Kenneth Koch's Thank You and Other Poems is - like the Rolling Stones - fifty years old this year. My increasingly battered copy of the Evergreen Original paperback has been a cheering presence somewhere in my life for around forty of those years. At present it's in the bedside pile, a reliable spirit-lifter, containing some of the funniest, happiest serious verse I've ever come across.
Koch's laudable aim in his poetry was to express 'the fullness and richness of life and the richness of possibility and excitement and happiness'. Along with his 'New York school' friends (notably Frank O'Hara and the early John Ashbery), Koch was in the business of blowing away ponderous introspection and replacing it with something fresh, playful, light-footed, exuberant and cosmopolitan, drawing inspiration from abstract expressionism, surrealism, music and pop art imagery. His long poem Fresh Air - read it here - is a kind of manifesto, though the word is far too solemn for such a piece of work.
Here is a characteristic poem from the Thank You collection - one of my favourites - in which Koch dances nimbly between the comic and the lyrical...
One day the Nouns were clustered in the street.
An Adjective walked by, with her dark beauty.
The Nouns were struck, moved, changed.
The next day a Verb drove up, and created the Sentence.
Each Sentence says one thing—for example, “Although it was a dark rainy day when
the Adjective walked by, I shall remember the pure and sweet expression on her face
until the day I perish from the green, effective earth."
Or, “Will you please close the window, Andrew?”
Or, for example, “Thank you, the pink pot of flowers on the window sill has changed color
recently to a light yellow, due to the heat from the boiler factory which exists nearby.”
In the springtime the Sentences and the Nouns lay silently on the grass.
A lonely Conjunction here and there would call, “And! But!”
But the Adjective did not emerge.
As the Adjective is lost in the sentence,
So I am lost in your eyes, ears, nose, and throat—
You have enchanted me with a single kiss
Which can never be undone
Until the destruction of language.