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...
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