5 dic. 2005

Book Review

If America's greatest living poet dies, does he (or she) become America's 200th greatest dead poet? In the case of Kenneth Koch, I'd argue he's STILL the greatest living poet. I'm reading the Collected Poems from start to finish. I'm almost to Thank You and Other Poems. It doesn't include Ko or The Duplications, or When the Sun Tries to Go On or 1,001 Avant-Garde Plays, which I usually read as a book of poems that happens to be in dramatic form. Even so, it comes in at more than 700 pages. Koch, along with other notorious co-conspirators, created a new language for poetry in the mid-century. New Languages. Koch's is very much the language of 2005, the language of flarf, of the New Sincerity, of Anselm Berrigan or Jordan Davis. Is there a better attack on the SoQ than "Fresh Air"? From The Pleasures of Peace to Drew Gardner's "Chicks Dig War," I see an unbroken line.

Koch himself devised several languages, expressive media, for poetry, all recognizably his. The goofball jargon of Sun Out, the mock-epic Ottava Rima of Ko. The essayistic, seemingly plain style of The Art of Love. The aphoristic style of some of his late works. He is perhaps one of the easiest poets to misunderestimate. Although his tonal range is as large as any poet's, he is usually remembered more for his comic side. (Incidentally, he changed the use of humor in poetry. Before him, humor was mostly genteel, strained wit or "light verse" of the Ogden Nash variety. After him, contemporary poetry can be funny--belly-laugh funny. I've always hated light verse.) Even when he adopts a more serious tone, he still has a light touch, a way of avoiding ponderousness. He is incapable of being oversolemn. And to the guy who said you should only use three exclamation points in your entire career as a poet, I say Kenneth Koch! That's like saying you should only have one orgasm a year.

For years I read him, he was my favorite poet, but I still tended to "misunderstimate" him, to see him somehow as not having the same "chops" as Ashbery or O'Hara. I'm thinking I was wrong in this, wrong in my theory that humor was a way of compensating for a flatter or less virtuosic poetic talent. In the first place, he does in fact possess considerable virtuosity, and is as gifted in his own way as any other poet of his time. Why place a value on, say, Ashbery's unique gift and say that it is more valuable than that of Koch's? In the second place, that's a dumb yardstick in the first place.

The physical book is impeccable. Maybe I should have waited to read the whole thing before writing this review, but in the spirit of reckless Kochian exuberance, I wanted to simply communicate the joy of having the thing.

2 comentarios:

C. Dale dijo...

Reading the entire Collected is an amazing thing. I really loved re-reading so many of his poems.

Jehza dijo...

"One Train May Hide Another," had few fans in a course I just took...

but I pounded my fist on the table and called them savages.