Kenneth Koch

February 18, 2007


Founding member of New York school of poets
Had an eye for the incongruous image and generated tension out of the anarchic profusion of such images
Recorded his experiences of teaching children to write poetry in two books
Began writing verse at five, became serious at seventeen
Went into the army at eighteen for three years
Earned a B.A. at Harvard with classmates John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara
Recieved a doctorate at Columbia
Mater of parody and pastiche, satirized earlier esteemed poets and did not spare himself
Poetry is a high-spirited romp that delights in its sonci resourcesfulness and allusiveness
Risks playfulness and whimsy even when pursuing central questions about contemporary aesthetics

“A reader should put your work down puzzled, Distressed and illuminated, ready to believe It is curious to be alive.”


In the blue hubbub of the same-through-wealth sky / Amba grew to health and fifteenth year among the jungle scrubbery. / The hate-bird sang on a lower wing of the birch-nut tree / And Amba heard him sing, and in his health he too / Began to sing, but them stopped. Along the lower Congo / There are such high plants of what there is there, when / At morning Amba heard their pink music as gentlemanly / As if he had been in civilization. When morning stank / Over the ridge of coconuts and bald fronds, with agility / Amba climbed the permanent nut trees, and will often sing / To the shining birds, and the pets in their stealth / Are each other among, also, whether it be blue (thhhh) feathers / Or green slumber. Africa in Amba’s mind was those white mornings he sang / (thhhh) high trala to the nougat birds, and after / The trenches had all been dug for the day, Amba / Would dream at the edge of some stained and stinking pond / Of the afternight music, as blue pets came to him in his dreams. / From the orange coconuts he would extract some stained milk, / Underneath his feet roots, tangled anf filthy green. At night / The moon (zzzzzz) shining down on Amba’s sweet mocked sleep.

In Chicago Louis walked the morning’s rounds with agility. / A boy of seventeen and already recognized as a fast milkman! / The whizz and burr of dead chimes oppressed the / Holocaustic unison of Frank’s brain, a young outlaw / Destined to meet dishonor and truth in a same instant, / Crossing Louis’ path gently in the street, the great secret unknown.

The fur rhubard did not please Daisy. ‘Freddie,’ she called, / ‘Our fruit’s gang mouldy.’ Daisy, white cheeks wiht a spot of red / In them, like apples grown in paper bags, smiled / Gently at the fresh new kitchen; and, then, depressed, / She began to cover the rhubarb with her hands.

In the crush green ice and snow Baba ran up and around with exuberance! / Today, no doubt, Father and Uncle Dad would come, and together they three would chase the whale! / Baba stared down through the green crusty ice at the world of fish / And closed his eyes and began to imagine the sweet trip / Over musky waters, when Daddy would speak the whale, and the wind / Blow ‘Crad, crad!’ through Uncle Dad’s fur, and the sweet end / Of the day where they would smile at one another over the smoking blubber / And Uncle Dad would tell tales of his adventures past the shadow bar / Chasing the while snow-eagle. Baba ran / Into the perfect igloo screaming with impatience, and Malmal, / His mother, kissed him and dressed him with loving care for the icy trip.

Ten Ko sprinted over the rice paddies. Slush, slosh, sloosh! / His brother, Wan Kai, would soon be returned form the village / Where he had gone … (Blue desire!….)

Roon startled her parents by appearing perfectly dressed / In a little white collar and gown. / Angebor lifted himself up so he might stare in the window at the pretty girl. / His little hands unclenched and dropped the coins he had saved for the oona. / He opened wide his eyes, then blinked at the pretty girl. He had never seen anything like that. / That evening, when it whitened in the sky, and a green / Clearness was there, Maggia, and Angebor had no oona. / But Angebor talked with excitement of what he had seen, and Maggia drank zee’th.

The little prisoner wept and wailed, telling of his life in the sand / And the burning sun over the desert. And one night it was cool / And dark, and he stole away over the green sand to search for his parents. / And he went to their tent, and they kissed him and covered him with loving-kindness. / And the new morning sun shone like a pink rose in the heavens. / And the family prayed, the desert wind scorching their cool skin.

Amba arose. Thhhhhhh! went the birds, and clink clank cleck went / The leaves under the monkeys’ feet, and Amba went to search for water / Speaking quietly with his fresh voice as he went toward Gorilla Lake / To all the beasts. Wan Kai lifted his body from the rice mat / When his brother Ten Ko came running in. ‘They have agreed in the village,’ / He said. Win Tei brought them tea. Outside the rain / Fell. Plop. plop. Daisy felt something stir inside her. / She went to the window and looked out at the snow. Louis came up the stairs / With the milk. ‘Roon has bronchitis,’ and the American doctor, / ‘She will have to stay inside for then days during this rain.’ Amba / Sneaked away, and wanted to go there again, but Maggia said he could not go again in this rain / And would be sure to lose the money for the oona. Baba stared / At the green and black sea. Uncle Dad stood up in the boat, while Baba / Watched Father plunge his harpoon three times in the whale. Daisy turned / Dreamily around, her hand on her cheek. Frank’s boot / Kicked in the door. Amba wept; Ahna the deer was dead; she lay amid her puzzled young. / The sweet forms of the apple blossoms bent down to Wehtukai. / The boat s;lit. Sun streamed into the apartment. Amba, Amba! / The lake was covered with gloom. Enna plunged into it screaming.

-Geography (in whole)

You were wearing your Edgar Allan Poe printed cotton blouse./ In each divided up square of the blouse was a picture of Edgar Allan Poe./ Your hair was blonde and you were cute. You asked me, “Do most boys think that most girls are bad?”/ I smelled the mould of your seaside resort hotel bedroom on your hair held in place by a John Greenleaf Whittier clip./ “No,” I said, “it’s girls who think that boys are bad.” Then we read Snowbound together/ And ran around in an attic, so that a little of the blue enamel was/ scraped off my George Washington, Father of His Country, shoes.
Mother was walking in the living room, her Strauss Waltzes comb in her hair./ We waited for a time and then joined her, only to be served tea in cups painted with pictures of Herman Melville/ As well as with illustrations from his book
Moby Dick and from his novella, Benito Cereno./ Father came in wearing his Dick Tracy necktie: “How about a drink, everyone?”/ I said, “Let’s go outside a while.” Then we went onto the porch and sat on the Abraham Lincoln swing./ You sat on the eyes, mouth, and beard part, and I sat on the knees./ In the yard across the streed we saw a snowman holding a garbage can lid smashed into a likeness of the mad English king, Georeg the Third.

-You Were Wearing (in whole)


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