Poetry Circus

Eliciting Playfulness and the Unexpected: Teaching the Poems of Kenneth Koch

Joanna Fuhrman

In addition to being a central member of the group of poets whose surreal, funny, and chatty poems came to be labeled “New York School,” Kenneth Koch (1925–2002) is well known as an innovator in teaching poetry writing to children. My pedagogy, like that of many poets who teach in elementary and high schools, has been deeply influenced by Koch’s writing about teaching poetry. In his books, Wishes, Lies and Dreams and Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? Koch explains his method: Students will read a poem, and then use a structural element in the poem as a starting point for their own work. For example, after reading Williams Carlos Williams’ poem “This is Just to Say” (in which the speaker says he is sorry for eating the plums in the icebox, but then brags, “they were delicious/so sweet/ and so cold”), (more...)