Sun Out, Selected Poems 1952-1954
(Knopf, 2002)

This collection, published at the end of Koch’s life as a separate volume, reflects exuberance and immediacy of language and the multiple meanings of words in a style he only used during those early years. Koch said, “I wanted to keep my subject up in the air as long as possible.”

When the Sun Tries to Go On
(Black Sparrow, 1969)

Written in 1953, this 2,400-line poem was partially inspired by Koch’s reading War and Peace. He wrote it at the same time O’Hara was writing his long poem "Second Avenue". Koch and O’Hara were having a friendly competition to write poems that “included everything.” (O’Hara’s "Second Avenue" mentions “Kenneth in an abandoned storefront on Sunday cutting ever more / insinuating lobotomies of a yet-to-be-more-yielding world.”) The poem was originally published by painter Al Leslie in a one-shot magazine, The Hasty Papers, in 1960; it was published as a book in 1969 with illustrations by Larry Rivers.

Ko, or A Season on Earth
(Grove, 1960)

During a Fulbright year in Florence during which Koch was supposedly writing his doctoral dissertation, he delighted in writing this epic narrative poem in ottava rima and iambic pentameter in the tradition of Byron’s Don Juan and Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. The interwoven plots move among Cincinnati, Tucson, Paris, Tahiti, Pompeii, Rome, Kalamazoo, Tibet, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Rapallo. The main characters include a Japanese baseball star, a neurotic financier who hopes to control the earth’s dogs, an unhappy Cockney, an English private eye, and an “Action Poet.”


Thank You and Other Poems
(Grove, 1962)

Koch’s first full-length collection is probably best known for its comic masterpieces: “Fresh Air,” an attack on academic poets; “The Artist,” an affectionate satire of artists’ diaries, which more or less predicted several art movements of the sixties; “Variations on a Theme of William Carlos Williams,” a rewrite of Williams’s “This Is Just to Say” that takes its exposé of the insincere apology about the plums past parody and into the sublime; and “Thank You,” a catalogue of jobs inappropriate for the speaker. But it is the love poems that continue to win lifelong readers to his work—“To You,” with its mock-epic opening, “I love you as a sheriff searches for a walnut,” “Spring,” an invitation to take a walk on the wet streets of the city in the morning, and “In Love with You”:
O what a physical effect it has on me
To dive forever into the light blue sea
Of your acquaintance!

The Pleasures of Peace, and Other Poems
(Grove, 1969)

During the student protests in 1968 at Columbia, Koch and other poets were called on to write poems against the war. Koch, who had not yet written about his experiences in World War Two, offered instead “The Pleasures of Peace,” a picaresque celebration of good times, love, sex, beauty, poetry, art, memory, autonomy, agoraphobia, blasphemy, the works. “Some South American Poets” is a mini-anthology of hasosismo, a fictitious literary movement invented by Koch—“the art of concealing in one line what has been revealed in the previous line.” For example, “I look at you. Oceans of beer gush from the left side of my collarbone.” The hasos bears some resemblance to the work of Jorge Luis Borges (who was a visiting professor at Columbia), but is more generally in debt to the deep-image translations of European poets that were then in vogue. “Sleeping with Women,” one of Koch’s best-loved poems, can be found here as well.

A Change of Hearts, Plays, Films, and Other Dramatic Works, 1951-1971
(Random House, 1973)

This collection includes all the dramatic works collected in Grove Press’s 1966 collection Bertha, as well as newer works for the stage. They use and parody a variety of theatrical models and traditions—Elizabethan chronicle plays, court masques, Japanese Noh and puppet plays, opera, and ballet. The plots center on the life and death of a Norwegian queen, the conquest of Cornwallis by Washington, the construction of cities, student rebellion and heart transplants, and the gold standard. Many of these were produced off- and off-off Broadway.




The Art of Love
(Random House, 1975)

Many of these poems were written during the time when Koch started his work in the schools teaching children to write poetry, which led to the Poets in the Schools programs that continue today. This, his teaching at Columbia, and his psychoanalysis during the 1960s may have influenced this collection’s instructional and reflective style. Some of the subjects include how to be a poet, what beauty is, how to love a woman (from a comic, Ovid-inspired point of view), and how to make sense of one’s life.

The Duplications
(Random House, 1977)

While returning to some of the characters from Ko, or A Season on Earth, this book-length poem is a witty, sensuous, oddly profound epic that brings together the narrative skill of Ko and the directness and intellectual clarity of The Art of Love.

The Burning Mystery of Anna in 1951
(Random House, 1979)

This collection continues in the autobiographical mode, dealing with many of life’s mysteries, including the meaning of a long-past love affair, the puzzling significance of place, and the mystery of shadows. Koch also writes of anxiety, ethics, and the seriousness of even a single moment, as when water begins to boil.


The Red Robins
(Vintage, 1975; Performing Arts Journal, 1979)

The Red Robins was first published as a novel in 1975, then Koch rewrote it as a play and saw it performed in New York City and East Hampton in 1979. The cover copy for the paperback novel said, “It concerns a group of young aviators called the Red Robins who lead a strange existence going from place to place in Asia. . . . It is a surprising and original book.” Indeed it is, with its changing locations, shifting from prose to verse, from love story to comic travelogue, to a battle between the forces of the equally villainous “Santa Claus” and “Easter Bunny.”

