Monday, January 26, 2009

Kenneth Koch

A page from Koch's book Art of the Possible

"It seems everything is so full of possibilities one can hardly take it all in."

Kenneth Koch is one of my favorite poets. It's hard to write about the life and writings of a poet without creating a book report kind of sound, but it must be done!

So, let us get some basic information out of the way. Koch was born in 1925 and died in 2002. He served in WWII, graduated from both Harvard and Columbia, and taught at Columbia for over 40 years (This is all from Wikipedia). Koch was a member of the New York school of poetry along with Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, James Schuyler and many more. The New York School included artists and musicians, so, not surprisingly, they were inspired by one another. Larry Rivers and Jackson Pollock are two examples of said painters, and pieces of their work are included in this post. "We poets and painters hung around a lot together, showed each other our works, and were made by this camaraderie very (or more than otherwise) ambitious, envious, emulous, and, I think, lucky," Koch stated.

"No. 5, 1948" by Jackson Pollock

As I understand it, and the introductory quote displays, Koch was an excitable kind of guy, but in the best way possible. Pretty much everything inspired him to write poetry, and it seems he appreciated many art forms. Koch's book The Art of the Possible is a series of comics, poorly drawn and barely recognizable, but comics nonetheless.
This book may be the greatest example of Kenneth Koch's unrelenting excitement. The man clearly cannot draw, I mean he is a very bad artist, but he still filled a book with his strange pictures and poems, and then he sold it to people for money. From the way I've described it, you probably aren't very interested in picking up a copy, but that would be a huge mistake! The book is amazing, and it raises all these questions about art and poetry. Because it is confusing and kind of weird, the reader is forced to ask all these questions and analyze the poetry in a completely different way than if, say, it were in a simpler, easier to read format.

One final note about Kenneth Koch. Sometimes critics and readers dismiss him as a "comic poet." I think this comes from the fact that Koch writes about "lighter" topics. Actually, he just writes about everything. Koch has discussed this with interviewers, "I don't think the nature of my poetry is satirical or even ironic, I think it's essentially lyrical but again I don't know if it's my position to say what my poetry is like." A lot of people agree that the New York school poets helped to move poetry away from an emphasis on "serious" content, and I agree. There are probably many people who think that is a bad thing, but, quite simply, they are wrong.

"Self Portrait" by Larry Rivers

Here are my sources:

Interview with Koch:

Article about Koch...though I'm not sure why it's in The Nation:

Koch Bio:

Wikipedia on Koch:

P.S. Sorry for the awful formatting of this post.

1 comment:

Mo said...

Koch definitely seems excitable.

And he took a lot of flak during his career for being "funny" in his poetry. He really did open the door for a lot of poets (like you).