Another day, another work of fiction borrowing a title from Frank O’Hara’s poetry. I’ve noted examples of this phenomenon before — such as Andrew Sean Greer’s story “It’s a Summer’s Day,” Emma Jane Unsworth’s novel Animals, and Don DeLillo’s short story “Midnight in Dostoyevsky,” all of which borrow their titles from O’Hara.
Add another to the list: Neon in Daylight, a new novel by Hermione Hoby, who, like Emma Jane Unsworth, is British. Hoby has lifted her title from one of O’Hara’s most famous poems, “A Step Away from Them,” where he attributes the remark to his friend, the renowned dance critic and poet Edwin Denby:
Neon in daylight is a
great pleasure, as Edwin Denby would
write, as are light bulbs in daylight.
For O’Hara, the pleasure of seeing neon on a sunny day suggests the gratuitous abundance and excess of his beloved New York.
In her review of the novel in the New York Times, Parul Sehgal notes the O’Hara connection, and links it to the book’s evocation of the city:
The title comes from one of Frank O’Hara’s “Lunch Poems” (“Neon in daylight is a / great pleasure”), his collection of odes to New York, a great dispensary of pleasure and strangeness. Hoby shares O’Hara’s keen eye for the city’s grubby beauty, for how, as she writes, “a low-slung sun burned all the day’s dirt into gold,” for its hum and heat and clatter. On her first day in the city, Kate is woken from a nap by the din of a nearby restaurant reaching her third-floor apartment: “The sounds she woke to were so rude and immediate that it seemed as though all the sidewalk tables of the cafe had levitated — that the whole tableau of chairs, plates, glasses were suspended right outside this window, with freshly showered men and women dining while their feet dangled happily in the air.”
Sehgal returns to O’Hara at the end of her review, quoting from “Steps,” another poem about the delirious pleasures of New York:
We can see what these characters cannot. Their lives seem so particular, so painful and noisy to them. But under the city’s “merciless” skyline, in the wake of a hurricane, how similar they suddenly are, how small, how human. “In a sense we’re all winning,” goes another poem by O’Hara, “we’re alive.”
I haven’t read Hoby’s novel yet, but it sounds great. The title is also yet another sign of Frank O’Hara’s vast and ever-growing influence, which continues to spread, well beyond the confines of poetry, to TV showrunners, indie musicians, visual artists, soda corporations, filmmakers, and, yes, fiction writers.