Kenneth Koch   Selected Poems 1950-1982.
Random House, 249 pages, $17.95

Among the diminishing numbers of those who continue to read poetry after obligatory undergraduate bouts with the Norton Anthology, there has been a generally accepted sense that the object of poetry is perfect candor and its subject is the self. Poets in this view are expected to find their voices, a task equated with achieving personal authenticity, a one-to-one parity between the “I” or eye of the poet’s poems and who he is. This consensus view is wide enough to include as many varieties of poetry as there are personas available for authentification, but it excludes a great deal of poetry in which the poet is either not personally present or, more problematically, is present in a playful, parodic, or otherwise “inauthentic” way.

For every consensus there is an opposite, if...

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