Friday, April 20, 2007

Friday Poetry: Kenneth Koch

Repeat poet sorry sorry. But I like him awfully much and it will probably happen again. Brace yourselves. And brace yourselves equally well because this poem is long. And you should be almost as impressed with my decision to type it as you are with the poem itself.

Thank you. Now we present:

Kenneth Koch
A New Guide

What is needed is a guide to all situations and places . . .
-Le Vicomte de Cyrillac

Vous voyez cette ligne télégraphique au fond de la vallée
et dont le tracé rectilinge carpe la forêt sur la montagne d'en face
Tous les poteaux en sond de fer . . .

-Blaise Cendrars, Feuilles de Route


Look at this champagne factory
It is in Epernay
From it comes dry white wine with innumerable bubbles
(It is made in a series of fifteen gabled white buildings—sheds)
Borges writes that mirrors and fornication are "abominable"
Because they increase the amount of reality
This champagne factory transforms reality rather than simply increasing it
Without it Epernay champagne wouldn't exist.


Look at this wolf.
He is lighter than a car
But heavier than a baby carriage.
He is highly effective.
Each wolf manifestation is done entirely in the classic manner of a wolf.
He stands completely still.
He is not "too busy to talk to you,"
Not "in conference" or "on the phone."
Some day there may not be any more wolves.
Civilization has not been moving in a way that is favorable to them.
Meanwhile, there is this one.


Look at this opera.
People are moving without plan.
They are badly directed.
But how they can sing!
One can tell from the faces of the audience how marvelously they sing.
That man there's face is like a burst of diamonds
That very slim woman has fallen into a faint.
Four nights ago at this opera house a man died.
The opera stopped four young men came with a stretcher to carry him out.
I was told that when he was in the lobby a doctor pronounced him dead.
Look at the audience now. They are full of life.


Look at this camel.
A man unused to camels is trying to mount it.
The camel's driver motions for the camel to kneel down
On its front knees, which it does.
The man mounts it, the camel gallops away.
To qualify for his position the man must demonstrate his ability to ride a camel. He has failed.
Maybe he will be given another chance—if it is decided that this was a defective camel.
The worst thing that can happen is he will be out of a job. He will not be shot.
The camel crouches down now in the sand,
Quiet, able, and at ease, with nothing about it defective.
If the camel were found to be defective, it would be shot.
That much of the old way still goes on.


The purple architecture runs all around the top of the Buddhist temple and then it is graduated into sculptured green, yellow, and pink strips.
Look at the young monk in a yellow and orange silk gown—he begins a prayerful journey up the four hundred and fifty steps.
Red blue white and purple sculptured kings and demons and Buddhas look down at him as he climbs and then look level at him but never look up
For they are near the top and their heads aren't constructed so that they are able to bend.


Look at this orange.
It was "made" by that orange tree over there.
That orange tree seems to be smiling
As it waves a little bit, just the slightest little bit, in this Andalusian wind.
If it waved much more it might start to lose its oranges.
It would.


Look at this arch.
It is part of a building more than seven hundred years old.
Every day from the time he was eighteen, probably, the man who made it worked in stone.
Sometimes he had a day off—the stone would be in his mind.
He would find in his mind ideas for patterns, lines, and angles.
Now those ideas are gone.
We have a different art.
But for what we most believe we don't have art at all.


The woman is covered by a sheet and the man has one a white mask.
The man takes out the woman's heart
And puts in another. He bends down to listen—
The new heart is beating! He asks for the wound to be closed.
He takes off his mask and goes into another room.
The woman stays in this room. She has a good chance of staying alive.


Look at this old tower in Lisbon that is now a museum for Portuguese blue tiles called Azulejos.
On each tile is a patterning of blue lines.
Thick ones and thin ones curving and straight but more curved ones than straight ones
And on most of them a picture and on some of them, actually on a good many of them, words.
One tells the story of Orpheus
On this one is a young woman
Holding a cane she points to an allegorical landscape—
A river, a bridge, and sheep. Underneath the image is written
This other tile (there are, it is said, eighty
Tousand of them, one cannot describe them all)
Shows a large blue-and-white scaled fish. Underneath it, it says


You see this actor, on this stage, he is rehearsing his role in a play
Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale. He wears jeans and a frayed white shirt.
It is not yet dress rehearsal. He is rehearsing the part of Florizel. He is speaking
In unrhymed decasyllabic verse. Over here to his left is a young woman, Perdita.
She too is casually dressed—shirt and jeans.
Her brown hair is tied behind her head in a knot.


