"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 this protean poet is everywhere present in this scintillating collection.
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March 09, 2004
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Excerpt from A Possible World by Kenneth Koch
Les morts vont vite, the dead go fast, the next day absent!
Et les vivants sont dingues, the living are haywire.
Except for a few who grieve, life rapidly readjusts itself
The milliner trims the hat not thinking of the departed
The horse sweats and throws his stubborn rider to the earth
Uncaring if he has killed him or not
The thrown man rises. But now he knows that he is not going,
Not going fast, though he was close to having been gone.
The day after Caesar's death, there was a new, bustling Rome
The moment after the racehorse's death, a new one is sought for the stable
The second after a moth's death there are one or two hundred other moths
The month after Einstein's death the earth is inundated with new theories
Biographies are written to cover up the speed with which we go:
No more presence in the bedroom or waiting in the hall
Greeting to say hello with mixed emotions. The dead go quickly
Not knowing why they go or where they go. To die is human,
To come back divine. Roosevelt gives way to Truman
Suddenly in the empty White House a brave new voice resounds
And the wheelchaired captain has crossed the great divide.
Faster than memories, faster than old mythologies, faster than the speediest train.
Alexander of Macedon, on time!
Prudhomme on time, Gorbachev on time, the beloved and the lover on time!
Les morts vont vite. We living stand at the gate
And life goes on.