USA: Poetry Episode Kenneth Koch John Ashbery



et presents us a poetry this program is devoted to the work of kenneth koch very there's an awful lot in my poems that I don't understand at the time I write them and if I understand them as I write them it's usually a bad sign but I don't think that's ever happened there's certain constants in my work and one is interest in juxtaposing one thing to another in such a way that will be dramatic and beautiful and funny and interesting incidentally my work is funny not because I think that's an end in itself but I find that some of the juxtapositions that make something seem beautiful to me are also funny obviously wit and beauty are very close together certain was sometimes it's beautiful to turn away from a person and to look out the window or to turn away from a window and to look at a person I'm interested in that juxtaposing thing playing things together the poet and playwright Kenneth Koch lives on Perry Street in New York City I was born in Cincinnati Ohio in 1925 and I lived there till I was 18 when I was drafted into the Army I ended up as a rifleman in the infantry in the Pacific I got out of the army in 1946 and then I went to Harvard then I came to New York and I got a job as a bobbin boy in a hand weaving place but then I quickly went back to school and got an MA from Columbia I went to France for a year on a Fulbright grant then I was a teaching assistant the University of California for a year then I've lived in New York ever since except for two years I spent in Europe now I teach at Columbia sometimes people have found my poems obscure and they've looked for hidden meanings there are no hidden meanings in my poetry and there I think if my poems are hard to understand they're hard to understand in a different way from the way that say pounds or Eliot's are because pound and Eliot usually have a meaning which if you've read the right book or thinking about the right thing you'll find the meaning I read an early term Koza to you it's fairly earth I love you as a Sheriff searches for a walnut that will solve a murder case unsolved for years because the murderer left it in the snow beside a window through which he saw her head connecting with her shoulders by a neck and laid a red roof in her heart for this we live a thousand years for this we love and we live because we love we are not inside a bottle thank goodness I love you as a kid searches for a goat I'm crazier than shirttails in the wind when you're near a wind that blows from the big blue sea so shiny so deep and so unlike us I think I am bicycling across an Africa of green and white fields always to be near you even in my heart when I'm awake which swims and also I believe that you're trustworthy is the sidewalk which leads me to the place where I again think of you a new harmony of thoughts I love you as the sunlight lead to the prow of a ship which sails from Hartford to Miami and I love you best at dawn when even before I am awake the Sun receives me in the questions which you always posed another poem from the same time called spring let's take a walk in the city till our shoes get wet it's been raining all night and when we see the traffic lights in the moon let's take a smile off the ashcan let's walk into town I mean a lemon-peel let's make music I hear the cats purr Polly beautiful like hallways in summer made of snowing rubber valence particularly in diamonds Oh see the arch ruby of this late March sky are you less intelligent than the pirate of lemons let's take a walk I know you tonight as I have never known a book of white stones or a bookcase of orange groans or symbolism I think I'm in love with those imaginary racetracks of red traced grey in the sky and the Jim cracks of all you know and love who once loved firecrackers and license plates and diamonds but now you love them all and just for my sake let's take a walk into the river I can even do that tonight where if I kiss you please remember with your shoes off you're so beautiful like a lifted umbrella orange and white we may never discover the blue overcoat maybe never never Oh blind with this love let's walk into the first rivers of mourning as you are seen to be bathed in a light white light come on I started to write poetry seriously when I was seventeen I guess I had a very good teacher in high school to encourage me right I read John Dos Passos is USA and I was very inspired by the stream of consciousness part and I started to write stream of consciousness which was encouraged by mrs. Lapham my teacher and she encouraged me to express all kinds of things such as sadistic feelings and sexual feelings and feelings of disgust and so on and the way I first wrote anything that I think was any good was by doing the stream of consciousness thing and then looking at it afterwards and picking out certain things which seemed to me good I tend to write a lot and then to just take what's what I like the best thing to work on that um a mock epic poem by kenneth koch titled KO or a season on earth was published by Grove Press in 1959 the volume thank you and other poems was published by Grove in 1962 and in 1966 bertha and other plays one of the plays in this experimental and highly original collection is titled the revolt of the giant animals this is a short play which stars some characters who were going to play I wrote some years ago called Guinevere as the death of the kangaroo and at the time of the New York production of this play I was inspired to write three more plays about the same characters this is the revolt of the giant animals kangaroo here shall we giraffe revolting animals hippopotamus gather our forces by the sea elephant to war on master yellow may enter yellow may and Guinevere in a royal cart yellow may to vie I do bequeath these kingdoms sweetest may they lie upon your heart gently as a peanut Guinevere yellow may look turn around yellow may it's the giant animals in revolt and the