In Making Your Own Days, celebrated poet Kenneth Koch writes about poetry as no one has written about it before -- and as if no one had written about it before. Full of fresh and exciting insights and experiences, this book makes the somewhat mysterious subject of poetry clear for those who read it and for those who write it -- and for those who would like to read and write it better. Treating poetry not as a special use of language but, in fact, as a separate language -- unlike the one used in prose and conversation -- Koch is able to clarify the nature of poetic inspiration, how poems are written and revised, and what happens in a reader's mind and feelings while reading a poem.
Koch also provides a rich anthology of more than ninety works: lyric poems, excerpts from long poems and poetic plays, poems in English, and poems in translation -- by poets past and present from Homer and Sappho to Lorca, Snyder, and Ashbery. Each selection is accompanied by an illuminating explanatory note designed to complement and clarify the text.
In this book, Kenneth Koch's genius for making poetry clear and for bringing out its real pleasures is everywhere apparent.
Ordinary mortals and poet scholars alike will find something to love in Koch's down-to-earth approach to making sense of that most head scratching of literary genres. Asserting that "poetry ... is a separate language," he steers clear of the stodgy, hidden-meaning school of deciphering poems (wherein the reader digs through the poem "for some elusive and momentous significance") and takes us instead on a tour through the tonal, rhythmical, and metrical aspects of poetry. Yes, it's about the music: "The sound of words is raised to an importance equal to that of their meaning, and also to the importance of grammar and syntax." But rather than asking us to simply take his word for it, Koch provides lively and insightful examples (including many rarely anthologized poems). For instance, why does "two and two are rather green" have little or no meaning, while "two and two / Are rather blue" smacks of the truth? Why does "I don't know whether or not to commit suicide" plop from the mouth like so much cold oatmeal, while "To be or not to be, that is the question" is so pleasing to the ears? Resonance, says Koch. "Poetry lasts because it gives the ambiguous and ever-changing pleasure of being both a statement and a song."
Moving from poetry's music to its methods (comparisons, personifications, and apostrophe, to name a few), Koch continues to offer up an amusing and edifying array of excerpts and analogies to clarify his point that with poetry, "as with baseball ... one has to understand a little in order to enjoy it...." Insightful, yet never patronizing, Making Your Own Days is for anyone who's ever read a poem and wished it were more "like a newspaper article." Though Koch can't tell us why Wallace Stevens wrote "I placed a jar in Tennessee," or why "So much depends / upon / a red wheel / barrow" (William Carlos Williams), he helps us listen to--and savor--that sometimes bewildering conglomeration of words otherwise known as poetry. --Martha Silano