Kenneth Koch

One of the founding members of the New York school of poetry in the 1950s, Koch established the importance of humor and light-heartedness in contemporary poetry.

Photo: Kenneth Koch, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

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Born in Ohio, Koch pursued his undergraduate studies at Harvard, where he met John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara, two other poets who would form the New York school with Koch. The poets of the New York school were categorized by their distaste for confessional poetry and affinity for a more cosmopolitan approach to poetry (combined with a surrealist flair). After earning his Ph.D. at Columbia University, Koch published his first set of poetry, Poems (1953). With this volume, Koch’s work was already controversial, as the seriousness of the verse was questioned due to Koch’s use of humor and wit.

Despite early criticism, Koch’s subsequent volumes gathered more and more praise, and eventually he won the Bollingen Prize in 1995. He also wrote several off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway plays, as well as a novel and books on how to teach children how to write poetry. He was a professor of English at Columbia University for several years and died of leukemia in 2002.

–Christie Finn

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Sheet Music

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Composer(s): William Bolcom

Song(s): 1. Lady Death
2. Histrion
3. Ballad of the Landlord
4. The Embrace
5. Africa
6. To My Old Addresses

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Composer(s): Virgil Thomson

Voice Type: High

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Mostly About Love (Low Voice)

Composer(s): Virgil Thomson

Voice Type: Low

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