Kenneth Koch, who has already considerably "stretched our ideas of what it is possible to do in poetry" (David Lehman), here takes on the classic poetic device of apostrophe, or direct address. His use of it gives him yet another chance to say things never said before in prose or in verse and, as well, to bring new life to a form in which Donne talked to Death, Shelley to the West Wind, Whitman to the Earth, Pound to his Songs, O'Hara to the Sun at Fire Island.
Koch, in this new book, 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, to his Heart, to Friendship, to High Spirits, to his Twenties, to the Unknown. He makes of all these "new addresses" an exhilarating autobiography of a most surprising and unforeseeable kind.
"Am I a yes/ to be posed in the face of a negative alternative?/ Or has the sky taken away from me its ultimate guess/ About how probably everything is going to be eventually terrible/ Which is something we knew all along, being modified by a yes." This masterful 16th collection finds Koch, a first-generation New York School poet well-known for long, often comic works ("When the Sun Tries to Go On"; "The Art of Love"), directly addressing a variety of life's trials and tribulations through a series of one- to three-page anthropomorphizing apostrophes. Poems are directed "To WWII," "To Jewishness," "To Psychoanalysis" and to such intangibles as "Duration," "Destiny," "The Unknown" and, as in the above quote, "Yes." The poems based on time spent as an infantryman in the South Pacific are particularly effective, and Koch gives up none of his comic timing for predictable solemnity: "The hornets attacked me, and Lonnie,/ The corporal, said "Soldier get off your ass!"/ Later the same day, I stepped on a booby trap/ That was badly wired. You/ Had been there too./ Thank you. It didn't explode" ("To Carelessness"). Blending nuanced echoes of O'Hara, Stevens and Max Jacob, Koch has managed to create a form and inflection that takes on the variousness of the poet's life with startling movement and without the least bit of decaying bathos, despite the naturally reflective tone of some of the poems (such as "To Old Age"). In fact, the lightness of poems like "To Orgasm" and "To Kidding Around," while disarming, is always backed by forceful directness and sheer sonic delight. Arriving on the heels of Making Your Own Days, a book that sums up many of Koch's ideas about the pleasures of poetry, New Addresses contains some of this ineffable poet's finest work to date.