Kenneth Koch, who has already considerably "stretched our ideas of what it is possible to do in poetry" (David Lehman), here takes on the classic poetic device of apostrophe, or direct address. His use of it gives him yet another chance to say things never said before in prose or in verse and, as well, to bring new life to a form in which Donne talked to Death, Shelley to the West Wind, Whitman to the Earth, Pound to his Songs, O'Hara to the Sun at Fire Island.
Koch, in this new book, talks to things important in his life to Breath, to World War Two, to Orgasms, to the French Language, to Jewishness, to Psychoanalysis, to Sleep, to his Heart, to Friendship, to High Spirits, to his Twenties, to the Unknown. He makes of all these "new addresses" an exhilarating autobiography of a most surprising and unforeseeable kind.
"How can I ever say what's in my heart/ While imitating the head butts of a rhinoceros," the prolific Koch asks in "To Kidding Around," one of 50 poems in this new collection. For Koch, one mechanism of getting things said directly seems to be in keeping his poems short (with less space for his trademark antics). Readers who respect Koch's writing but aren't moved by the clown guise have been waiting for a book such as this. Yet Koch's gimmick-prone methodology is still very much in evidence: the "addresses" of the title are literal, the speaker accusing, praising, or querying abstract concepts, emotions, bits of himself, and his past. In short: self-revelation, protected by a somewhat corny "you." At its best, as in "To The Roman Forum," the outward focus becomes a means of handling sentimentality. The resulting poems vary greatly, from the clear emotional buildup of "To My Father's Business" (reminiscent of David Ignatow's early work) or "To Jewishness" to the zany mindlessness of "To Testosterone" or "To Jewishness and China." Recommended for most poetry collections, this is a perfect introduction for new readers.--Rochelle Ratner, formerly with "Soho Weekly News," New York Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\