In his poem, "The Day Lady Died", Frank O'Hara refrains from using all the conventional patterns of elegiac poetry. Instead of the common reflection of grief, utilizing tragic laments and a recount of greatness now gone, O'Hara's seemingly ordinary poem very subtly evokes a sense of loss. At first, O'Hara's poem appears to be the account of a very typical day. His classic "I do this and I do that" style, accompanied by the simplistic description of his trivial daily , contribute to the sense of . He gets a shoeshine and, later, a hamburger. He goes to the bank and buys a gift for a friend. The little discrepancies in his routine give light to the fact that it is no ordinary day. Miss Stillwagon's unprecedented behavior in the bank and the fact that he does not know who will feed him are both noteworthy in that they are odd occurences .
In the universal order, something is amiss.
By mentioning the unique qualities of the day, O'Hara very subtly draws the reader's attention to the most notable event of the day. He does not even mention the deceased until the 25th line, and he never states her name (except for the clever reversal of her nickname in the title).
Billie Holiday, or Lady Day as she was called, is one of those luminous characters in history whose name alone evokes greatness. She is the embodiment of the bittersweet American success story. Rising to stardom after an impoverished Southern childhood, she was plagued by both drug addiction and the slow loss of her famed voice. She was prohibited from singing in bars after she being arrested for heroin use. Holiday affected O'Hara, with his keen fascination with all things distinctly American, deeply. O'Hara consorted with all the poets, dramatists, and artists of the time. His friend, Kenneth Koch, organized nights of jazz and poetry readings at locals clubs. At one of these soirees, Mal Waldron, the well-known black pianist, accompanied Koch as he read his poems. Holiday dropped by to see Waldron, her close friend and favorite musician, and was persuaded to sing a few songs.