STRAITS by Kenneth Koch


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Since the 1950s, Columbia Professor Koch has been a prolific poet—and a proselytizer for the art in popular books teaching poetry to kids. His devotion to lively, funny verse sometimes leads him to mere frivolity, a cutesiness that’s all surface high jinks and sing-song silliness. Here, Koch, in his 15th book of poetry, affects a childlike simplicity in a sequence of poems about well- known artists and their —little houses——from Borges in Argentina to Frank O—Hara in Massachusetts—but his tiny ironies are jokey and obvious. The title poem, with its much longer lines and its sentence-like rhythms, juxtaposes all sorts of words, images, ideas, and anecdotes, and Koch often betrays his own sententiousness in banal statements about art and politics. At best, in his talky and cosmopolitan poems, there’s a wit born of accident; at worst, as in the prosey —My Olivetti Speaks,— he submits to his typewriter’s logorrhea. Koch dramatically shifts gears in formal poems that display a stunning lyricism (—How in her pirogue she glides— and other songs from his plays). But his most extended exercise is an expert imitation of Thomson’s —Seasons,— diminished only by Koch’s deliberately archaic diction (—ere,— —doth,— —thou—)—it overstates the splendid disjunction of his careful measures and his chaotic subject: modern life in New York City.

Pub Date: May 12th, 1998
ISBN: 0-375-40136-9
Page count: 112pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1998


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