This Old Poem #95:
Kenneth Koch’s Talking To Patrizia
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 6/26/04

  Have you ever wondered why contemporary poetry is so bad? In these series of brief essays (or exposés) I have shown you many of the most common reasons- cliché overload, pointless enjambment that heightens nothing & has no sonic nor dramatic reason, dull tropes, or just plain have nothing new to say. But 1 of the most underrated things that poetry lacks is humor.
  A century ago there was bawdy humor in the poems of a Banjo Paterson or Robert Service, deliberate doggerel from an Edward Lear or Ogden Nash. Even up till the 1970s a comic poet like Richard Brautigan could gain some note. Kenneth Koch is 1 of those poets who has borne the moniker ‘comic poet’ although the only funny thing about his poetry is that its long-winded dullness actually got published. There’s no dart nor verve to his poems, so how this appellation befell him is a bit of a mystery. Here’s an annotated online bio:  


  Jay Kenneth Koch was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on February 27, 1925. He studied at Harvard University, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree, and attended Columbia University for his Ph.D. As a young poet, Koch was known for his association with the New York School of poetry. [This sort of dropping of name or –ism tells the reader the poet MUST be of some import or relevance.] Originating at Harvard, where Koch met fellow students Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery, the New York School derived much of its inspiration from the works of action painters Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Larry Rivers, whom the poets met in the 1950s after settling in New York City. [This also engendered the ridiculous pseudo-form of the ‘painting poem’ wherein the poet recounts everything the painting presents.] 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. 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.

  Many critics found Koch's early work obscure, such as Poems (1953), and the epic Ko, or A Season on Earth (1959), yet remarked upon his subsequent writing for its clarity, lyricism, and humor, such as in The Art of Love (1975), which was praised as a graceful, humorous book. His other collections of poetry include New Addresses (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), winner of the Phi Beta Kappa Poetry Award and a finalist for the National Book Award; Straits (1998); One Train and On the Great Atlantic Rainway, Selected Poems 1950-1988 (both published in 1994), which together earned him the Bollingen Prize in 1995; Seasons of the Earth (1987); On the Edge (1986); Days and Nights (1982); The Burning Mystery of Anna in 1951 (1979); The Duplications (1977); The Pleasures of Peace (1969); When the Sun Tries to Go On (1969); Thank You (1962); and Seasons on Earth (1960). [Before the inane listing it’s important to note that when a critic calls a work ‘obscure’ that’s code for ‘bad, but gussied up as ‘deep’.]

  Koch  wrote plays and librettos for operas, as well. His numerous honors include the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, awarded by the Library of Congress in 1996, as well as awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Fulbright, Guggenheim, and Ingram-Merrill foundations. In 1996 he was inducted as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Kenneth Koch lived in New York City, where he was professor of English at Columbia University. Koch died on July 6, 2002 from leukemia.

  In a bizarre eulogy called Kenneth Koch's Seasons On Earth, noted doggerelist & doggerel promoter David Lehman summed up KK’s ideas on poetry thusly:

  The primary goal is poetry, which can be written anywhere, by anyone, and is properly understood as a celebration of itself and all creation. Poetry was what happened when you liberated the imagination. Poetry was joy, and what’s more — and contrary to some highly publicized cases of suicidal, despondent or deranged poets — you didn’t need to be in agony in order to write it, and you didn’t need to show a solemn face to the world.


  That this sentiment could also be read as a justification for DL’s limitless pool of talentlessness is just a coincidence. DL later praises KK’s funny poems. He also describes the beginning of an early poem of KK’s in this manner: ‘the poem begins audaciously with the word “Meanwhile.”’ If you are 1 of the millions that wonders how the word meanwhile could be audacious, relax- that was DAVID LEHMAN talking- ‘nuff said.

  On to the dead man’s dreck:


Talking To Patrizia


Patrizia doesn't want to
Talk about love she
Says she just
Wants to make
Love but she talks
About it almost endlessly to me.

