KOCH ME IF YOU CAN: REB LIVINGSTON TRIES FOR ELITE EIGHT

“A Time Zone” by Kenneth Koch begins with a quote from Apollinaire, which we won’t look at, because first, it’s in French, and secondly, the French have never understood poetry as competition; they understand it as wine or as a pancake.

LivingstonReb Livingston.  Sigh.  Does she have a chance?  Marla?

She does.

It’s the semi-final in the South Bracket. OK, let’s get right to it.  The Koch poem is a little self-indulgent and at times boring and David Lehman’s interested in the New York School so you know why this poem got in there but here it is in Sweet 16 do I really like this poem I don’t know I do love the ending, though:

De Kooning’s landscapy woman is full of double-exposure perfections
Bob Goodnough is making some small flat red corrections
Jane is concentrating she’s frowning she has a look of happy distress
She’s painting her own portrait in a long-sleeved dark pink dress
I’m excited I’m writing at my typewriter it doesn’t make too much sense

What about this, Marla?  Too patchy, name-droppy and cut-out, too satisfied with its snapshot surfaces?

Tom, Kenneth Koch is unfortunate for one thing.   His name is… Kenneth.  Imagine if he had a name like John…or Frank.  He’d be huge.  He’d be unstoppable.  You can’t top that “long-sleeved dark pink dress.”  I know.  I’ve been a Muse for a long time…  Koch’s poem is witty, smart, fun…

Fun?  Did you just call a poem fun?

I’VE BEEN A MUSE TO THE STARS FOR TWO MILLENNIA.

Sorry, Marla.

Here’s another clip of Koch and his “A Time Zone:”

At a John Cage concert there’s hardly a sound
It’s the paradise of music lost and music found
I find it pure and great as if a great big flash of light were going off underground
Satie and Webern are hitting me in the head and so finally with The Cantos is Ezra Pound
Frank and I are writing very long poems

Reb Livingston looks very nervous.  “That’s Not Butter,” according to Reb, is “loosely based on Little Black Sambo, a once-popular children’s story no longer taught due to its offensive racial characterizations. Few people my age are familiar with the story or its history, although my kindergarten teacher read it to our class. As young children oblivious to British imperialism, we loved the tale because to us it was about pancakes and a little boy who outsmarted tigers.”

“Long poems” v. a story in kindergarten.  Marla, does Livingston really have a chance?

The Muse has a tender heart, Tom.  Livingston has a certain look in her eye.  Uhhh…Kenneth’s clothes are slightly unkempt.  Uhhh…anything can happen.

The opening 6 lines of “That’s Not Butter:”

Once upon a time there was a house full of divorced women who did not sew.
No beautiful little red coats or beautiful little blue trousers.
The children’s clothes, purchased at Sears,
mass produced, not very unique, but good enough.

Every month the fathers would visit and take the children to fun places,
like the amusement parks, Chuck E. Cheese, and church bazaars.

Here is world of “divorce” and Chuck E. Cheese.  We all know this world: crass, yet plastic and efficient.  Unpoetic.

“That’s Not Butter” is a twist on Lewis Carroll: Alice (and her young companions) are as nasty as the Red Queen, while animal citizens of this Wonderland are normal, sane, and helpful.  Livingston shows modern children as menacing rather than innocent, but “That’s Not Butter” is more than just an anti-Rousseauian treatise.  The poet is not saying childhood is lost, so much as it is here, with a vengeance.  Capitalism’s efficiency produces a host of superficial choices and turns adults into egotistical children.  By using “Little Black Sambo” as sub-text, Livingston does two interesting things.  First, she contrasts the Victorian tale’s “beautiful little red coats” and “beautiful little blue trousers” with clothes “purchased at Sears, mass produced.”  Secondly, she sidesteps the famous racial controversy of that tale, focusing instead on “gangsta” kids in a Benneton universe of diversity and scheming opportunity.  Livingston’s social commentary is funny, spot on, and brutally honest.  Koch’s “A Time Zone” seems almost quaint by comparison.

Reb Livingston’s poem closes as follows:

“Can we smoke that?” inquired Little Speckled Sarah.
“I don’t think so, but I bet we could cook with it,” said Little Freckled Furman.
So the children scooped up the butter in their sneakers
and found their way home after torturing a turtle for directions.

When the mothers saw the melted butter, they were pleased!
“Now we’ll all have pancakes for supper!” and the whole family
sat around a huge big plate of most lovely
pancakes, yellow and brown as little tigers.  The mothers each ate
twenty-seven pancakes, the fathers came over and each ate fifty-five,
and the children each ate a hundred and sixty-nine
because they were so hungry.

So Reb Livingston steps into a lot of themes.  Koch passes to Jane who throws it inside to Rivers back outside to Ashbery who broods with it near mid-court, then chuckles and passes to O’Hara who drives hard, puts it up, off the rim, rebound Koch…Koch to Ballanchine to Freilicher, too many players on the court, whistle.  Reb has the ball, to a tiger, another tiger, back to Reb, a pass to Little Taupe Tabitha, who smirks, then laughs, and puts it up…GOOD!  What’s this?  It’s over?  I don’t belive it!  Livingston wins!  Livingston wins!   It’s official!  Reb Livingston is in the Elite Eight!

Marla?…when you get a chance…Marla, are you there…?…show the people at  home the whole poem…the fans are going crazy!….we’re getting mobbed here…!  Help…! 

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