poetry of what critics have called the New York group Kenneth coke John Ashbery frank O'Hara and others has been described as bringing to American poetry many of the aesthetic qualities of modern painting certainly there has been some very successful collaboration between poets and painters in the New York group particularly in the production of plays but probably the major poetic influence of the poet's work has been that of French poetry I think going to France and speaking French a lot and reading only French for a year made me aware of certain arms surface beauty in language that I think is indispensable to poetry at least the kind of poetry I want to write I went to France for a second time and I got on to something else that interested me very much which was narrative poetry I don't quite remember all the things that made it come about but one thing was that I went to London and I saw a production of a play which was made out of Peter Pan and it was very beautiful and also very simple and sort of simple-minded and I tried to get that kind of thing in in my poetry that there was another thing that that stayed in my mind for a long time the frank O'Hara had and a few years before about a novel about the circus by James Scully I don't remember the man's name who wrote the novel but it obviously was not a very classy novel but Frank said it's very it's good it's very simple and direct I think he said something like that and I remembered that especially when I wrote a poem called the circus which was I tried to get this sort of very almost almost childish sort of simple style of relating events because I wasn't particularly interested in any of the events I wrote about but in juxtaposing one event to another which I found there was a lot of beauty and excitement in just in what you put next to something else the circus one we will have to go away said the girls in the circus and never come back anymore there's not enough of an audience in this little town waiting against the black blue sky the big circus chariots took them into their entrances the light rang out over the hill where the circus wagons dimmed away underneath their dresses the circus girls were sweating but then an orange type sticking to her one spoke with blue eyes she was young and pretty blonde with bright eyes and she spoke with her mouth open when she sneezed likely against the backs of the other girls waiting in line to clock the rope or come spinning down with her teeth on the line and she said that the circus might leave and red posters stuck to the outside of the wagon it was beginning to rain she said might leave but not her heart would ever leave not that town but just anyone where they had been risking their lives and that each place they were should be celebrated by blue rosemary in a patch in the town but they laughed and said sentimental blonde and she laughed and they all circus girls clinging to each other as the circus wagons rushed through the night – in the next wagon the one forward of theirs the next wagon was the elephant's wagon a great trunk dragged on the floor three Orval the midget tramped up and down Paul the separated man leaped forward it rained and rained and some people in the cities where they passed through were sitting behind thick glass windows talking about their breaths and drinking chocolate syrup for many the rabbit fingered her machine gun the bright day was golden she aimed the immense pine needle at the Foxes thinking now they will never hurt my tribe anymore five the circus wagon stopped during the night for 18 minutes in a little town called rosebud Nebraska it was after dinner it was after bedtime it was after nausea it was after lunch room the girls came out and touched each other and had fun and just had time to get a breath of the fresh air of the night in before the ungodly procession began once more down the purple Highway six with what pomp and ceremony the circus arrived orange and red in the dawn it was exhausted cars and wagons and it lay down and leaped forward a little bit like a fox Minnie the rabbit shot a little woolen bullet at it and just then the elephant man came to his doorway in the sunlight and stood still 7 the snoring circus master wakes up he takes it on himself to arrange the circus soon the big tent floats high birds sing on the tent the parade girls and the living statue girls and the trapeze girls cover their sweet young bodies with phosphorescent paint some of the circus girls are older women but each is beautiful they stand waiting for their cues at the doorway of the tent the sky blue lion tamer comes in and the red giraffe manager they are very brave and wistful and they look at the girls some of the circus girls feel a hot sweet longing in their bodies but now it is time for the elephants slowly the giant beasts march in some of their legs are clothed in blue papier-mache ruffles one has a red eye the elephant man is at the peak of happiness he speak giddily to everyone of the circus people he passes he does not know what he is saying he does not care his elephants are under like they walk into the Sandy ring a suddenly a great screen breaks out in the circus tent it is Eileen the trapeze artist she has fallen into the dust and dirt from so high she must be dead the stretcher bearers rush out they see her lovely human form clothed in red and white and orange wiry net and they see that she does not breathe anymore the circus doctor leaves his tent he runs out to care for Eileen he traverses the circus grounds and the dusty floor of the circus entrance and he comes where she is now she has begun to move again she is not dead but the doctor tells her he does not know if she will ever be able to perform on the trapeze again and he sees the beautiful orange and red and white form shaken with sobs and he puts his hand on her forehead and tells her she must lie still 9 the circus girls form a cortege they stand in file in the yellow and white sunlight