Days and Nights
(Random House, 1982)

The interlude fantasy of The Red Robins led back to seriousness and reflection in Days and Nights, published shortly after the death of his ex-wife Janice. The title poem tells of how important poetry was to Koch’s life, “It helps me to be writing it helps me to breathe.” The long sequence poem “In Bed” inspired collaborations with the artist Larry Rivers and a movie with Rudy Burckhardt.

On the Edge
(Penguin, 1986)

This book contains two long poems. A reading and lecture tour sponsored by the United States Information Agency led to five-part poem, “Impressions of Africa,” with its sections on Madagascar, Senegal, Gaboon, The Congo and Zaire, and Kenya. These “impressions” of external places are balanced by the title poem about personal memory and its weaving together of past and present experiences that are “on the edge” of making sense of our lives.


Seasons on Earth
(Penguin, 1987)

This book brings together Ko, Or a Season on Earth, The Duplications, and a new introductory poem “Seasons on Earth” in which Koch reflects on the writing of the first two and questions his own mortality as he faced cancer surgery.

One Thousand Avant-Garde Plays
(Knopf, 1988)

Although there are only 112 plays in this volume the scope and passion of these plays suggest hundreds more. They move among imperial and modern China, commerce in seventeenth-century Spain, the history of costume, the avant-garde, Wittgenstein, and contemporary Haiti. In style they also range from noble vocables of Agamemnon to the low prose of Mahx Bruddahs. In form they are Noh plays, performance art , classical Greek drama, skits, and masques, to name a few.

Hotel Lambosa
(Coffee House, 1993)

This is a charming collection of short semi-autobiographical stories in which Koch shows how well he writes when the tone is not comic. They were inspired by the fiction of Kawabata’s Palm of Hand stories and Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories.

One Train
(Knopf, 1994)

Winner of the Bollingen Prize for Poetry, this collection displays a variety of forms, such the theme and variations of “One Train May Hide Another,” the post-Apollinaire couplets of “A Time Zone,” the quatrains of “The First Step” (influened by Chinese poetry), and the hundred or so brief poems that make up the long poem “On Aesthetics.”


Making It Up, with Allen Ginsberg
(Catchword Papers, 1994)

This book transcribes a live collaborative improvisation between Koch and Allen Ginsberg, moderated by Ron Padgett, at St. Mark’s Poetry Project on May 9, 1979. Longtime friends and poetic rivals, Koch and Ginsberg trade spontaneously composed lines of iambic pentameter, haikus, blues, and a sestina. A unique document.

The Gold Standard: A Book of Plays
(Knopf, 1996)

This book contains most of the plays from the previous A Change of Hearts, but also includes two important additions. The Banquet is based on the so-called banquet years in Paris, featuring Picasso, Satie, Stein, Marinetti, Cocteau, Laurencin, and Apollinaire, each speaking—and eventually singing, when it became an opera performed in Germany and Italy. Edward and Christine is a re-write of Koch’s short stories from Hotel Lambosa.

(Knopf, 1998)

Here Koch varies his forms in rapid sketches, as in “Vous Êtes Plus Beaux que Vous Pensiez” about ten artists and writers; a variant of the style of the eighteenth-century poet James Thompson’s praise of the seasons; a group of twenty-five poems called “Songs from the Plays,” which are songs written for plays that mostly do not exist but from which plays might be imagined. “My Olivetti Speaks” is perhaps Koch’s clearest and wittiest meditation on the nature of poetry itself.



New Addresses
(Knopf, 2000)

A finalist for the National Book Award, this volume of apostrophes (or direct addresses) creates an exhilarating autobiography as Koch talks to things important in his life—to breath, to World War Two, to orgasms, to the French language, to Jewishness, to psychoanalysis, to sleep, and to old age, to name a few.

A Possible World
(Knopf, 2002)

This collection of poems came out a few months after Koch’s death. As in all of his work, one hears the music of unconquerable exuberance in stormy conflict with whatever resists it. While these poems still display his witty charm, they are also profound.

Koch oversaw two selections from his work:
Selected Poems (Random House, 1982)
On the Great Atlantic Rainway: Selected Poems (Random House, 1994)

His works have been collected in these posthumous editions:
The Art of the Possible: Comics Mainly Without Pictures (Soft Skull, 2004)
The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch (Knopf , 2005)
The Collected Fiction of Kenneth Koch (Coffee House Press, 2005)
Selected Poems, ed. Ron Padgett (Library of America, 2005)
On the Edge: Collected Long Poems (Knopf, 2009)
The Banquet: The Complete Plays, Films, and Librettos (Coffee House Press, 2013)


The Collected Poems
(Knopf. 750 pages)

Includes all of Koch’s books of shorter poems, about which John Ashbery says, “The products of a lifetime of continual inventing are beautifully on display in this awe-inspiring banquet of a book.” .

On the Edge: Collected Long Poems
(Knopf. 411 pages)

Reprints Koch’s two comic epic poems in ottava rima, Ko, or a Season on Earth and The Duplications, as well as his Impressions of Africa, On the Edge, and Seasons on Earth. This volume and his Collected Poems constitute his complete poems.

The Banquet
(Coffee House Press. 634 pages)

Gathers Koch’s complete plays, films, and librettos, spanning more than five decades of experimental work. Foreword by Mac Welman, introduction by Amber Reed.



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