Imagism is all very well, but...
(Poem #278) Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams
1 I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer. I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do and its wooden beams were so inviting. 2 We laughed at the hollyhocks together and then I sprayed them with lye. Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing. 3 I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the next ten years. The man who asked for it was shabby and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold. 4 Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg. Forgive me. I was clumsy and I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor!
A brilliant takeoff on William Carlos Williams' 'This is Just to Say' - I still can't read it without laughing. Koch has the tone down perfectly - it is tempting to say that he dislikes Imagism, and is trying to skewer it for its [perceived] pretentiousness, but I feel he is laughing more with than at the genre (see his comments about seriousness in the notes). Perhaps the proper comparison is with Porter's 'Japanese Jokes' - at first glance a rather cutting parody, but nonetheless genuinely sympathetic to the form. And finally I feel more than usually compelled to point out that all the above is strictly my opinion - feel free to ignore it and simply enjoy the poem for its very considerable merits. - m.  run just a few days ago - see poem #274  poem #198 Biography: Kenneth Koch lives in New York City and teaches at Columbia University. He has published many volumes of poetry, most recently One Train and On the Great Atlantic Rainway, Selected poems 1950-1988 (both in 1994). Together they earned him the Bollingen Prize in Poetry in 1995; in 1996 he received the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry awarded by the Library of Congress. His short plays, many of them produced off- and off-off-Broadway, are represented in a recent volume, The Gold Standard: A Book of Plays, also available in paperback. Also recently published is Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry. -- from the Poetry Center website, http://www.randomhouse.com/knopf/poetry/features/19990417/aboutthepoet.html For a more complete biography and bibliography, see [broken link] http://www.poets.org/lit/poet/kkoch.htm The Brtiannica has the following note: Both daily life and an exposure to French Surrealism helped inspire a group of New York poets, among them Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, and John Ashbery. Whether O'Hara was jotting down a sequence of ordinary moments or paying tribute to film stars, his poems had a breathless immediacy that was distinctive and unique. Koch's comic voice swung effortlessly from the trivial to the fantastic. Strongly influenced by Wallace Stevens, Ashbery's ruminative poems can seem random, discursive, and enigmatic. Avoiding poetic colour, they do their work by suggestion and association, exploring the interface between experience and perception. -- EB To which the biography cited above adds The poetry of the New York School represented a shift away from the Confessional poets, a popular form of soul-baring poetry that the New York School found distasteful (see the Life Studies exhibit on this site for examples). Instead, their poems were cosmopolitan in spirit and displayed not only the influence of action painting, but of French Surrealism and European avant-gardism in general. -- [broken link] http://www.poets.org/lit/poet/kkoch.htm  who are these Confessional poets anyway? See http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/16/jun98/confess.htm for a nice essay on the topic, and poem #53 for the one Confessional poem run on Minstrels Links abound on the web; just feed "Kenneth Koch" into any decent search engine. Here're a few nice ones: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment/november96/koch_11-28.html has an interview with the poet; sample question: ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I?ve been reading your poetry. Much of it is very funny, very playful and witty. It's not what many people expect poetry to be. There's this view that poetry should be kind of somber, isn't there? KENNETH KOCH: Oh, I suppose some people have that view. It's a confusion between seriousness and solemnity. The intention of my poetry is--I mean, I don't intend for my poetry to be mainly funny or satirical, but it seems to me that high spirits and sort of a comic view are part of being serious. [broken link] http://www.bu.edu/favoritepoem/readings/losangeles.html#koch has a reading of both Williams' poem and Koch's followup