Sunday, March 19, 2006

On Koch

Reading Kenneth Koch's big fat Collected Poems. What a funny guy he was. A bit long-winded, at times, with his huge essay poems, like "The Art of Poetry" and "The Art of Love." I dig his funny "knock-knock" aphorism-list poems such as "In Bed" and "Aesthetics." But I see from comparing the expert's excerpts chosen at the AWP panel with the actual poems (which are usually much longer), that Koch has great lines to quote from, but rarely a whole poem that works. For instance, "The Boiling Water," seemed like a terrific short poem from what was quoted on the panel. But they just picked out the best lines: the actual poem drones on almost 5 pages, single spaced, and loses its energy. I think Koch is better when he practices brevity:

Aesthetics of Outdoor Opera

Sing as loud
As you can
At the outdoor opera —
It will never
Be loud

Aesthetics of Being Glorious

To be glorious, take off your wings
Before you fly.

Aesthetics of Feet

To move together
Even when apart.

Or as in this short section from "Fresh Air," with its parodying of Eliot's rhythms and phrasings from Prufrock.

Supposing that one walks out into the air
On a fresh spring day and has the misfortune
To encounter an article on modern poetry
In New World Writing, or has the misfortune
To see some examples of some of the poetry
Written by men with their eyes on the myth
And the Missus and the midterms, or in the Hudson Review,
Or, if one is abroad, in Botteghe Oscure,
Or indeed in Encounter, what is one to do
With the rest of one's day that lies blasted to ruins
All bluely about one, what is one to do?
O surely not complain to the President,
Nor even to the deans of Columbia College,
Nor to T. S. Eliot, nor to Ezra Pound,
And supposing one writes to Princess Caeteni,
"Your poets are awful!" what good would it do?
And supposing one goes to the Hudson Review
With a package of matches and sets fire to the building?
One ends up in prison with trial subscriptions
To the Partisan, Sewanee, and Kenyon Review!


Emily Lloyd said...

Oooh, I love AOB Glorious--thank you. The feet, too.

Tony said...

Hmm....Peter, I think I disagree with you here. "The Boiling Water" seems perfect to me, as do the "long-winded" instructional poems from "The Art of Love."

Sure, he missed almost as often as he hit, but I think he produced as many strong poems as anyone else of his generation.

Or maybe I'm just silly! (Hard to tell these days...)

Peter said...

LOL: Tony, not silly at all. Your point is well taken. I may just have too short of an attention span for Koch's longer poems.

Pamela said...

I'm a big fan of Koch. Among My favorites: "Permanently," "Taking a Walk with You," and "You Were Wearing."

Thanks for the post.

-K- said...

FYI - March 27 would have been Frank O'Hara's 80th birthday.