An Analysis of Frank O’hara’s “A Step Away From Them”
At the turn of the 20th century, the movement of modern art began to distinguish itself by moving away from traditional and classical forms. Artists like Pablo Picasso were deconstructing their formal techniques by abstracting forms of conceptual art. We began to question and criticize: “Is that art?” By mid-20th century, the schools of the modern movement already began to echo into literature, dance, and music. Abstract Expressionist literature emphasizes spontaneity of motions and their fleetingness. Once a detail is mentioned, it disappears but resurfaces in the subconscious in the form of a daydream. Frank O’Hara’s “A Step Away From Them” adapts his unique style of free verse with arbitrary line breaks and enjambment. There is a relay of split-second action followed by spontaneous thought. Overall, the poem ventures into synapses of the mind in an urban space. O’Hara is the observer, self-satisfied, and content.
In the first line, there is a felt quality of impulsive action. “So I go” gives a sense of urgency that we experience the moment our lunch hour hits. The meter of each word can be equal stressed. The I is a soft vowel, therefore, there is emphasize is on so and go. O’Hara combines two senses of visual and sound with “hum-colored.” Both senses capture dynamic movements like when someone takes a still photo of a moving object. The image of a cab smears across the photo. There is a distinction of the way space moves. Hum-colored can resonate sound that an engine makes. When we walk out the door into the city, the pace is already set. By line 3, the mind quickly wanders to the next visual moment. “Down the sidewalk” tells our awareness to focus on lunch hour of laborers. We are walking and capturing still photos. “Dirty glistening torsos” signifies the way construction workers eat shirtless. Another interpretation can perceive oil rubbed on their shirt hence the term, blue collar workers. At this moment, O’Hara draws an unconscious connection with the “yellow” colored helmets from the previous visual of hum-colored cabs. Yellow was missed due to the motion and sound. The color resurfaces from our short-term memory. He interjects nonchalant irony and inner wit with “I guess”. Despite stuffing themselves, they must protect themselves from falling objects. We have a sense of O’Hara’s humor and his eye for function. As your visual context moves upward to falling bricks, O’Hara draws the attention of the movement around ground floor, “heels” and “grates”. He does not add a space between lines. He follows each line with heavy enjambment. “Then onto the avenue” has a progression of walking around the corner to the next street. There is a new scene, new spatter of paint. He refers to a movie scene in pop culture by stating: ……Then onto the
avenue where skirts are flipping
above heels and blow up over
grates. (lines 9-11)
In 1955, Marilyn Monroe filmed The Seven Year Itch in New York City. The scene of her skirt being blown up had caused a spectacle making Marilyn a movie sex icon. Motion of upward movement is describe with gestures like “flipping above”, “up over”, and “stir up.” The city is hot. According to O’Hara, “cabs stir up the air” (line 12). In the city, there is always a cab in sight. How they motion around the city block without air conditioning. There is no escape from the heated engine but O’Hara is indifferent and aloof by the motion around him because “[he looks] at bargains in wristwatches” (line 13-14). He is still to himself, an observer. In line 14, “sawdust” draws back to previous space, down the street of laborers construction site. He allows the reader’s thoughts to dilate at each new scene. At the end of each moment of space, he draws inward almost as if he constricts his pupils to see an off detail. “There/ are cats playing in sawdust.” (line 13-14) It is as...
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