Nationality: American. Born: Cincinnati, Ohio, 27 February 1925. Education: Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, A.B. 1948; Columbia University, New York, M.A. 1953, Ph.D. 1959. Military Service: U.S. Army, 1943–46. Family: Married 1) Mary Janice Elwood in 1955 (died 1981), one daughter; 2) Karen Culler in 1994. Career: Lecturer in English, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1953–54, 1955–56, 1957–58, and Brooklyn College, 1957–59; director of the Poetry Workshop, New School for Social Research, New York, 1958–66. Lecturer, 1959–61, assistant professor, 1962–66, associate professor, 1966–71, and since 1971 professor of English, Columbia University. Associated with Locus Solus magazine, Lans-en-Vercors, France, 1960–62. Awards: Fulbright fellow-ship, 1950, 1978; Guggenheim fellowship, 1961; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1966; Ingram Merrill Foundation fellowship, 1969; Harbison award, for teaching, 1970; Frank O'Hara prize (Poetry, Chicago), 1973; American Academy award, 1976; Bollingen prize for poetry, 1995; Bobbitt prize for poetry, Library of Congress, 1996; chevalier dans l'ordre des arts et des lettres, 1998. Member: American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1996. Address: Department of English, 414 Hamilton Hall, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027, U.S.A.
Poems. New York, Tibor de Nagy, 1953.
Ko; or, A Season on Earth. New York, Grove Press, 1960.
Permanently. New York, Tiber Press, 1960.
Thank You and Other Poems. New York, Grove Press, 1962.
Poems from 1952 and 1953. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1968.
When the Sun Tries to Go On. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1969.
Sleeping with Women. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1969.
The Pleasures of Peace and Other Poems. New York, Grove Press, 1969.
Penguin Modern Poets 24, with Kenward Elmslie and James Schuyler. London, Penguin, 1973.
The Art of Love. New York, Random House, 1975.
The Duplications. New York, Random House, 1977.
The Burning Mystery of Anna in 1951. New York, Random House, 1979.
From the Air. London, Taranman, 1979.
Days and Nights. New York, Random House, 1982.
Selected Poems 1950–1982. New York, Random House, 1985.
On the Edge. New York, Viking, 1986.
Seasons on Earth. New York, Viking, 1987.
One Train. New York, Knopf, 1994.
On the Great Atlantic Rainway, Selected Poems 1950–1988. New York, Knopf, 1994.
Straits. New York, Knopf, 1998.
New Addresses. New York, Knopf, 2000.
Bertha (produced New York, 1959). Included in Bertha and Other Plays, 1966.
The Election (also director: produced New York, 1960). Included in A Change of Hearts, 1973.
Pericles (produced New York, 1960). Included in Bertha and Other Plays, 1966.
George Washington Crossing the Delaware (in 3 x 3, produced New York, 1962; produced separately, London, 1983). Included in Bertha and Other Plays, 1966.
The Construction of Boston (produced New York, 1962). Included in Bertha and Other Plays, 1966.
Guinevere; or, The Death of the Kangaroo (produced New York, 1964). Included in Bertha and Other Plays, 1966.
The Tinguely Machine Mystery; or, The Love Suicides at Kaluka (also co-director: produced New York, 1965). Included in A Change of Hearts, 1973.
Bertha and Other Plays (includes Pericles, George Washington Crossing the Delaware, The Construction of Boston, Guinevere; or, The Death of the Kangaroo, The Gold Standard, The Return of Yellowmay, The Revolt of the Giant Animals, The Building of Florence, Angelica, The Merry Stones, The Academic Murders, Easter, The Lost Feed, Mexico, Coil Supreme). New York, Grove Press, 1966.
The Gold Standard (produced New York, 1969). Included in Bertha and Other Plays, 1966.
The Moon Balloon (produced New York, 1969). Included in A Change of Hearts, 1973.
The Artist, music by Paul Reif, adaptation of the poem "The Artist" by Koch (produced New York, 1972). Poem included in Thank You and Other Poems, 1962.
A Little Light (produced Amagansett, New York, 1972).
A Change of Hearts: Plays, Films, and Other Dramatic Works 1951–1971 (includes the contents of Bertha and Other Plays, and A Change of Hearts; E. Kology; The Election; The Tinguely Machine Mystery; The Moon Balloon; Without Kinship; Ten Films: Because, The Color Game, Mountains and Electricity, Sheep Harbor, Oval Gold, Moby Dick, L'Ecole Normale, The Cemetery, The Scotty Dog, and The Apple; Youth; and The Enchantment). New York, Random House, 1973.
A Change of Hearts, music by David Hollister (produced New York, 1985). Included in A Change of Hearts (collection), 1973.
