from One Train (1994)
Kenneth Koch was my freshman English Professor at Columbia School of Engineering
(Fall 1959). It was also his first year at Columbia, and his first book
Ko, or a Season on Earth (1959) was just published. He never mentioned
that he was a poet, or spoke of his friends
John Ashbery, and
the artist Larry Rivers.
None of the students realized how lucky we were in
having a blossoming poet teaching us. He gave the class an assignment
to memorize "Fern Hill" by Dylan Thomas.
I recall it was the hardest homework
for me that year, more so than any chemistry, math, or physics problem sets.
I attended my first poetry reading at Cornell (1964) when Koch read
Ko and Thank You and Other Poems at Willard Straight Hall,
the student's union. I just said "Hello" to him after his reading as my mind
was occupied with my graduate course work in preparation for my doctoral
exam in Molecular Biology. Koch started the Poetry in the Schools Program
in New York City. His books
Wishes, Lies, and Dreams (1970) and Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? (1973)
provided a blueprint in teaching children to write poetry across America.
It inspired me to get involved in CPITS
and I enjoyed sharing my excitement of poetry with the kids in the classroom.
When Koch gave a reading at San Jose State University (1990), he autographed these
books for me, inscribing "To Peter my former student". One of my poems
"Valentine Mints" in the CPITS 1995 Anthology was selected by the
San Francisco Arts Waterfront Project (1999) and
cast in bronze near the
Ferry Building. I'm sure that Koch would have enjoyed it and regret that
I've never mentioned it to him. For this Anthology, I'm including 15 of
the 95 short poems in "On Aesthetics", the last poem from One Train (1994).
These sketches have a Zen-like quality that is humorous and refreshing.
The # numbering are my own as they are not in the Koch original poem
"On Aesthetics". The lines in Koch's "Aesthetics of Cézanne"
"the apples / that were in / the orchard / so red / and so gold"
is echoing William Carlos Williams' "This Is Just To Say"
"the plums / that were in / the icebox... / so sweet / and so cold".
On Aesthetics (1994)
#5 AESTHETICS OF THE MAN IN THE MOON
A Tribute to Kenneth Koch
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