Study Guide

Having a Coke with You Themes

By Frank O'Hara

  • Love

    "Having a Coke with You" is awesome because we're in love with you. Yep, that about sums things up. This poem is not just an expression of love, though. It's actually much more thoughtful than that. It's a meditation on just what it means to be in love. How does being in love affect the way we see the world? How might it change our understanding of and thoughts about art? Those are big questions, but O'Hara is up to the task… right after he takes a sip of that ice cold soda.

    Questions About Love

    1. In professing his love, is this speaker too cheesy for your tastes? Not cheesy enough? Why? 
    2. Can love truly change our sense of reality? If that's the case, can love truly change the world (or it that just a clever bumper sticker)? What do you think our speaker would have to say about this? 
    3. Does this speaker concentrate too much on the addressee's looks in this poem? Why doesn't he mention what a great personality the you of the poem has? 
    4. Is love more important than art? Yep, we asked the Big Question.

    Chew on This

    The poem shows us that love that is not appreciated is love that is wasted. (Sad.)

    This is not a love poem. This is a poem about being in love. There's a big difference.

  • Appearances

    Our speaker in "Having a Coke with You" is a looker. And we don't mean he's deserving of a wolf whistle. We mean that he looks at stuff—at the you of the poem, at sculptures, at portraits, at tulips, at birches. As a big fan of visual art, this speaker seems to understand the word primarily by the way it looks to him. That might explain why we get such a short, dramatic line like "I look" (13). It's more than a line, it's a declaration of what this speaker is all about. In light of it, it's easy to see (see what we did there?) why this poem is so overwhelmingly visual. Even his love for the you of the poem seems to hinge on appearances. Is that a good thing, do you think?

    Questions About Appearances

    1. Can the way you look change the way people think of you? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Why?
    2. Can the way you feel change the way the world looks to you? Does it change the world for our speaker? Or is it the other way around?
    3. What is it about visual art that makes it meaningful, something more than "just paint" for our speaker?
    4. How do you think our speaker will react when the you of this poem grows old and loses their looks?

    Chew on This

    Appearance is subjective. In other words, the way things look depend entirely on your state of mind. (Happiness = fluorescent flowers.)

    Art can never truly come near the simple experience of living life. (Nice try, though, art.)

  • Art and Culture

    The speaker of "Having a Coke with You," is a recovering art buff. With casual references to "The Polish Rider," Futurism, Marino Marini, and more, we get the clear sense that this is someone who knows their stuff. We say "recovering," though, because, even though he knows his stuff, he doesn't think too much of it anymore. He's got love in his life now, and its wonders have shown him, in no uncertain terms, the futility of art. The speaker's leaving the world of art behind in favor of the wonderful lands of love.

    Questions About Art and Culture

    1. Can paintings and statues be capable of motion, even if they're still? If so, do you know of any examples? 
    2. Do you think the speaker is joking about "The Polish Rider," or do you think he may prefer it to his loved one? If so, how does that change the poem? 
    3. Does all art have to involve the person you love in order to have value? How might the speaker answer this question?
    4. Is there anything that used to wow you, but that you're no longer into? If so, why have you moved on? Did love have anything to do with it? Do you miss whatever it is you've moved on from?

    Chew on This

    Even though it's just a representation, real art is every bit as capable of moving someone as a real, live person is. So there.

    The speaker is not really done with art, entirely. He's just temporarily distracted by his love, and will some day return to his admiration of art. (He's just on a break, you see.)

  • Versions of Reality

    The lights get dimmer. The floor begins to tilt. The colors all swirl together and your feet seem to come loose from the earth. Did someone finally poison the sloppy joe mix at the school cafeteria? Did you all of a sudden forget how to breathe? No, silly. Just like the speaker in "Having a Coke with You," you're in love. As a result, your entire version of reality has shifted, right down to the physical level. Go to bed fine one night, but then wake up in love, and the world seems a totally different place.

    Questions About Versions of Reality

    1. How real is a person's appearance? Doesn't how we feel about them change how they look in our eyes? What about for our speaker?
    2. Is love just another kind of escape from reality for our speaker? Is he replacing art with love, yet still not living in the real world? 
    3. What must an artist do to transform the reality of their audience? 
    4. In what way(s) does the speaker think that the artists have been cheated? 
    5. What do you think is meant by the popular phrase keeping it real? Is that even possible? What does "real" mean to you? How might art and love change that idea?

    Chew on This

    As both art and being in love show, reality is a totally fluid and changeable thing. Especially for our speaker.

    Love is not superior to art, in the speaker's mind. Instead, it's a replacement for art. His interest in both of them has more to do with escaping his reality than anything else.