We are going to talk about Frank O'Hara's extremely famous, I think deservedly so, poem, "The Day Lady Died." Who is "Lady"? Let's think of it in terms of the reader who doesn't know anything as you're starting to read the poem. Amaris, you get to "Lady" in the title but then it takes a while before you get... Can you tell us where in the poem that we get to anyone who could possibly be "Lady"? We don't hear about her until the second last stanza where it says, "of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it." "Her face," and that's the best you can do. How off handed. Can you say something already, Max, about the difference? The New York school poetry, this style this, "I do this, I do that" style of O' Hara is different from traditional poetry or traditional writing. Can you say how it's different just from that? That the poem is titled "Lady," someone's died and we don't get to her, almost incidentally, until late? His subject, "Lady Day," Billie Holiday is sort of buried ultimately. She's sort of buried in the text in that she doesn't come until the very end. It's not this sort of elegy or this this long obituary. The traditional elegy would make really clear, from the start, that we are commemorating and memorializing someone really important. We would all say that Billie Holiday is crucially important to O'Hara emotionally, and in other ways, symbolically. We would never think, after we read this poem and understand it, that she's not important. So how do you get, Anna, from a incidental reference to seeing her face, I guess a photo in the newspaper, The New York Post, seeing her face. How do you get from that incidentalism to knowing how important she is? How do you make that logical? What does he do to make that possible? I think by connecting the title, knowing what day it is, actually two lines in or three lines in I guess, that it's July 17. How do we figure July 17? Because Bastille Day is July 14. Right, so it's July 17 in New York. Have you ever been in New York on a Friday, hot Friday in July? What do you do, Molly? You walk around and do your errands and try to find refuge. It's 12:20 p.m.; it's not 12:20 a.m. 12:20 p.m., why is that important? It's lunchtime. You probably maybe break early from work and go home. Why is lunchtime so important to Frank O'Hara generally, does anybody know? Because his best known collections are called Lunch Poems because he wrote all his poems while he was walking around and looking at stuff. He wrote everywhere and any time, but he had a job. He worked at the MOMA, didn't he? He worked at the Museum of Modern Art for a long time. This is lunch break, so he writes during lunch. Does that have anything to do with the spirit, style, tone of this poem, Allie? I think so. Because if he's writing during his lunch break, the stimulus that he's immediately getting there will most likely be the material for his poem, and you see that that's definitely true in this case. If somebody were to come up to you, let's say a critic, particularly a critic who's interested in more traditional poetry and finds this a little less valid, and were to say to you, "This seems kind of anti-poetic," what would you say? I would say "Why?" Like, "Why isn't my malt a poetic aspect of the day?" You mean a malt like a milkshake? Yeah. What would the critique mean saying it's anti-poetic? It is kind of anti-poetic. What would that mean? In a way, it's prosaic, just the details. It's unremarkable, the things that he talks about and lists and enumerates. For instance? The time, for example. The time, he gives us the time. If he gave it to us in past tense, what would that mean? "It was 12:20." "Mark this; mark that time because..." This is a moment. This was a big moment. Yeah and, "I remember that it was 12:20" as opposed to just looking at my watch, it's 12:20. So when somebody says "is 12:20 in New York, a Friday," Emily, what's the difference between past tense and simple present? It's someone narrating a moment to themselves as they're living it. A just sort of being, existing unremarkably. Just being; it's diaristic. You almost feel, because of the present tense, Amaris, you almost feel that it's true because of it. Even though he could've made all this stuff up, you're thinking, "He's being diaristic so it's true." What feels true? That is to say true to experience. Give us some examples of things that feel true. First of all, the incredible precision of the time, the date, and the year that he lists. And then, going on, we can feel the heaviness of the humidity in the atmosphere and when he is making this choice between all the different books that he might select out of the bookstore. He's in the bookstore and he wants to... What does he want to do with the book? He wants to purchase it, but he says he's practically going to sleep with that choice so he even discards the importance of that choice. He's not trying to add any drama to it by saying, "It's so important that I select the correct work." And, normally, you would, if you're picking a book out and reporting that back, you would tell us what your final decision was. We don't really want to know all the thoughts you had about all the other books. So why does he give us that stuff? I think it just underscores that every day pleasure that comes in making those sorts of choices, of planning your day ahead of time. What's pleasurable...Who's a bookish... Emily, what's pleasurable about the quandriness of not... You have one book to pick, and having all these different options. You have some hip, cosmo new plays - Genet, Brendan Behan - you have a Hesia translation, you have the French poetry that's so important to this group. He's going to buy this book for Patsy, who's a friend of his; a lot of name dropping of friends. Emily, tell