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Kenneth Koch, The Art of Love Annotations

Kenneth Koch: The Art of Love
(New York: Random House, 1975)


Close Readings and annotations of poems in preparation for In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Bucknell UP, 2001)


Kenneth Koch “The Art of Poetry,” 23-45

· these poems, these art of poems, are then an aspect of the thetic realm of language and thus I need to go back into the end of the Kristeva to look again at what she is trying to say about LautrĂ©amont’s “Poems,” in respect to how this undermines the thetic aspect of poetry. Further what needs to be said then is that to a degree this collection is not a collection of poems at all but really a statement on aesthetics. Thus “The Circus,” is really an investigation of poetry’s relation to itself and yet also the world and “A Few General Instructions,” whilst a kind of manual for living, relates directly to poetry because of the close proximity of his poetry to his living.
· possibly this work has a lot in common with his teaching manuals and is another peculiar manifesto/non-manifesto but essentially is only works in this fashion as there is nothing ostensibly poetic about it except its antecedents such as LautrĂ©amont and Byron. The aphoristic needs theorising, for it is a different kind of argumentation that resides merely on assertion which you must test immediately if you like against your own experiences and decide if such statements are true. There is no real development here, just thetic statement making. Thus follows a basic summary then of his proposed aesthetic which at least to a degree is ironic but seems in part to be serious:

· poetry that is schizophrenic matches the contemporary aesthetic of looseness and un-selfcritical, but lacks the vital values of intensity and nuance (23-4)
· that corrections to already published work is a mistake generally (24)
· that a coterie is vital (25)
· that there are two types of poets, those who allow influence to lead them into an original style which is however transitory requiring another original style after a period of years, and the exigent poet which is that of rational poetics (26-7)
· that poetry and day to day living can be practically synonymous (28)
· that poetry comes from an infinite code thus one can never run out of it (28)
· that there are two dreams of poetry, to write all the time, or to produce distillation. Both are actually subject to aporias but they may convey the two extremes of paragrammatic vs. rational poetry (29)
· his ten rules suggest then that poetry must be:
1. astonishing, pleasing and novel
2. somehow pedagogical
3. must a product of yourself
4. it should not reveal what one does not want it to
5. modernity
6. the authenticity of voice
7. the avoidance of junk, tricks
8. the aim of poetry seems to be pleasure and reverie
9. that it is competitive
10.that is leads to immortality
· speaking honestly this is a fairly mundane manifesto worthy more of a creative writing class, admittedly of a different calibre to the norm, than a worked out and new sense of where poetry should be going
· that there is a crucial link between poetry and experience leading to the paradox that one should write and experience as much as possible which seems to suggest that they are somehow different. This is a crucial aporia in his thinking that does not fully take into account that not only is writing an experience but also that it write experience (35)
· that whilst poems should seem to contain a vast amount of varied material, actually his poetry does not really deal with things like governments or the world except as content for poetry in other words as words. This ironically contravenes the previous rule suggesting that in fact all content is in fact merely code (35)
· thus the poet must occupy the paradoxical position of “experiencer and un-experiencer” of life yet at the same time poetry, which seems not to be experience, directly relates to experience. Whilst conceding that experience influences poetry he seems unable to make the conceptual leap that poetry influences experience. (36-7)
· that decollation is a crucial problem in poetry (38-9), and also (44-5)
· epic and lyric (40-42)
· the important role of the unconscious (43)
· in summation his art of poetry is only avant-garde in the sense of its novelty in relation to the predominant norms of rational poetry at the time although at this point surely it is already too late, but if on compares what he suggests New York School poetry should do or be, and then look at the dating which is at the point when all the other poets have produced their best work, one can see that this is rearguard poetry. What he lacks is the sense of duality, both within poetic language itself, and also in poetry’s relation to life or the real.
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