Kenneth Koch, “The Duplications” [excerpt]

poetry

One night in Venice, near the Grand Canal,
A lovely girl was sitting by her stoop,
Sixteen years old, Elizabeth Gedall,
When, suddenly, a giant ice-cream scoop
Descended from the clouded blue corral
Of heaven and scooped her skyward with a loop-
The-loopy motion, which the gods of Venice
Saw, and, enraged they left off cosmic tennis

And plotted their revenge. They thought some outer
Space denizen or monster had decided
To take this child, perhaps who cared about her
And wished to spare her heart a world divided,
Or else wanted to hug, kiss, and clout her,
And, lust upswelling, the right time had bided,
Or something such—so thought, at least, the gods of
Her native city, famed for bees and matzoh.

Venice, Peru, of course, is where it happened,
A city modeled on the Italian one
Which was all paid for by Commander Papend,
A wealthy Yugoslav who liked his fun.
The Com had sexual urges large as Lapland
And was set for action as a gun
In madman’s hands who hates the world around him—
But Com was filled with love, his heart all pounding!

And so he’d made this North Italian jewel,
Canals and palaces on every side,
An urban re-creation, not renewal,
A daring lust’s restatement of life’s pride;
Huge bumboats carrying marble, masks, and fuel
Clogged South American streams, til Nature cried
“Some madman’s building Venice in Peru!
Abomination beneath the sky’s blue!”

* * *

Kenneth Koch – as you can probably tell at this point after reading a few stanzas – was a poet who believed that – gasp! – poetry could be fun and lighthearted! I know, right?! What a nut! But he and his pals Frank O’Hara (coming next week) and John Ashbery, in the wake of the mythological drudgery that was Modernism, believed just that, and through their works tried to infuse poetry with a jolt of the weird, of the contemporary, of pop culture. The excerpt above begins his long poem “The Duplications.” I’ll be honest, I’ve yet to make it all the way through this poem’s insanity, but I will tell you that on the next page alone Koch references Canada Dry, Walt Disney, Minnie Mouse, and Salvador Dali.

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