Kenneth Koch (1925–2002) was Professor of English at Columbia. During his lifetime, Koch published at least thirty volumes of poetry and plays. He was also the author of a novel, The Red Robins; two books on teaching poetry writing to children, Wishes, Lies, and Dreams and Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?; and I Never Told Anybody: Teaching Poetry Writing in a Nursing Home.

Proverb

Les morts vont vite, the dead go fast, the next day absent! Et les vivants sont dingues, the living are haywire. Except for a few who grieve, life rapidly readjusts itself The milliner trims the hat not thinking of the departed The horse sweats and throws …

Zones

When you have enough time You can do it again and again And that is how you make a forest With each one the same In being different From all the others. You “Really want to get something done” How many trees, then, …

To Psychoanalysis

I took the Lexington Avenue subway To arrive at you in your glory days Of the Nineteen Fifties when we believed That you could solve any problem And I had nothing but disdain For “self-analysis” “group analysis” “Jungian analysis” “Adlerian analysis” the Karen Horney …

To Old Age

You hurried through my twenties as if there were nowhere to look For what you were searching for, perhaps my first trip to China. You said “I love that country because they love everything that’s old And they like things to look old—take the fortune cookies for …

The Language of Poetry

Poetry is often regarded as a mystery, and in some respects it is one. No one is quite sure where poetry comes from, no one is quite sure exactly what it is, and no one knows, really, how anyone is able to write it. The Greeks thought, or at least …

One Train May Hide Another

(sign at a railroad crossing in Kenya) In a poem, one line may hide another line, As at a crossing, one train may hide another train. That is, if you are waiting to cross The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at Least after …

Senegal

Keep your courage up Walk down the street When the leper comes up to you Say “I am a Moslem” And give him a franc. Soon he will be carted away By the Department of l’Encombrement Humain. “Go to the Island of …

The Simplicity of the Unknown Past

Out the window, the cow out the window The steel frame out the window, the rusted candlestand; Out the window the horse, the handle-less pan, Real things. Inside the window my heart That only beats for you—a verse of Verlaine. Inside the window of my …

Our Hearts

1 All hearts should beat when Cho Fu’s orchestra plays “Love” And then all feet should start to move in the dance. All ankles should be very slim and all calves shapely. Everyone should be moving around, all hearts beating— Tip tap tip tap. The heart …

Some General Instructions

Do not bake bread in an oven that is not made of stone
Or you risk having imperfect bread. Byron wrote,

“The greatest pleasure in life is drinking hock

And soda water the morning after, when one has

A hangover,” or words to that effect. It is a

Pleasure, for me, of the past. I do not drink so much

Any more. And when I do, I am not in sufficiently good

Shape to enjoy the hock and seltzer in the morning.

I am envious of this pleasure as I think of it. Do not

You be envious. In fact I cannot tell envy

From wish and desire and sharing imperfectly

What others have got and not got. But envy is a good word

To use, as hate is, and lust, because they make their point

In the worst and most direct way, so that as a

Result one is able to deal with them and go on one’s way.

The Circus

I remember when I wrote The Circus I was living in Paris, or rather we were living in Paris Janice, Frank was alive, the Whitney Museum Was still on 8th Street, or was it still something else? Fernand Leger lived in our building Well it …

Teaching Great Poetry to Children

Giraffes, how did they make Carmen? Well, you see, Carmen ate the prettiest rose in the world and then just then the great change of heaven occured and she became the prettiest girl in the world and because I love her. Lions, why does your mane flame like fire of …

Alive for An Instant

I have a bird in my head and a pig in my stomach And a flower in my genitals and a tiger in my genitals And a lion in my genitals and I am after you but I have a song    in my heart And my …

First Trip to China

1 Here on Chung-Ting Street Oh the passage into China was great I enjoyed it very much Movies give you no idea We landed at Shanghai Airport It was six o’clock in the morning Ted Pat Bennie Arnolda Jeanne and I The …