what is death in the circus that depends on if it is spring then if elephants are their multi we are not completely lost oh the sweet strong odor of beasts which laughs at decay decay decay we are like the elements in a kaleidoscope but such passions we feel bigger than beaches and rustier than harpoons after his speech the circus practitioner sat down 10 min of the rabbit felt the blood leaving her little body as she lay in the snow orange and red and white a beautiful design the dog laughs his tongue hangs out he looks at the sky it is white the master comes he laughs he picks up many two rabbit and ties her to a pine tree bough and leaves 11 soon through the forest came the impassioned bumblebee he saw the white form on the bow like rosebuds when he were 13 said Elmer iris noticed that he didn't have any cap on you must be polite when mother comes she said the sky began to get gray then the snow came the two tots pressed together Elmer opened his mouth and let the snow fall iris felt warm and happy 12 bang went the flyswatter mr. Watkins the circus manager looked around the room dammit damn these flies he says mr. Loftus the circus clerk stared at the fly interior he had just exposed the circus doctor stood beside the lake in his hand he had a black briefcase a wind ruffled the surface of the lake and slightly rocked the boats red and green fish swam beneath the surface of the water the doctor went into the lunchroom and sat down no he said he didn't care for anything to eat the soft wind of summer blew in the light green trees I met Kenneth first when I was a student at Harvard in 1947 and I met Frank a couple of years later we all wound up in New York or less by accident and got to know other poets here like Barbara guest James Schuyler but I think our poetry is pretty independent of each other one critic has described John Ashbery as today's most radically original American poet another description of his poetry is that he uses words much as a contemporary painter uses form and color words chosen as conveyors of precise meaning not as representations of sound born in Rochester New York and educated at Harvard Columbia and New York University John Ashbery has been the art critic for the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune and is currently an executive editor of art news his first book of poems published in 1953 contained drawings by the artist Jane fry liqueur new studio this is Jane was the first painter I'd met in New York except through Kenneth Koch and I think perhaps the first danger who I felt whose work I feel has something to do with my own since at that time well it didn't yet but after a while it I began to think about it I did it she was a painting very free sort of expressionist portraits and I liked very much the idea that you could seem to add or take away a great deal from without it's changing the whole thing very much which is sort of reassuring state of mind for artists to be enacted and way I'm trying to get meaning through perhaps unconventional methods that is perhaps trying to influence the reader to see a different meaning through shape and the sound of the words for instance a word which might suggest another word but which has absolutely nothing to do with it therefore has a kind of heightened power of expression which the reader in money is now aware of it somehow affects his impression of the poem John Ashbery is most recent collection of poems is the book rivers and mountains published in 1966 by holt rinehart and Winston this is the first of twelve poems in the book this poem is called these lacustrine cities the custom means pertaining to Lake like the lake dwellers in the prehistoric through with it these were custom cities grew out of loathing into something forgetful although angry with history they are the product of an idea that man is horrible for instance though this is only one example they merged until a tower controlled the sky and with artifice dipped back into the past for swans and tapering branches burning until all that hate was transformed into useless love then you are left with an idea of yourself and the feeling of ascending emptiness of the afternoon which must be charged to the embarrassment of others who fly by you like beacons the night is a sentinel much of your time has been occupied by creative games until now but we have all-inclusive plans for you we had thought for instance of sending you to the middle of the desert to a violent sea or of having the closeness of the others the air to you pressing you back into a startled dream as sea breezes greet a child's face but the past is already here and you are nursing some private project the worst is not yet over but I know you will be happy here because of the logic of your situation which is something no climate can outsmart tender and insouciant by turns you see you have built a mountain of something thoughtfully pouring all your energy into this single monument whose wind is desire starching a petal whose disappointment broke into a rainbow of Tears this is my first pamphlet of poems with patience by Jane frolic er and majority these poems were reprinted in the book some trees which is my first real book I'll read a poem which I still like quite a lot although I wrote it in about 53 actually 52 popular songs he continued to consult her for her beauty the host gone to a long and grave the story then resumed in de coaches both bravely eyed the finer dust on the blue that summer the worst ever she stayed in the car with occur that was something between her legs Elton had been getting letters from his mother about the payments half the flood over and what about the net rest of the year who cares anyway you know how thirsty they were the extra worry began it on the blue blue mountain she never set foot and then and there meanwhile the host mourned her quiet tenure they all stayed chatting no one did much about eating the tears came and stopped came and