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Elegy for Kenneth Koch

d. July 6, 2002

It seems too crazy, like one of your mad, funny poems,

that you’re not with us anymore, not here to point out

the thisness of things, like mountains, circuses, and fresh air.

You were always the court jester of poets,

toppling pretension from its granite and marble heights.

“Look,” you would say, about this or that,

“how absolutely strange, marvelous, and ordinary it is,

like everything else you will meet on your daily rounds.”

You noticed the blueness of blue, the curvature of the round,

the still beats of silence within seconds.

One of my favorites of your lines is

“To learn of cunnilingus at fifty

argues a wasted life.” This from your poem,

“Some General Instructions,” which pings in my head even today.

Ah, Kenneth, the obit said it was leukemia and you were 77.

Hard to imagine either. You, a frail old man, eaten by blood cells.

I rarely saw you when you weren’t laughing, darting here and there.

I remember we wrote a sestina in your class,

each student writing a line as the poem went around the room.

I wrote the last line of that poem, and remember it forty years later

because you thought it was the perfect ending:

“Who would have guessed at such a meaning for summer?”

And I say that again, for this summer, when you’re no longer here:

Who would have guessed at such a meaning for summer?

  • This poem, “Elegy for Kenneth Koch,” was awarded a Pushcart Prize in 2012 after it appeared in Poetry International #17. It was also published in his 2010 collection The City of Eden, published by Laterthanever Productions, and is reprinted here by permission.
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Kenneth Koch - Image by Larry Rivers
Kenneth Koch

d. July 6, 2002

It seems too crazy, like one of your mad, funny poems,

that you’re not with us anymore, not here to point out

the thisness of things, like mountains, circuses, and fresh air.

You were always the court jester of poets,

toppling pretension from its granite and marble heights.

“Look,” you would say, about this or that,

“how absolutely strange, marvelous, and ordinary it is,

like everything else you will meet on your daily rounds.”

You noticed the blueness of blue, the curvature of the round,

the still beats of silence within seconds.

One of my favorites of your lines is

“To learn of cunnilingus at fifty

argues a wasted life.” This from your poem,

“Some General Instructions,” which pings in my head even today.

Ah, Kenneth, the obit said it was leukemia and you were 77.

Hard to imagine either. You, a frail old man, eaten by blood cells.

I rarely saw you when you weren’t laughing, darting here and there.

I remember we wrote a sestina in your class,

each student writing a line as the poem went around the room.

I wrote the last line of that poem, and remember it forty years later

because you thought it was the perfect ending:

“Who would have guessed at such a meaning for summer?”

And I say that again, for this summer, when you’re no longer here:

Who would have guessed at such a meaning for summer?

  • This poem, “Elegy for Kenneth Koch,” was awarded a Pushcart Prize in 2012 after it appeared in Poetry International #17. It was also published in his 2010 collection The City of Eden, published by Laterthanever Productions, and is reprinted here by permission.
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