It is horrible it
Is the worst thing in life
Says Patrizia
Not death not sickness
Is as bad as love

I am always
In love I am always
Suffering from love
Says Patrizia. Now
I am used to it
But I am suffering all the same

Do you know what I did to her
Of her girlfriend--I kicked her out
I literally kicked her she was down on the floor and I
Gave her the colpi di piedi the
Kicks of my foot. She slided out.

She did this
To me promised to go on a trip
I am all waiting prepared
Suitcases and tickets
She comes and says her other friend finds out she
Can't go she guessed about it. I KICKED her out

Oh we are still together
Sometimes. But love is horrible. I thought
You might be the best
Person to talk to Patrizia since you
Love women and are a woman
Yourself. You may be right Patrizia

Said. But this woman who abandons
You I think you should
Disappear. Though maybe with this woman
Disappearing won't work.
I think not disappear.
It's too bad I don't know her

If I knew her if I could see her
Just for ten minutes--I'm afraid
If you saw her you might take
Her away from me. Patrizia
Laughs. No it hasn't happened to me
Thank God to like such young women yet

Why? When you are my
Age--still young--she
Is thirty . . . nine? you are close enough
To people very young to
Know how horrible they are
And you don't love them

You don't want to have anything
To do with them! Oh
Uh huh, I said putting
My hands down on the table and then off
Look at you excuse me but I have to laugh
At you sitting in this horrible

Restaurant at one o'clock
In the morning in a
City you don't want to be
In and why? For this woman.
It is horrible I know but
Also funny

I know I said. Listen I have
An idea. Do you know her address? You know where
She lives? You should go there
Go and hide there
Outside her house
In the bushes

Then when she comes out
You jump out
You confront her. You will see
If there is love
In her eyes or not. It can't
Be hidden. You will know It can't be mistaken

This works This has always worked
For me. It won't work for me. I can't
Go and hide there It is true
Patrizia says when there is love everything
Works when there isn't nothing does. Love
Is a god These Freudian things I don't believe at all

This god you have to do what
He wants you to you are
Angry but all you really want
Is to get her back. Then--revenge! If
This woman did something like this to me
I would simply dislike her in fact

I would hate her You may want to consider
Patrizia said that this woman is
Doing this test to you. No, I
Said. I know she's not. I know something. I feel
A hundred years old. Yet
You don't look so bad, Patrizia said.

Find another woman. I can't. I
Know Patrizia said. But one always thinks it
Is a good idea. But
If you can't you can't. I
Can't even eat
This food Patrizia I said.

I'm sorry I said Patrizia to be so
Boring I can't stop talking Forgive
Me. It doesn't bore me at all
Patrizia says It's my favorite subject
It isn't every day one sees somebody
In such a state you can help him by talking to stay alive

You know, Patrizia says if she
Does this thing to you now
She will do it again
And again so you'd better be ready
Maybe you can get the advantage
By saying she is right you

Don't love her Good bye You leave
However if you want her
You should go into the bushes
And surprise her when they see you
It always makes a difference
I can't go hide there Patrizia

That's insane. I went but not
Hiding and not confronting.
Patrizia: What did she say? I said
The same things. Patrizia said
Did you see love in her eyes? I said
No. I didn't. I saw

Something else. In Florence it's rainy
Her (relatively) short hair and
Her eyes along the Arno
The last time I'll ever see her again
As the one I am seeing again
When seeing again still has some meaning.

It's finished Patrizia's saying
For now but don't worry
I think you will get her back
But it will be too late. Oh Patrizia I
Let my back and head fall against
The chair Late isn't anything!

  Ah, the vicissitudes of young love. The music is helter-skelter to say the least- so why not just free verse it? & is there really anymore to Patrizia’s character than what the 1st stanza says? Let’s leave it at that:

Talking To Patrizia

Patrizia doesn't want to
Talk about love she
Says she just
Wants to make
Love but she talks
About it almost endlessly to me.

  I won’t even give you the obvious why the rewrite’s better. Say, let’s just call things even if I never have to read the original again. Shiver & say- ‘David Lehman likes this crap!’

Final Score: (1-100):

Kenneth Koch’s Talking To Patrizia: 60
TOP’s Talking To Patrizia: 65

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