stopped until becoming the guano lighten summer night and scape all one glow one miles last lasting ages some precision he fumed into his soup you laugh there is no peace in the fountain the footmen smile and shift the mountain rises nightly – exasperated stand dining in the gardens of the moon there is no way to prevent this or the expectation of disappointment all are aware some carry a secret better of hands emulating deeds of days untrustworthy but these may decide the face extended its sorrowing light far out over them and now silent as a group the actors prepare their first decline in a way my poetry has sort of followed a circular route this poem which I think is one of the the best of my early poems is not too unlike the ones that I'm writing now but I feel that things have undergone a change nevertheless which I'll try to explain when I was living in Paris for ten years I first felt very much deprived of hearing American speech every day which comes into my poetry quite a lot and it's very vital to it I certainly believe what malhomme says about purifying a language of the tribe was something and as a result I felt my poetry first poetry I wrote in France was kind of anemic and didn't satisfy me at all then I began writing a sort of pulverizing speech and making what we're in a way collages of words which had no relation to each other which had no visible relation to each other in fact they were supposed to relate to each other and I felt in a way I was isolating individual words for scrutiny of my own and hopefully for the reader and it was my intention to get to the point where I would seal I would give same kind of attention to whole sentences stanzas and and finally entire poems and the lately having I think continued into this kind of experimentation to the point where I was getting something out of it if my new poems I'm attempting to put things back together again having I hope found out a little bit of the organization of my language and what has happened I've noticed in these recent poems that they've been getting more and more abstract in the sense that and a scenery objects and people seem to be kind of disappearing and what it I'm involved what I think is trying to make concrete passing states of mind mental things one of the recent poems and the collection rivers and mountains is titled a blessing in disguise yes they are alive and can have those colors but I in my soul and alive too I feel I'm a sing and dance to tell of this in a way that knowing you may be drawn to me and I sing amid despair and isolation of the chance to know you to sing of me which are you you see you hold me up to the light in a way I should never have expected or suspected perhaps because you always tell me I am you and right the great spruces loom I am yours to die with to desire I cannot ever think of me I desire you for a room in which the chairs ever have their backs turned to the light inflicted on the stone and pads the real trees but seem to shine at me through a lattice toward you if the wild light of this January day is true I pledge me to be truthful unto you and I cannot ever stop remembering remembering to forgive remember to pass beyond you into the day on the wings of the secret you will never know taking me from myself in the path which the pastel girth of the day has assigned to me I prefer you in the plural I want you you must come to me all golden and tail like Dew in the air and then I start getting the feeling of exaltation this poem is called definition of blue it's quite a recent one published in the London Times Literary Supplement the rise of capitalism parallels the advance of romanticism and the individual is dominant until the close of the 19th century in our own time mass practices have sought to submerge the personality by ignoring it which has caused it instead to branch out in all directions far from the permanent tug that used to be its notion of home these different impetuses are received from everywhere and are is instantly snapped back hitting through the cold atmosphere in one steady intense line there is no remedy for this packaging which has supplanted the old sensations formerly there would have been architectural screens at the point where the action became most difficult as a path trails off into shrubbery confusing forgotten yet continuing to exist but today there is no point in looking to imaginative new methods since all of them are in constant use the most that can be said for them further is that erosion produces a kind of dust or exaggerated pumice which fills space and transforms it becoming a medium in which it is possible to recognize oneself each new diversion adds it's accurate touch to the ensemble and so a portrait smooth as glass is built up out of multiple corrections and it has no relation to the space or time in which it was lived only its existence is a part of all being and is therefore I suppose to be prised beyond chasms of night that's fight us by being hidden and present and yet it results in a downward motion a rather a floating one in which the blue surroundings drift slowly up and past you to realize themselves some day while you in this nether world it could not be better waking each morning to the exact value of what you did and said which remains I am against poetry being read out loud as many sounds funny when I have your poems read out loud I really don't get very much from them and I have to see the poem and hear it my mind in order for it really means them in addition to the book rivers and mountains John Ashbery has published the tennis court both Wesleyan University Press 1962 and some tree mail series of younger poets 1956 this is NE t the national educational television network

7 thoughts on “USA: Poetry Episode Kenneth Koch John Ashbery

  1. Thank you. Both Koch and Ashbery write such mysterious poetry that hearing them explain their work is a treasure.

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