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 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.
Jennifer Smith and Elizabeth Thomason, Poetry for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Volume 12, Frank O’Hara, Published by Gale Group, 2001.