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This review is taken from PN Review 159, Volume 31 Number 1, September - October 2004.

MONDO THIS AND THAT KENNETH KOCH, A Possible World (Knopf) $15.00 The New York Poets: An Anthology, edited by Mark Ford (Carcanet) £9.95

In his biographical note on Kenneth Koch in The New York Poets: An Anthology, Mark Ford speaks of the late poet's `almost manic' attention to detail. In contrast to the soapbox fervour and eye-flicking observation of the earlier poems collected there, much of the work in A Possible World has a stilled, hypomanic quality that isn't without his trademark glee. Here and in Sun Out, his other late book, Koch fixes his attention on big things. The biggest one of all had been with him for some time. Leukaemia ended his life in 2002.

There is little of the elegiac in these memories of distant places - Florence, Haiti, China, Malaysia - but a certain emphasis on the gap between the permanence of memory, aided by photographs, films, texts, and the steady retreat of the past's emotional and sensuous charge. For the first time, Koch seems to be looking at life through a glass, rather than pinching and stroking it. Travel as he might and had, there were certain inescapable conclusions, as at the end of `Variations at Home and Abroad': `One is recognizably male, American, and of a certain generation. Nothing takes these markers away.'

For all the cosmopolitan delight at time spent in Aix-en-Provence, or being escorted by the Minister of Education round a Haitian classroom (perhaps a subtle dig at Yeats's `Among School Children'), Koch has never seemed more thoroughly American even if the Whitman-lists now come in shorter, run- on lines ...


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