Educated at Harvard University, Frank O'Hara was witty and charming, as much of a public personality as a distinguished poet. He was the glue that held together the New York School poetry scene, which included John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Barbara Guest, and James Schuyler.
O'Hara took a personal and casual approach to his poetry. In his manifesto, "Personism," he stated: "I don’t even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout, 'Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep'." However, his easy and conversational tone in Lunch Poems camouflaged an attention to formal detail, which was clearly present beneath the pop-culture references, melodramatic declarations, and quick successions of perfect images.
Along with his earlier volume, Meditations in an Emergency, his 1964 book Lunch Poems is considered to be his freshest and most accomplished collection. The title refers to both O'Hara's capacity to write the poems while sitting in Times Square during his lunch hour, as well as the ease in which a reader could take the pocket-sized volume along and read it during his own lunch hour.
Lunch Poems includes some of the verses that made him a cult hero, including "The Day Lady Died," "Ave Maria," and "Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed!]." The poems talk as easily about museums as movies, and are filled with the names, cultural icons, and places of 1960s New York.