Overview

"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 ...
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A Possible World

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Overview

"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.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Koch passed away this summer at 77 after a battle with leukemia, having recently produced some of the strongest work of his career: 2000's New Addresses (an NBA finalist). These two volumes-one of new work and one of poems that preceded his 1960 debut Ko, or A Season on Earth-show Koch at his various best. Sun Out catches Koch assembling the dictions (and plentiful exclamation points) he would later synthesize into his distinctive hall of linguistic mirrors, yet these '50s poems, like those of Koch's New York School brethren Ashbery and O'Hara, speak remarkably directly to our own "circumstances the Afghanistan flowers/ The feet under the hue of/ The mid-Atlantic." The long poem "When the Sun Tries to Go On" looks back to Stevens's "The Comedian as the Letter C," and forward to O'Hara's "Second Avenue." A Possible World's one-act verse plays, one-line poems, autobiographical reminiscences and long, mock-Byronic narratives display Koch's verve and light touch, but are unmistakably colored by requiem. The opening "Bel Canto" gives thanks "For love itself, and friendship its co-agent" in the ottava rima of Koch's long poem Ko, while "Variations on Home and Abroad" returns to Ko's thoughts about national origins. "To Buddhism" harks back to last year's New Addresses, and introduces the short poems about European and Asian travel that comprise much of the book. Those poems combine autobiographical nostalgia with a trademark whimsy: "The Acropolis has a uniform/ That no schoolboy can wear because it is invisible./ `It goes to the Periclean School!' " The title poem's typographical festival pays Mallarm an homage to "Mondo universal collectivity/ Mondo aggrandizement/ Mondo nothing left to teach," while the concluding "A Memoir," finds, wryly, "Someone is singing/ On the landing below/ The arc strike of a pen on paper/ Doesn't put one in the show." Koch, as these two books amply demonstrate, most definitely remains in our collective performance. (Oct. 19) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Given Koch's recent death at the age of 77, it is entirely fitting that his last collection, A Possible World, ends with a poem titled "A Memoir" that explores the entire concept of revisiting one's life (as poets so often do). "What shall I put in my memoir/ Kansas City/ Got off bus to get a haircut there, " muses the poet in lines that typify his style: off the cuff, vernacular, a bit tongue in cheek. That style has been evident throughout his distinguished career (he's won a host of awards, including the first Phi Beta Kappa Award for poetry, and was a National Book Award finalist in 2000 for New Addresses), and it's a pleasure to see him in good fighting form here. Though these poems were written near the end of Koch's life, they aren't terribly overcast or elegiac, and despite the final poem, he seems less interested in exploring his own life than in chronicling a whole array of "possible worlds." It is particularly instructive to read this book in conjunction with Sun Out, a collection of early poems that Koch observed "are in such a different style that they never seemed to fit into my books." Koch was hanging out with a lot of painters at the time, and these poems do have more concrete imagery and perhaps tamer lines than his other works, but Koch's classic snap, crackle, and pop are still there. These books serve as fine testimonials to an important American poet and should be considered by most libraries.-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307542601
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/25/2012
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 112
  • File size: 3 MB

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 passed away in 2002.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Proverb

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.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Table of Contents

Bel Canto 3
A Review 8
A Momentary Longing to Hear Sad Advice from One Long Dead 9
Mountain 10
To Buddhism 11
A Schoolroom in Haiti 12
The Expansive Water 13
La Ville de Nice 14
Topiary Couple 15
Behavior in Thailand 16
On the Acropolis 19
Zones 24
A Changing China 25
Day and Night in Kuala Lumpur 27
Proverb 30
At Extremes 31
Possible World 35
To a Bug 49
Variations at Home and Abroad 52
Flight 56
A Big Clown-Face-Shaped Cloud 57
Roma non basta una vita 58
Paradiso 67
The Unfinished 68
The Moor Not Taken 69
Thor Not Taken 70
Movement 71
Primus Inter Pares 72
Relations 74
Barking Dogs in the Snow 75
A Memoir 76
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2012

    Hollyleaf 5

    Owleyes stretched beside the warriors' den, then followed Thunderstar across the clearing. Fireheart padded out of his den and stared wistfully at the thorn barrier. Ashfur hopped out after him. "Are you going to the Gathering?" Fireheart shrugged. "Not tonight." A gust of wind rattled the thornbush. "Let's go." Thunderstar pushed into the brambles. "There's more rain coming, it may be a short Gathering." The patrol pounded up the slope as Thunderstar followed the trail to the forest's edge. Pelts flashed between brambles. Hollyleaf's paws slithered on wet leaves. As Honeyfern steadied her with a flick of her tail, a ginger pelt caught the edge of her vision. Hollyleaf turned to see Runningwind fall in beside her, his feet skimming the ground as he matched her paw step for paw step. She pushed harder to pull ahead. The ginger warrior seemed to be there every time she looked over her shoulder. She veered around a bramble, sliding across his path so he had to let her take the lead. She reached the top of the slope before him and, breaking from the trees, stared down at the lake. "Tired already?" Sweetpaw pulled up beside her. "I'm not!" Honeyfern mewed as she pelted past them, skidding down the slope after her Clanmates. Hollyleaf pulled ahead, down the short path onto the rocky pebbles. She raced after the patrol, keeping her eyes fixed on the ground. They reached the tree-bridge that spanned the water between the shore and the island. Hanging back, she let her Clanmates cross first. The air was thick with scents from every Clan. Hollyleaf nosed her way out of the grass. The clearing was swarming with pelts. Faces turned as ThunderClan padded out from the grass. Hollyleaf followed her Clan past the staring faces and halted beside Honeyfern and Swiftbreeze. Thunderstar shouldered his way through in front of them, heading for the Great Oak. Owleyes joined Gorseclaw and all the other deputies at the bottom. Hollyleaf scanned the rows of faces, searching for Fallen Leaves. Three medicine cats, Runningnose, Mothflight, and Brambleberry were gathered below the oak. Flametail paced in front of them, lashing his tail. Hollyleaf glanced at Whitestorm. "He looks like he wants Jayfeather to visit so he can start a fight." She felt hot breath on her ear and turned to find Russetfur leaning close. "Murderers deserve to be punished!" Hollyleaf turned on her, bristling. "Jayfeather is not a murderer!" She defended the living ThunderClan deputy. Leopardfur stepped between them. "Why isn't he at the real Gathering then? She challenged Hollyleaf. "Too guilty to show his whiskers?" Whitestorm barged Leopardfur away with his shoulder. "Stay close to your Clanmates Hollyleaf," he warned. "Some cats don't seem to realize there's a truce." He glanced at the round full moon hanging over the island. A cloud hung across it like a smear of a cobweb.

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