think that the “them in the title refers to all the passengers who walk pass by him during that lunch hour. The speaker could never reach them in this lively real world. People live like the dead or more than the dead, and this distance in between will forever remain if the situation doesn’t change.
This poem is more about isolation and loneliness in my view, and it also matches the title that “a step away from them. This unbreakable step is rooted from the speaker to all living and dead, and from each of us to the world. For the last line “My heart is in my/ pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy I agree with what Ray said in class that it seemed that it was the poem that kept alive, not the speaker. The speaker, like many others, is just like a dead person living in the big apple. Maybe he has to do it in order to protect himself. Yet, he makes art survive at last, and this poem preserve his heart.