SLEEPING ON THE WING: An Anthology of Modern Poetry with Essays on Reading and Writing by Kenneth & Kate Farrell Koch

SLEEPING ON THE WING: An Anthology of Modern Poetry with Essays on Reading and Writing

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After his three previous guides to teaching poetry to the unsophisticated (children, the old)--Wishes, Lies and Dreams; Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?; I Never Told Anybody--Koch (with Kate Farrell) has gone ahead and made the logical, but nonetheless bold, next step. He's assembled an anthology of modern poetry for high school and college students (with brief Koch essays on each of the 23 poets represented) that does not shy away from difficulty, even obscurity. Frost is absent, but Gertrude Stein, John Ashbery, Auden, and Rilke are here. Instead of such usual anthology poets as Langston Hughes, Millay, or Sandburg, we now have LeRoi Jones, Mayakovsky, and Ginsberg. After Whitman's ""Song of My Self,"" Koch suggests to students thus inspired: ""Be boastful and bold. Try making the poem very long."" Wallace Stevens is clarified with intelligent succinctness: ""The poems are not about eternal truths, but about the truth of the surface of things, the truth of the way things have just begun to be."" And the stunning title poem by Frank O'Hara is veritably graced with a few short paragraphs of commentary worthy of the best initiate criticism. Yet, with his laid-back and relaxed approach to the difficult and knotty, is Koch really a helpful guide to most of these poets? Is it accurate to introduce Emily Dickinson's view as ""not so much innocent, really, as it is gentle and resigned to how things are. It's as if she felt that simple watching were the only thing left to do""? Does a student get a true handle on Ginsberg when blithely urged to ""Write a poem, in something of the style of Howl, about a group of your friends. . .""? Worse, Koch is positively misleading, through generalization and departicularization, about Rilke, Yeats, Pound, and Williams. True, it can be argued that any introduction to these poets is better than none; and Koch and Farrell do manage to sidestep the historical accretions that go into modernist writing. But with all its comers rounded, a Rimbaud poem becomes a Creative Plaything. And with these shortcuts to the Real Stuff of modern poetry, Koch seems to have pushed his likably un-academic system--fine for desanctifying poetry-in-general for uninitiates--just a little bit too far.

Pub Date: June 15th, 1981
Publisher: Random House