I used to hate Frank O’Hara. HATE him. I thought he was a terrible poet, reduced to using too many bits and pieces of his own life, insignificant details and specific allusions that only mattered to him and others in the know. He represented everything that was difficult and inaccessible about poetry to me. I was in college; I was stupid.
The personalness of O’Hara’s poems allows the reader to step outside of his or her own life for a moment and connect with another individual who maybe feels the same way about certain things. “The Day Lady Died,” probably O’Hara’s most famous poem, tells the story of what he was doing the day that Billie Holiday, someone whom he admired very much and was quite important to him, died. In the poem, readers are able to connect with their own experiences of loss—the random memories that inevitably surface, the seemingly insignificant details that stand out vividly afterwards—through O’Hara’s expressions of grief. The poem doesn’t seem to be particularly eulogical on the surface, but there is power in these memories, in the specific notes and chords of a day that has to be played through to its conclusion no matter how much it hurts.
Three years ago today I lost one of my best friends, and I’m sure I’ll never forget those same small details of the world that surrounded me when I found out.
The Day Lady Died by Frank O’Hara