Look at this Greece.
It is hardly the same as Ancient Greece at all
Not even the old buildings:
Look at this man walking with this woman.
In a public park in Athens, in possession of happy lust.
Their faces can't have been the same in the fifth century BC.
Nothing can have been.


Look at this woman.
It has taken the human race millions of years for anyone to get to be the way she is.
An old woman in a red dress sitting looking at television.
Look at her hands.
They are a little dry but she is healthy.
She is eighty-two years old.
On the television screen is pictured a ship. There is a close-up of the deck, where
A little boy is playing with a dog. The woman laughs.


Look at the clouds.
They may be what I look at most of all
Without seeing anything.
It may be that many other things are the same way
But with clouds it's obvious.

The motorboat runs through the sky reflected in the river.
Look at the long trail of clouds behind.


Look at this celebration.
The people are festive, wearing masks.
There is a great variety of masks—dog mask, horse mask, mermaid mask, mask of a giant egg—
Many people are drinking despite the masks.
To get the drink to their lips they tilt the mask.
The masks, tilted upwards, look like hats.


Callé de los Espasmos
This is Spasms Street, named for a symptom of a fever one can get from mosquitoes at the very end of the street, where it becomes a path, near the mountain and surrounded by jungle, and leads to a waterfall and also sometimes to this fever.
Few people contract the disease and few know why the street is named Spasms Street. it is identified by signposts about every half mile: Calle de los Espasmos. The house this woman lives in is a kilometre from here, the zone is not dangerous.


Look at this bannister.
People put their hands on it as they went down.
Many many many many hands. Many many many many times.
It became known as the "Bannister of Ladies Hands." It was said one could feel the smoothness of their hands when one touched it oneself.
Actually what one felt was the smoothness of the marble
That had been worn down by so many touching hands.
Look at the sign that is on it now: The Bannister of Ladies Hands. To Preseve This Monument Each Person Is Requested To Touch It Only Once.
Look at the young boy there touching it twice, then a third time.
What if a guard catches him.
The fear is that if the bannister is touched too much it may completely wear away—the illusion of touching the soft hands of women in low-cut red dresses, going down to their friends and lovers, will exist no more.
The sensation will have vanished from the world.


Look at this beautiful road
On which horses have trodden
Centuries ago. Then it was a dirt road.
Now it is a stone road
Covered with tar.
The horses' prints are no longer visible.
Nothing is visible. Yes,
Now a motorcycle and a car go past.


Look at my friend.
He is saying to me Did you know that I am sixty-three?
He has a beautiful wrinkled face but in which the face has an almost complete mastery over the wrinkles. The wrinkling process is still held in abeyance by the face.
You're looking pretty good to me, I say.
He smiles.
Some day his face will be totally invaded by wrinkles like the pond in the Luxembourg Gardens on a windy fall day.
Even then, though, the main features of his face that I like will be visible.


This Egyptian temple is five thousand years old.
Look at the lion and look at the baboon. Both are in sphinx shape.
Look at the structure of the notes on this sheet of music.
Look at this well-known beauty now seventy years old. She says
It's fine up till seventy when you can still be sexually appealing. But after that—
Look at the harbingers of tempest—or of spring?—birds,
Birds are like thoughts that the sky had after it made a decision
About what to do, and today they are flying violently.
Look at this cloth
Spread out on the roof, beginning to show drops of rain.
Look at the green iris of this Peruvian flamingo's eye.
Look at the gravel on this path. Look at this old man's unevenly knitted grey sleeve.


Look at this woman.
The man she is with can't believe she has any connection to him.
She doesn't. She turns the corner.
But he walks after her.
After a few hundred feet he has the courage to say Hello.
You are very beautiful. May I walk with you a little ways.
She nods her head, smiling. She doesn't understand him because he is not speaking Spanish,
The only language she understands.
The man says, in English, I have just arrived in Barcelona.
She smiles, not understanding a word, except "Barcelona."
Two women and three men go by, speaking Catalan.


At 10:45 AM, Blogger tyromaven said...

Have I asked you before if you have a book of Koch's work? If so, and if the answer is yes, can you lend it to me on Sunday?

I'll understand if you are giving it a workout lately and can't part with it.


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