At his best, Kenneth Koch was a good comic poet and a fine parodist. A poet of limited tonal range yet of a wide and resourceful imagination, Koch used random structures, open forms, and loose meters to give his poetry freedom and surprise that occasionally astonish and often delight. Just as often, however, the formlessness of Koch’s poems results in slackness and self-indulgence. The tension that one expects in good poetry, deriving largely from exigencies of form, is missing in Koch’s poems.
In The King of the Cats (1965), F. W. Dupee compared Koch to Marianne Moore. Dupee notes that while both Koch and Moore make poetry out of “poetry-resistant stuff,” Koch lacks Moore’s patient scrutiny and careful, sustained observation. Preferring to participate imaginatively rather than to observe carefully, Koch often seems more interested in where he can go with an observation, with what his imagination can make of it, than in what it is in itself. At his best, Koch’s imaginative facility translates into poetic felicity; at his worst, Koch’s freedom of imagination obscures the clarity and lucidity of the poems, frequently testing the reader’s patience.
Perhaps the most trenchant and perceptive criticism of Koch’s work has been that of Richard Howard in his book on contemporary poetry, Alone with America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States Since 1950 (1969). Howard suggests that the central poetic...
(The entire section is 2904 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Kenneth Koch Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!