Kenneth Koch’s Collected Poems and 64 Other Books You Need to Read in Your 20s

Another day, another list.  First, Frank O’Hara on David Bowie’s “must-read” list and now, another surprise: Kenneth Koch’s Collected Poems on … a Buzzfeed list?

The listicle factory known as Buzzfeed has tallied up “65 Books You Need To Read In Your 20s.”  The author (compiler?) Doree Shafrir says that these are “the books that will move you, inspire you, make you cry, make you think, make you laugh. Even if you read them in high school or college, you’ll have a different perspective on them now that you’re Out In The World. (Trust me.)”

There are many good titles on the list, and I can see how most of them would speak in interesting ways to twenty-somethings (Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, George Saunders’s Pastoralia, Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem and many more).

Among the handful of poetry titles, alongside Anne Sexton, David Berman’s Actual Air, and Michael Robbins’ Alien vs. Predator is The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch.  Shafrir’s pitch for the book reads:

For fans of Frank O’Hara who are ready for something a little more exuberant.

This is a bit like saying the Clash is for fans of the Sex Pistols who are ready for something a little more punk.  It’s hard to imagine anything being more exuberant than O’Hara (“Oh, kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas! / You really are beautiful!”), but OK, fair enough: Koch definitely gives O’Hara a run for his money in the exuberance department.

It’s great to see Koch’s work pop up on such a list.  One can only hope that people in their 20s are really ready to appreciate the wisdom of Koch’s great and extremely a propos poem “To My Twenties,” which reads, in part:

How lucky that I ran into you
When everything was possible
For my legs and arms, and with hope in my heart
And so happy to see any woman–
O woman! O my twentieth year!
Basking in you, you
Oasis from both growing and decay
Fantastic unheard of nine- or ten-year oasis …

I loved to frequent you
After my teens and before my thirties.
You three together in a bar
I always preferred you because you were midmost
Most lustrous apparently strongest
Although now that I look back on you
What part have you played?
You never, ever, were stingy. What you gave me you gave whole
But as for telling
Me how to best use it
You weren’t a genius at that.
Twenties, my soul
Is yours for the asking
You know that, if you ever come back.

Come to think of it –maybe this poem, along with so many other Koch poems about the energy and excitement of youth, belongs on a “32 Books You Should Read in Your 40s If You Want to Feel Nostalgic” list, too.

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