us about why it's important to present the quandariness of what's pleasurable. I guess it's sort of dwelling in possibility. When you're thinking about different books, which one you're going to read, which is sort of new world you're going to commit yourself to, it's exciting. You making that decision, contemplating where those books will lead you, what that decision will ceate... Dave, what does any of this have to do with the way the marking of the death of Billie Holiday is presented in so offhanded way? What does showing the process of the choice of the book have to do with the way Billie's death gets reported? I think it's not just the process of selecting the book; it's all of the intense details that he describes. Everything that he describes, he does it in such a very, very vivid way, which gives the impression there is something special about this day, something that made it memorable. So there's a paradox here, Dave, right? Because this is a totally typical Friday with one exception. Well, two exceptions - the death of someone he admired tremendously, and there's one other tiny, little exceptional quality to it. Does anybody notice? Molly? It's okay if you don't notice it because it's tiny, tiny, tiny. I'm not sure. Miss Stillwagon doesn't look at his balance. Miss Stillwagon. You guys are too young to have interacted with the bank in this way. The way we had to deposit or withdraw cash was to stand in line, always stand in line at the bank, and there were tellers, Miss Stillwagon being one. Why, "Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)"? Anna, what does that mean? It's just that maybe he is... She works kind of the same that he's on his lunch break; he comes to visit her often. It's funny, I mean it is kind of humorous, she "doesn't even look at my balance for once in her life." That's the difference. Let's get to that in a second, but she is, somewhat formally, Miss Stillwagon. One imagines a woman that he sees all the time and he has a relationship with her, but it's still formal; not just simply that it's 1959 and we would refer to each other as Mr. and Mrs. and Miss. But he once heard her name was Linda, but he would never call her Linda because he doesn't... And then something different occurs. Say what it is you were just starting. "She doesn't even look up my balance for once in her life." Now what does that mean? When they look up your balance, which they're supposed to do, what does that mean? I know this is really ancient history. That means if you want to take out $50 and you only have $55, she may look at you over her glasses and say, "What are you doing taking out $50?" "We're going to check your balance because you've been low a couple of times. You're just a guy who works at the museum and you have, from what I can tell, fairly extravagant tastes. You really aren't living within your means, Mr. Frank O' Hara." Mr O' Hara. But today she doesn't look up his balance and that... It's a slight, ominous, almost sci-fi-ish, ominous indication; something slightly off the routine. Otherwise, it's completely the same as any other day. Dave, back to you, obituaries. This was the day, this was the day that Billie Holiday died. This was the day, and yet it's a routine day. Doesn't that implicitly undermine the power and the heroic quality of the day? Or just the opposite because it made such a drastic effect on him he remembered everything about this otherwise mundane day; it affected him that much. Everything he did, he had to remember because of it. That was where he was when it happened. Good. Anybody else want to comment on this? The brilliance of this poem is this disparity between the mundane routine, this was a day, and this cataclysmic event of this wonderful, difficult, complicated, self-destructive artist whom O'Hara and his friends all admired. Amaris, you want to take a shot at this? I think two things. I think when something catastrophic happens - I particularly remember 9/11 and I think everyone else does as well - we're struck by the irony and tragedy of the mundanity of that day. And the second thing, I think, why he lists all these ordinary events is that they have now developed a particular poignancy for him now that maybe she won't be able to experience them anymore or to think like, "I was going about my ordinary day in this horrible world I got thrown into," the one he was trying to fictionally pick out; instead the spotlight got stolen by this horrific event. And it's also interesting that all this chatter that goes on in his head is silenced at the end by the memory of her performance and that was a moment that took his breath away. So let's go to that. Thank you, Amaris. Emily, since we're working with tenses with you, the difference between the simple present, "it is in New York, it's 12:20, I walk up, I have a hamburger, I buy a magazine, I go into the bank, I do think of Hesiod, I just stroll," all simple present or pseudo simple present. And then I am sweating, "I am sweating a lot by now." What's the difference between the simple present and the present continuous? "I am sweating, I am thinking." In grammatical terms? Yeah, in any terms. Giving you an open license here. "I am sweating," it's more intense; it equates him with the sweating. That activity takes it up a level; it charges it with a certain emotional intensity. Okay, good. Anybody else? What's the difference between simple present and present continuous? "And I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of leaning on the john door." I think it's more immediate. It puts you, even though they're both present tense, the sweating puts you more in sweating, in that act of sweat. How does it work logically and grammatically? Just state. Everything upto to that point was an action