Kenneth Koch


Prize-winning author Kenneth Koch published numerous collections of poetry, avant-garde plays, and short fiction while also serving as one of the nation’s best-known creative writing teachers during a career that spanned over five decades. Associated with the New York School of poetry for most of his career, Koch used surrealism, satire, irony, and an element of surprise in many of his poems. Koch explored an assortment of emotions in his poetry, but in an era seemingly dedicated to deep seriousness he refused to relinquish lightness or a sense of humor. Source

To Stammering

Where did you come from, lamentable quality?

Before I had a life you were about to ruin my life.

The mystery of this stays with me.

“Don’t brood about things,” my elders said.

I hadn’t any other experience of enemies from inside.

They were all from outside—big boys

Who cursed me and hit me; motorists; falling trees.

All these you were as bad as, yet inside. When I spoke, you were there.

I could avoid you by singing or acting.

I acted in school plays but was no good at singing.

Immediately after the play you were there again.

You ruined the cast party.

You were not a sign of confidence.

You were not a sign of manliness.

You were stronger than good luck and bad; you survived them both.

You were slowly edged out of my throat by psychoanalysis

You who had been brought in, it seems, like a hired thug

To beat up both sides and distract them

From the main issue: oedipal love. You were horrible!

Tell them, now that you’re back in your thug country,

That you don’t have to be so rough next time you’re called in

But can be milder and have the same effect—unhappiness and pain.





Literary Movements:

New York School

Anthology Years:



Doubt & Fear

Strength & Resilience

Literary Devices:


an exclamatory passage in a speech or poem addressed to a person (typically one who is dead or absent) or thing (typically one that is personified)


conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play, or movie


a recurrence of the same word or phrase two or more times

Rhetorical Question

a question asked for effect, not necessarily to be answered