Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Kenneth Koch was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on February 27, 1925. Although he wrote his first poem when he was five, he did not begin writing seriously until he was seventeen, when he read the novels of John Dos Passos and was thereby stimulated to imitate their particular style of stream of consciousness. Koch served as a rifleman in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war, he earned a B.A. degree from Harvard University in 1948 and a doctorate from Columbia in 1959. At Harvard, Koch was a friend of John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara, poets who held similar views about the nature of poetry. Later, when they had settled in New York, Ashbery, O’Hara, and Koch came to be thought of as principal poets of the New York School.
Koch spent three important years in Europe, mostly in Italy and France. During that time, he was influenced by the humorous, surrealistic verse of Jacques Prévert. In a brief autobiographical account that appeared in The New American Poetry, 1945-1960 (1960; Donald Allen, editor), Koch noted that French poetry “had a huge effect” on his own work. Moreover, he acknowledged that he tried to get into his own writing “the same incomprehensible excitement” that he found in French poetry.
During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Koch began teaching poetry writing at P.S. 61, a grammar school in New York City, and at a neighborhood museum in Brooklyn. A few years later, he taught similar classes at a New...
(The entire section is 502 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Biography (Poetry for Students)
Kenneth Koch (pronounced “coke”) was born February 27, 1925, in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father Stuart Koch owned a furniture store, and his mother Lillian wrote amateur literary reviews. As an adult, Koch admitted that, though his upbringing was pleasant enough, he longed to get away from his cozy, provincial Midwestern town, and writing poetry and stories was one way to escape it as a youngster. He has noted that he remembers writing his first poem at age five and that as a child he was quite enamored of nursery rhymes and children’s stories.
After high school, Koch was drafted into the Army and served in the Philippines during World War II. He did not write about his harrowing war experiences until near the end of his life, by which time he had found a poetic voice to describe them. Koch enrolled at Harvard University when the war ended and there studied writing with renowned poet Delmore Schwartz. He also developed what would become a lifelong friendship with poet and art critic John Ashbery.
In 1948 Koch graduated with honors from Harvard. He then studied briefly at the University of California, Berkeley—where he met Mary Janice Elwood (Janice), his first wife—before transferring to Columbia University to complete his master’s and doctoral degrees. He published his first volume of poetry, titled simply Poems, in 1953. In 1959 Koch became a member of the Columbia writing faculty and remained a teacher there for virtually...
(The entire section is 479 words.)