and, here, he's reached a state of being. A state being. This is pretty cool. It is 12:20. When you're reading an "I do this, I do that" poem by Frank O' Hara, you immediately translate, subliminally translate, the simple present into a kind of past, right? A specific day doing these specific things. You get the first blush of feeling the presentness of it, but you basically translate it in your mind to past, "I'm telling a story." Then we get in this great transitional moment where "I am sweating" and so that's an ongoing present, the present continuous. "I am still sweating, I am still thinking of Billie Holiday. I am thinking of that night." And what happens? What's the "john door"? What's a john, Anna? Restroom. Restroom is a polite word for what the john is, like at the 5 Spot; The 5 Spot is a jazz club. And why are they leaning on the john door? Probably waiting in line. For the john? There's nowhere else to sit; it is jampacked. Mal Waldron on the piano, the great lady, Billie Holiday, singing and he's remembering, now that she's dead, he's remembering, "I was there. I am sweating now, we were sweating then, it was intense. We were kind of crammed in there by the john in the 5 Spot, and she whispered a song to Mal Waldron, her accompanist, and everyone and I stopped breathing." Tell us about that. What do you think, Allie? When I see that line, I immediately refer it to the entire rest of the poem because we're saying all these things about how mundane it is, but the entire time you're along with O'Hara, he really takes you and picks you up and you're just in the current of the poem with him. And so, at the very end when it doesn't... Back to cause and effect, there really is no cause and effect. It's he's in one kind of tense of his life, which is the past which is this memory, at the same time that he's in the present. And so, "when I stopped breathing," it's just everything stops. And while you are reading it, you are just cut off from that current and it's just a shock. Good. So let's be even simpler about it first. What does it refer to? What happened in that nightclub? Why did you stop breathing? Max? He was so moved, the transcendent moment. It was a moment. "I'll never forget I saw Billie Holiday that night when she did that song, and we would just, we couldn't... We held our breath, we realized that we were in the presence of a great artist and now she's gone." And somebody want to say, now more along the lines of what Allie was saying, something about the pun of the stopped breathing? You stopped breathing because you were experiencing this aesthetic moment but also, Dave? He was so moved that everything stopped. Yes, that's number two. And the third connotation? She stopped breathing. She stopped breathing too. She's including in the everyone. What better a way to create a New York school style elegy of someone you admired, an artist you admired, than to create a situation in which you remember dying in a sense, but dying not because of the death; dying because of the art, of holding your breath, in a way, momentarily simulating the end? What better way to honor the dead than not to tell about her life in the New York Times style obituary, "Billie Holiday was born in such and such a year. She did this..." because the events of her life don't add up to where we got that night at the 5 Spot? So "I will tell you about how... I will do my art thing, I will tell you about my day. Paratactically, non-sequentially, I will honor her by telling you all the details of the day on which she died to give you a sense of the impact that she had on me." I think your reference to 9/11 is correct. You can tell the story of 9/11 the way the New York Times would or a journalist would or you could talk about how it rocked your world. For me, it's the assassination of JFK. Mr. Green, the custodian, came into Miss Castalucio's class. I noticed something different in their relationship at that moment. Usually, it's funny; it was sad. We were dismissed. I walked home. I stopped at the Esso station with a friend of mine just because we had an instinct that we needed to and some guys were sitting around watching a television and we found out that the president had died. That, to me, is the memory of JFK. It's the way in which his death affected me. This is honest, it's alternative. So this is both a non-narrative and in the sense an anti-narrative poem. Let's end by saying what that might mean. What's non-narrative about it? Anna? Non-narrative means that you're telling a story but not necessarily linearly or chronologically... Or cause and effectively. Or cause and effectively, yeah. Granted, there's a little bit of "this happened then this happened then this happened," but you don't get a sense that there's a serious connect between all of these. Right, you just do what you do. "I do this, I do that." You get all of these details about what's happened in his day, and the turn is at "her face on it," and all the stuff that's happened before, both has nothing to do and everything to do with that last stanza remembering her. Nice. So that's the non-narrative quality of it. Anybody want to say what an anti-narrative aspect of it is? Amaris, what is anti-narrative? You were hoping I wouldn't ask you. As we were saying, it's not giving the year-by-year list of big events in her life, so in that sense, it's providing... An alternative to the standard narrative. An alternative but in a more radical sense, right. So anti-narrative stands against traditional narrative, presents a narrative of its own. Non-narrative does a non-sequential, series style, paratactic, "everything that I do is equal, including seeing her face in the newspaper." All right. This is a classic New York school poem and it's a good way to start on it.