New Addresses: Poems


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.  


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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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Kenneth Koch talks to testosterone, his father's business, and the Ohio River in New Addresses, his latest volume of poems. Hilarious and quirky, Koch's "addresses" are a roller-coaster ride of characters, opinions, and anecdotes from decades spent on several continents.

While many poets throughout history have written direct addresses to a lover, Koch takes that well-worn precedent and lets it run wild. Forget about the simple "To My Beloved" poem. Koch's poems, all written in the second person, address Buddhism, the Roman Forum, old age, and living in the city. That's just the beginning. The poems then turn to marijuana, sleep, fame, orgasms, competitiveness, and "various persons talked to all at once."

The title "addresses" doubles as a reference to the poet's physical mailing addresses in Rome, New York, and Paris. Koch wandered and wrote, publishing 16 books of poems and several prose books on writing, including one on teaching writing in a nursing home. Every aspect of the poet's life, from his childhood to his urban environments to his religious and sexual explorations, is addressed as if it were a person -- and not an idea, event, or agonizing process.

Whimsical, honest, and very readable, these addresses make even the largest of topics seem approachable. While abundant use of the word "you" can often put a reader on the defensive, here the "you" makes the poems seem intimate. This is how Koch starts "To World War II," where he actually addresses the war:

      Early on you introduced me to young women in bars
      You were large; and with a large hand
      You presented them in different cities,

Later, he asks the war what many soldiers probably thought, plowing forward day after day:

      How could anyone ever win you?
      How many persons would I have had to kill
      Even to begin to be a part of winning you?
      You were too much for me, though I
      Was older than you and in camouflage.

Koch takes personification to new heights, comparing his chronological age to the duration of World War II. He also manages to go back in time to the thinking of a 20-year-old soldier, where a few years meant a great deal. Despite the wars, the ended marriage, and the coming of old age, Koch's new addresses have another big thing going for them -- unfettered optimism.

Looking back at his earlier life, Koch views much of it with rose-colored glasses -- and a heavy dose of gratitude. Here, for example, are the opening lines of "To My Twenties":

      How lucky that I ran into you
      When everything was possible
      For my legs and arms, with hope in my heart
      And so happy to see any woman --
      O woman! O my twentieth year!

Koch takes advantage of his current point of view and looks back knowing what he could not have known in his actual 20s:

      Basking in you, you
      Oasis from both growing and decay
      Fantastic unheard of nine- or ten-year oasis
      A palm tree, hey! And then another
      And another -- and water!
      I'm still very impressed by you.

That rushing quality pervades many of these odes, along with an avalanche of exclamation points. Most interestingly, "To My Twenties" tries hard to make sure this poem is not just for the poet who wrote it, but for others:

      Oh in what lucky fellow,
      Unsure of himself, upset, and unemployable
      For the moment in any case, do you live in now?

The addresses also include the heavier topic of religion. The poem "To Buddhism" is followed by a five-page address "To Jewishness" and two interesting additions to that theme -- "To Jewishness and China" and the distinctively titled "To Jewishness, Paris, Ambition, Trees, My Heart, and Destiny."

That religion detour leads to beautiful, exuberant odes to the French language and the Italian language, which Koch spent many years learning. Then there's a short offering called "To the Roman Forum," which is characteristically breathless:

      After my daughter Katherine was born
      I was terribly excited
      I think I would have been measured at the twenty-five espresso mark
      We -- Janice, now Katherine, and I -- were in Rome
      (Janice gave birth at the international hospital on top of Trastevere)
      I went down and sat and looked at the ruins of you
      I gazed at them, gleaming in the half-night
      And thought, Oh my, My God, My goodness, a child, a wife.
      While I was sitting there, a friend, a sculptor, came by
      I just had a baby, I said. I mean Janice did. I'm --
      I thought I'd look at some very old great things
      To match up with this new one. Oh, Adya said,
      I guess you'd like to be alone, then. Congratulations. Goodnight.
      Thank you. Goodnight, I said. Adya departed.
      Next day I saw Janice and Katherine.
      Here they are again and have nothing to do with you
      A pure force swept through me another time
      I am here, they are here, this has happened.
      It is happening now, it happened then.

Past and present interact repeatedly in these poems, and in "To the Roman Forum," Koch seems particularly aware that a new era is beginning. What's nice is that he simultaneously realizes that he's not the only one who's gone through this change, just as he's not the only one who's been 20 or 50 or who has learned French or Italian. That "it is happening now, it has happened then" is what makes these poems widely relevant.

Finally, at the book's end, Koch looks forward in an unusual spot -- a poem titled "To Old Age." Instead of talking to the past from the vantage point of the present, he now addresses his own future, called "old age":

      You disappeared for a year
      That I spent in Paris, came back to me in my father's face
      And later in my mother's conversation.

After all that traveling and personal history, and all that humor and Everyman viewpoint, Koch puts himself in the company of poets, mentioning the great English-language poets at the end:

      You were left by Shelley
      to languish
      And by Byron and by Keats. Shakespeare never encountered you.
      What are you, old age,
      That some do and some do not come to you?

In New Addresses, direct confrontation is actually pleasant. This is understandable poetry, with no flab to hide the speaker's fear, joy, and confusion. Using humor, honesty, and verbal pyrotechnics, Koch has fashioned his old mailing addresses into art.