Rooster Redivivus (produced Garnerville, New York, 1975).
The Art of Love, adaptation of his own poem (produced Chicago, 1976).
The Red Robins, adaptation of his own novel (produced New York, 1978). New York, Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1979.
The New Diana (produced New York, 1984).
Popeye among the Polar Bears (produced New York, 1986).
One Thousand Avant-Garde Plays. New York, Knopf, 1988.
The Construction of Boston, music by Scott Wheeler (produced Boston, 1990).
The Banquet, opera with music by Marcello Panni (produced Bremen, Germany, 1998).
Screenplays: The Scotty Dog, 1967; The Apple, 1968.
The Red Robins. New York, Random House, 1975.
Interlocking Lives, with Alex Katz. New York, Kulchur Press, 1970.
Hotel Lambosa. Minneapolis, Coffee House Press, 1993.
John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch (A Conversation). Tucson, Interview Press, 1965(?).
Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry. New York, Random House, 1970.
Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? Teaching Great Poetry to Children. New York, Random House, 1973.
I Never Told Anybody: Teaching Poetry Writing in a Nursing Home. New York, Random House, 1977.
Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry. New York, Scribner, 1998.
Editor, with Kate Farrell, Sleeping on the Wing: An Anthology of Modern Poetry, with Essays on Reading and Writing. New York, Random House, 1981.
Editor, with Kate Farrell, Talking to the Sun: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems for Young People. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1985; London, Viking Kestrel, 1986.*
Theatrical Activities: Director: Plays: The Election, New York, 1960; The Tinguely Machine Mystery (co-director, with Remy Charlip), New York, 1965.
Bibliography: "Kenneth Koch: An Analytic List of Bibliographies" by Vincent Prestianni, in Sagetrieb (Orono, Maine), 12(1), spring 1993.
Critical Studies: Interview with Kenneth Koch by David Spurr, in Contemporary Poetry (Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania), 3(4), 1978; "Beyond Irony" by David Spurr, in American Poetry Review (Philadelphia), 12(2), March-April 1983; "Kenneth Koch Revisited" by Robert DiYanni, in Children's Literature Association Quarterly (Battle Creek, Michigan), 9(1), spring 1984; "Marianne Moore and the New York School: O'Harra, Ashbery, Koch" by Rosanne Wasserman, in Sagetrieb (Orono, Maine), 6(3), winter 1987; "'Why, It's Right There in the Proces Verbal': The New York School of Poets" by Geoff Ward, in Cambridge Quarterly (Oxford), 21(3), 1992; "Dr. Fun" by David Lehman, in American Poetry Review (Philadelphia), 24(6), November-December 1995; "Kenneth Koch" by Jordan Davis, in American Poetry Review (Philadelphia), 25(6), November-December 1996.* * *
Kenneth Koch was one of the three principal poets of the New York school in the middle and late 1950s, a somewhat amorphous and short-lived group that also included John Ashbery and Frank O'Hara. The three had joined forces while students at Harvard before transferring their activities to New York, where they became associated with the painters who were then ascendant in the American art world, a group known as abstract expressionists. To a certain extent the poets seemed to be bringing to verbal constructs the principles of abstract expressionism; that is, they used words totally abstractly and evocatively. At the same time their prosodic practice was in revolt against the academic austerity of mid-century American poetry, and their use of syntax and measure resembled that of the contemporaneous beat movement. What distinguished the two groups, if anything, was the New York poets' retention of an earlier idea of art as in some sense a puristic activity, not socially amenable, and of the art object as distinct from and perhaps superior to the objects of "ordinary reality." In addition, Koch was, during a period of residence abroad, deeply influenced by French poetry of the time, with its emphasis on psychological particularism.
These groupings and distinctions have long since broken down, of course. Koch's association with New York poetry was, in effect, his apprenticeship. Much of his early work was very far out indeed; some was frankly incomprehensible, even to the poet. Since then Koch has elevated his lyric view to another level, not in the least realistic but better organized and more simplified than his earlier view, with the result that some of his later work has been extremely effective. The freedom of his earlier verbal technique has given him a felicity that occasionally still descends to surrealistic glibness but that at its best is remarkably inventive and accurate. At the same time, substantially fixed in his poems is a depth of metaphysical concern that gives them the drive and intensity of genuinely serious experiments.
One distinction of the New York poets was their devotion to the lyric theater. Their connection with off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway gave them opportunities for experiments with dramatic writing that were open to few poets elsewhere in the country. Some of Koch's best writing occurs in the several books of plays he has published, books that have been generally neglected, however, by American poetry readers and critics.