"For the last thirty years or more, Kenneth Koch has been writing the most exuberant poems in America. In an arena where such good spirits are rare, he has become a national treasure. In his book of personal addresses to what has mattered most in his seventy-plus years on the planet, there is a dimension of pathos and joy rare in the poetry of any era." —National Book Award (2000) finalist citation for New Addresses
The three long poems -- “Bel Canto,” “Possible World,” and “A Memoir” -- in this brilliant successor to New Addresses are ambitious attempts at rendering the complete story of a life. Taken together they present a dazzling picture of the pleasures and confusions of existence, as well as the pleasures and difficulties of expressing them.
Other poems bring Koch’s questioning, lyrical attention to more particular aspects of experience, real and imagined—a shipboard meeting, the Moor not taken, or the unknowable realm of mountaintops. As in all of Koch’s work, one hears the music of unconquerable exuberance in stormy conflict with whatever resists it—death, the injustice of power, the vagaries of life in Thailand, China, or Rome.
Thomas Disch has written in the Boston Book Review that “Koch is the most capable technician on the American scene, the brightest wit, and the emeritus most likely to persist into the next millennium . . . His work is full of ribaldry and wit, musicianship, pitch-perfect mimicry of the Great Tradition, and the celebration of pleasure for its own sunlit sake.”
The ebullience and stylistic variety that one has come to expect of thisprotean poet is everywhere present in this scintillating collection.
Author Biography: Kenneth Koch has published many volumes of poetry, including New Addresses, Straits and One Train. He was awarded the Bollingen Prize for Poetry in 1995, in 1996 he received the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry awarded by the Library of Congress, and he received the first Phi Beta Kappa Poetry award in November of 2001. His short plays, many of them produced off- and off-off-Broadway, are collected in The Gold Standard: A Book of Plays. He has also written several books about poetry, including Wishes, Lies, and Dreams; Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?; and, most recently, Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry. He taught undergraduates at Columbia University for many years. He passed away in 2002.
Koch passed away this summer at 77 after a battle with leukemia, having recently produced some of the strongest work of his career: 2000's New Addresses (an NBA finalist). These two volumes-one of new work and one of poems that preceded his 1960 debut Ko, or A Season on Earth-show Koch at his various best. Sun Out catches Koch assembling the dictions (and plentiful exclamation points) he would later synthesize into his distinctive hall of linguistic mirrors, yet these '50s poems, like those of Koch's New York School brethren Ashbery and O'Hara, speak remarkably directly to our own "circumstances the Afghanistan flowers/ The feet under the hue of/ The mid-Atlantic." The long poem "When the Sun Tries to Go On" looks back to Stevens's "The Comedian as the Letter C," and forward to O'Hara's "Second Avenue." A Possible World's one-act verse plays, one-line poems, autobiographical reminiscences and long, mock-Byronic narratives display Koch's verve and light touch, but are unmistakably colored by requiem. The opening "Bel Canto" gives thanks "For love itself, and friendship its co-agent" in the ottava rima of Koch's long poem Ko, while "Variations on Home and Abroad" returns to Ko's thoughts about national origins. "To Buddhism" harks back to last year's New Addresses, and introduces the short poems about European and Asian travel that comprise much of the book. Those poems combine autobiographical nostalgia with a trademark whimsy: "The Acropolis has a uniform/ That no schoolboy can wear because it is invisible./ `It goes to the Periclean School!' " The title poem's typographical festival pays Mallarm an homage to "Mondo universal collectivity/ Mondo aggrandizement/ Mondo nothing left to teach," while the concluding "A Memoir," finds, wryly, "Someone is singing/ On the landing below/ The arc strike of a pen on paper/ Doesn't put one in the show." Koch, as these two books amply demonstrate, most definitely remains in our collective performance. (Oct. 19) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.