Poet, critic, essayist, and short-story writer Kenneth George Pobo was born on August 24, 1954, in suburban Chicago where he grew up and later attended Wheaton College (B.A., 1976). He is the only child of Louis Pobo (who worked as a chemist at the Argonne National Laboratory) and Myrtle (née Swenson) Pobo (a housewife and musician who was very active in church and charitable work). His childhood was marked by some tension in the home, as he and his mother attended fundamentalist church services, while his scientist father at the time professed agnosticism (see the poems “Mercy” in Greatest Hits and “Baptism, Age Nineteen” in Yes: Irises as well as the introduction to Greatest Hits). Both parents are enthusiastic gardeners, and the adult Pobo followed in their footsteps, ultimately publishing a book of poems—perhaps his best book—on gardening, Ordering: A Season in My Garden. Perhaps Pobo’s interest in human physical beauty also springs from his parents who have been exceptionally attractive people their whole lives. Pobo began writing as a result of his love of popular music of the 1960s, finding in popular culture an outlet for the emotions that as a gay child in a partially religious home he could not otherwise express. In his author’s note to A Barbaric Yawp on the Rocks, he writes, “I wrote my first poem on July 4, 1970, an imitation of ‘Crystal Blue Persuasion’ ” (48). In his introduction to Greatest Hits, he cites a poem, “Mercy,” that “includes bubblegum music imagery as an overlay for emerging feelings of sexuality” (1).
Pobo attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee where he studied under gay poet James Liddy and became friends with poets Nuala Archer and Debra Vest. He was awarded the M.A. degree in English in 1979, with a creative writing thesis (later published) titled Billions of Lit Ciga-