Kenneth Koch

C: A journal of poetry

A collage

C cover by Joe Brainard
“C” cover by Joe Brainard, courtesy of Fales Library Avant Garde Archive

C: A Journal of Poetry  first appeared in May of 1963, edited by Ted Berrigan and published by Lorenz Gude. It became an influential showcase for the work of New York School poets and artists — like Berrigan himself, along with Ron Padgett, Joe Brainard, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, John Ashbery, Dick Gallup, David Shapiro, and others — it was a predominantly male list, though Barbara Guest and a few others (including Alice B. Toklas!) made appearances. The Fales Library has only a partial collection of the journal; all of the images included below are from that archive. To match the scattershot nature of the image collection, this commentary will be a collage of quotes from friends and fellow poets of Berrigan's in Nice to See You: Homage to Ted Berrigan, edited and introduced by Anne Waldman for Coffee House Press in 1991.  

'A little slice of poetry turf'

Angel Hair archive, continued

for George Schneeman poem AH issue 3

Angel Hair was born in the “backseat of a car [as we were] driving from Bennington to New York,” Warsh says in his introductory essay to the Angel Hair feature in Jacket. Waldman and Warsh were driving with Georges Guy, a French professor at Bennington, and once they'd made the decision to publish Angel Hair, Guy offered them his and Kenneth Koch's translation of Pierre Reverdy's poem, “Fires Smouldering Under Winter.” The Reverdy poem begins the first issue, and the line, “Could it be enough to speak a word in this abyss,” perfectly captures the gesture of launching a literary magazine.

The Fales Library Angel Hair archive

Angel Hair 1 Cover

It feels both hugely restorative and humbling, in our age of digital media, to visit an archive and hold a fifty year-old literary magazine, carefully made and preserved, yet still fleetingly physical, in your hand. Anne Waldman, co-editor (with Lewish Warsh) of the small magazine Angel Hair, describes the significance of that experience in this quote from her introductory essay to the 2002 Angel Hair feature in Jacket: “ ephemera, lovingly and painstakingly produced, have tremendous power. They signify meticulous human attention and intelligence, like the outline of a hand in a Cro-Magnon cave.” This “tremendous power” can be applied specifically to Angel Hair, which published the work of Ted Berrigan, Denise Levertov, Joe Brainard, Michael Brownstein, and Warsh and Waldman themselves, among others, early in their lives as poets.

Four introductions to John Ashbery across five decades

Kenneth Koch, Richard Howard, David Lehman, Susan Schultz


The 35th episode of PennSound podcasts presents an anthology of introductions to readings given by John Ashbery: Kenneth Koch in 1963, Susan Schultz in 1996, David Lehman in 2008, and Richard Howard in 1967.

David Shapiro

Feature in Jacket 23

David Shapiro lives surrounded by art and music. Photo by Claudio Papapietro for
David Shapiro lives surrounded by art and music. Photo by Claudio Papapietro for the Riverdale Press, copyright © Claudio Papapietro and the Riverdale Press, 2009. Used with permission.

[»»] Thomas Fink: David Shapiro’s ‘Possibilist’ Poetry
David Shapiro (in conversation with John Tranter, 1984)
David Shapiro: Six poems (from A Burning Interior, 2000)
     [»»] The Weak Poet
     [»»] Light Bulb

Hilton Obenzinger on Kenneth Koch

From Jacket #15 (December 2001)

Jacket 15 included a many-part "Tribute to Kenneth Koch." Hilton Obenzinger's short memoir was among the parts:

“Did You Write Any Poems?” 

In April 1968 students occupied six buildings of Columbia [University, New York] to protest the university administration’s complicity in the Vietnam War and their insistence on building a new gym in Morningside Park despite the objections of Harlem, the city government, faculty, students. With other writers from the Columbia Review I spent nearly a week in President Kirk’s office in Low Library before getting beaten up by the cops in the final bust. The days in Low Commune were deliciously utopian — with approximately 125 students making decisions through participatory democracy, changing the world by example — and dangerous, despite our stance of non-violence. The right-wing students charged the building several times, setting up a blockade to prevent the anti-war students from sending in supplies. Fists began to fly, and the scene around the building roiled with constant near riots.

The faculty decided to set up their own line in an attempt to prevent the situation from getting even more out of hand. Professors took turns standing on the lawn outside the building beneath the second-story windows to keep the right-wing students from charging Low Library and, attempting some parity, to keep the left-wing students from bringing supplies to the communards. It was not an easy time to be a professor at Columbia. To be arbiters, intermediaries between the students and the administration, was an impossible task during such polarization. After the “bust” bloodied over a thousand students, the faculty realized that the administration held them in almost as much contempt as they regarded the students, and most of them ended up joining the strike that followed the beatings and mass arrests.

For teachers teaching the New York School

Kenneth Koch, "The Circus"

Kenneth KochA completely gorgeous performance of his poem "The Circus," by Kenneth Koch. He'd already written a poem called "The Circus" years earlier, and now this is a poem about thinking about having written that poem - a memory of writing that poem, its circumstances, and then some digressing thoughts about circumstances. New York School epitomized.

Many thanks to Curtis Fox, who featured this poem--and this terrific recording--in a recent episode of the podcast, "Poetry off the Shelf."

An introduction to basic New York School modes

An old mini-lecture prepared for an online course

For my survey of modern & contemporary American poetry (English 88) I once (1999) made a recording of a really basic mini-lecture on three fundamental types of New York School poems: anti-narrative, non-narrative, pastiche. The whole thing is plausible enough, although obviously there are more “types” and much more to say about pastiche. Recently we converted a RealAudio file of this recording and produced a new mp3, which I’ve linked to “chapter 8” of the course. So here is that old talk as an mp3.

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