Kenneth Koch: “Permanently” smitten

“Write poetry as if you were in love. If you are always in love you will not always write the same poem, but if you are never in love you may.” ~ Kenneth Koch

“Kenneth Koch Reading” by Fairfield Porter (1966)

Happy June! Here’s a little Kenneth Koch to nudge your nouns and activate your adjectives.


by Kenneth Koch

One day the Nouns were clustered in the street.
An Adjective walked by, with her dark beauty.
The Nouns were struck, moved, changed.
The next day a Verb drove up, and created the Sentence.

Each Sentence says one thing -- for example,
“Although it was a dark rainy day when the Adjective walked by, I shall remember the pure and sweet expression on her face until the day I perish from the green, effective earth.”
Or, “Will you please close the window, Andrew?”
Or, for example, “Thank you, the pink pot of flowers on the window sill has changed color recently to a light yellow, due to the heat from the boiler factory which exists nearby.”

In the springtime the Sentences and the Nouns lay silently on the grass.
A lonely Conjunction here and there would call, “And! But!”
But the Adjective did not emerge.

As the adjective is lost in the sentence,
So I am lost in your eyes, ears, nose, and throat --
You have enchanted me with a single kiss
Which can never be undone
Until the destruction of language.

~ from Selected Poems, 1950-1982 (Vintage, 1985)

“Window” by Jane Freilicher (2011)

Charming, conversational, lighthearted, with quite a surprise at the end. Did you realize this was a love poem when you first started reading it? Love Koch’s disarming approach. 🙂

Perhaps, like me, you were delighted with how he cleverly personified the parts of speech, immediately drawing us in at the beginning with characters we’re more accustomed to diagramming than dallying with.

Continue reading

friday feast: what are you wearing?

I bet you think I’m going to share a Poe poem today.

I can’t because I’m not wearing black, and my raven’s out sick.

No, today, I’m wearing blue Winnie the Pooh pajamas that glow in the dark. My mentioning this might raise your expectations just a tiny bit — will this post contain a flash of brilliance from A.A. Milne?

When I first read Kenneth Koch’s “You Were Wearing,” I smiled at all the cultural references. I was drawn in right away by the poem’s freshness and curious details, and suitably teased by the suspense. I love Koch’s spontaneity, side-swiping humor and unpredictability. I also love that if you look beneath the light, casual tone, you find a more perplexing message (which I’m still pondering). Koch is a master at enrobing the profound with playfulness.

Just like the narrator and girl in the poem, as readers we approach pieces of writing clothed in expectation of the experience to come. What habits of understanding are you wearing today?


by Kenneth Koch

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 the 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 street we saw a snowman holding a garbage can lid smashed into a likeness of the mad English king, George the Third.

~ from Thank You and Other Poems (Grove, 1962).

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at Carol’s Corner. I wonder what she’s wearing. ☺

friday feast: do you really have to choose?


by Kenneth Koch

You want a social life, with friends,
A passionate love life and as well
To work hard every day. What’s true
Is of these three you may have two
And two can pay you dividends
But never may have three.

There isn’t time enough, my friends–
Though dawn begins, yet midnight ends–
To find the time to have love, work, and friends.
Michelangelo had feeling
For Vittoria and the Ceiling
But did he go to parties at day’s end?

Homer nightly went to banquets
Wrote all day but had no lockets
Bright with pictures of his Girl.
I know one who loves and parties
And has done so since his thirties
But writes hardly anything at all.
~ from Straits (Knopf, 2000).

When I saw this poem in Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s memoir, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life (Three Rivers Press, 2005), it prompted me to reassess the choices I have made in my own life.

For me, love and friends are absolute necessities. Without them, how and where would I find the heart to write? But have I ever made writing a priority to the total exclusion of either love or friends?

*Squirms in chair*

In order to excel at what you do, no matter what line of work you’re in, sacrifices have to be made. I get that. Yet it seems writers, in particular, sacrifice something every minute of every day.

Writing is lonely; when you’re doing it, you miss your friends, and opportunities to make new friends.

When you’re with your loved ones, you feel guilty because you should be writing. If you don’t feel guilty, you sometimes wonder whether you should.

There really is no such thing as a non-writing activity. Everything you do (eating, breathing, reading, walking) affects your work in one way or another. And what about that little voice in your head who keeps whispering, “procrastination”?

As for me, I’ve written way more than I’ve partied. So, where are the promised dividends? What’s missing from the equation are factors I can’t control, which is pretty much everything but the actual writing.

Maybe I need to work on redefining “dividends.”

I’ll never understand why, in order to write true to life, you have to remove yourself from it.

In future, please remind me not to read any more poems by Mr. Koch.


The Roundup today is at Author Amok, (thank god I’m not alone in my amokness). Check out the fine poems being shared today — that is, if you can afford to socialize.