Departmental Bulletin Paper Kenneth Koch and the Play of Poetry : Pedagogy and Performance as Forms of Social Play


(Vol.24)  , pp.35 - 45 , 2016-03-03
In this article I examine the highly significant but critically neglected role of socially oriented group play in avantgarde poetry via an analysis of two hitherto marginalized works by the American poet and pedagogue Kenneth Koch (1925‒2002). I first examine Koch’s pedagogic instruction book Wishes, Lies and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry (1970), then consider Making it Up: Poetry Composed at St. Mark’s Church on May 9, 1979 (1994),the transcript of his 1979 public improvised reading with poet Allen Ginsberg. By positioning these texts within a new critical framework drawn from the work of seminal play theorist Roger Caillois and Katherine N. Hayles’s concept of “distributed cognitive systems” I explore issues of didactic authority, poetic collaboration, and freeplay vs. constraint that continue to be obscured by scholarly approaches that prioritize solo authorship and the selfsufficiency of the poetic text. In doing this I not only shed new light on Koch’s poetic practice, but also offer a critical approach that acknowledges the integral role played by playful social interaction in American avant-garde poetics.

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