—Aviya Kushner

Library Journal
"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.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375709128
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/30/2001
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 88
  • Sales rank: 1,090,994
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Kenneth Koch has published many volumes of poetry, including New Addresses, Straits and One Train. He was awarded the Bollingen Prize for Poetry in 1995, in 1996 he received the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry awarded by the Library of Congress, and he received the first Phi Beta Kappa Poetry award in November of 2001. His short plays, many of them produced off- and off-off-Broadway, are collected in The Gold Standard: A Book of Plays. He has also written several books about poetry, including Wishes, Lies, and Dreams; Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?; and, most recently, Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry. He taught undergraduates at Columbia University for many years. He died in 2002.

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Read an Excerpt


As you were contained in
Or embodied by
Louise Schlossman
When she was a sophomore
At Walnut Hills
High School
In Cincinnati, Ohio,
I salute you
And thank you
For the fact
That she received
My kisses with tolerance
On New Year's Eve
And was not taken aback
As she well might have been
Had she not had you
And had I not, too.
Ah, you!
Dark, complicated you!
Jewishness, you are the tray
On it painted
Moses, David and the Ten
Commandments, the handwriting
On the Wall, Daniel
In the lions' den
On which my childhood
Was served
By a mother
And father
Who took you
To Michigan
Oh the soft smell
Of the pine
Trees of Michigan
And the gentle roar
Of the Lake! Michigan
Or sent you
To Wisconsin
I went to camp there
On vacation, with me
Every year!
My counselors had you
My fellow campers
Had you and "Doc
Ehrenreich" who
Ran the camp had you
We got up in the
Mornings you were there
You were in the canoes
And on the baseball
Diamond, everywhere around.
At home, growing
Taller, you
Thrived, too. Louise had you
And Charles had you
And Jean had you
And her sister Mary
Had you
We all had you
And your Bible
Full of stories
That didn't apply
Or didn't seem to apply
In the soft spring air
Or dancing, or sitting in the cars
To anything we did.
In "religious school"
At the Isaac M. Wise
Synagogue (called "temple")
We studied not you
But Judaism, the one who goes with you
And is your guide, supposedly,
Oddly separated
From you, though there
In the same building, you
In us children, and it
On the blackboards
And in the books Bibles
And books simplified
From the Bible. How
Like a Bible with shoulders
Rabbi Seligmann is!
You kept my parents and me
Out of hotels near Crystal Lake
In Michigan and you resulted, for me,
In insults,
At which I felt
Chagrined but
Was energized by you.
You went with me
Into the army, where
One night in a foxhole
On Leyte a fellow soldier
Said Where are the fuckin Jews?
Back in the PX. I d like to
See one of those bastards
Out here. I d kill him!
I decided to conceal
You, my you, anyway, for a while.
Forgive me for that.
At Harvard you
Landed me in a room
In Kirkland House
With two other students
Who had you. You
Kept me out of the Harvard Clubs
And by this time (I
Was twenty-one) I found
I preferred
Kissing girls who didn t
Have you. Blonde
Hair, blue eyes,
And Christianity (oddly enough) had an
Aphrodisiac effect on me.
And everything that opened
Up to me, of poetry, of painting, of music,
Of architecture in old cities
Didn t have you
I was
Though I knew
Those who had you
Had hardly had the chance
To build cathedrals
Write secular epics
(Like Orlando Furioso)
Or paint Annunciations—"Well
I had David in the wings." David
Was a Jew, even a Hebrew.
He wasn't Jewish.
You're quite
Something else. I had Mahler,
Einstein, and Freud. I didn't
Want those three (then). I wanted
Shelley, Byron, Keats, Shakespeare,
Mozart, Monet. I wanted
Botticelli and Fra Angelico.
"There you've
Chosen some hard ones
For me to connect to. But
Why not admit that I
Gave you the life
Of the mind as a thing
To aspire to? And
Where did you go
To find your 'freedom'? to
New York, which was
Full of me." I do know
Your good qualities, at least
Good things you did
For me—when I was ten
Years old, how you brought
Judaism in, to give ceremony
To everyday things, surprise and
Symbolism and things beyond
Understanding in the
Synagogue then I
Was excited by you, a rescuer
Of me from the flatness of my life.
But then the flatness got you
And I let it keep you
And, perhaps, of all things known,
That was most ignorant. "You
Sound like Yeats, but
You re not. Well, happy
Voyage home, Kenneth, to
The parking lot
Of understood experience. I'll be
Here if you need me and here
After you don t
Need anything else. HERE is a quality
I have, and have had
For you, and for a lot of others,
Just by being it, since you were born."


How lucky that I ran into you
When everything was possible
For my legs and arms, and with hope in my heart
And so happy to see any woman(
O woman! O my twentieth year!
Basking in you, you
Oasis from both growing and decay
Fantastic unheard of nine- or ten-year oasis
A palm tree, hey! And then another
And another (and water!
I'm still very impressed by you. Whither,
Midst falling decades, have you gone? Oh in what lucky fellow,
Unsure of himself, upset, and unemployable
For the moment in any case, do you live now?
From my window I drop a nickel
By mistake. With
You I race down to get it
But I find there on
The street instead, a good friend,
X—— N———, who says to me
Kenneth do you have a minute?
And I say yes! I am in my twenties!
I have plenty of time! In you I marry,
In you I first go to France; I make my best friends
In you, and a few enemies. I
Write a lot and am living all the time
And thinking about living. I loved to frequent you
After my teens and before my thirties.
You three together in a bar
I always preferred you because you were midmost
Most lustrous apparently strongest
Although now that I look back on you
What part have you played?
You never, ever, were stingy.
What you gave me you gave whole
But as for telling
Me how best to use it
You weren't a genius at that.
Twenties, my soul
Is yours for the asking
You know that, if you ever come back.

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