In response to:

I Never Told Anybody Teaching Poetry Writing in a Nursing Home from the January 20, 1977 issue

To the Editors:

I included in my essay “I Never Told Anybody: On Teaching Poetry Writing in a Nursing Home” [NYR, January 1] a poem by David Wagoner which I attributed to one of my nursing home students, William Ross. What happened was that William Ross had copied down the poem from a magazine in order to have a copy of it to keep, and this copy was accidentally included among the poems by students sent to me in Europe after my teaching at the nursing home was over. I very much regret this error. David Wagoner’s poem, “How Stump Stood in the Water,” is in his Collected Poems (University of Indiana Press). The version of the poem in my essay is slightly different owing to my difficulty in reading William Ross’s handwriting. Here is a poem written by William Ross that has the qualities I meant to show:


If I was the earth when it rains
I’d cry for rain
Because it makes all my flowers open up.
If I was the earth I wouldn’t like storms
Because storms are cruel
To my neighbor flowers and my friends, the insects.
Sometimes they kill unnecessarily,
They drown things,
Whereas a sprinkle or shower is beautiful,
Just enough to drink.
Flowers are like human beings,
They need just enough water
To spring into beauty.

After a shower you see butterflies,
Ladybugs, all beautiful little insects,
And after a shower
All the crickets go in hiding until dark.
Then they come out with their music,
They go into a symphony,
They stretch and crawl and exercise their bodies,
They feel so refreshed after beautiful spring rain.

But in a storm all my earthly neighbors go into hiding
Under rocks and trees
Anywhere, for shelter.
They feel miserable
Unlike a shower, where they lie in the cool grass
And are refreshed and enjoy themselves,
Especially the crickets—
They get together and talk about the storm,
“Isn’t this nasty weather we’re having?”
“Yeah, sure is a shame we can’t enjoy
The flowers and grass and all things that surround us.
Storm makes it too hard for us to walk,
That’s why all of us insects love spring rain the best
And not storms, which are awful to everyone,
To all crawling things, to babies, men, and children,
And all human beings.”
Kenneth Koch

New York City

This Issue

February 17, 1977