In my twenties, for a few years, I threw myself into poetry. I had never thought of myself as a poet but my teacher of “Imaginative Writing” at Columbia College was the poet Kenneth Koch, (left, above with Allen Ginsberg) and it seemed with him that nothing but poetry was worth writing.
He gave me a lot, as teacher, friend, tormentor. We went out for salted chicken in Chinatown once, and when he drove me home he thought my street so busy he pronounced that I lived in “A pinball machine.” Which feels more and more true now that I look back.
He had a firm belief in me that I was always capable of more. That more to him was more range. He wanted me not to write of despair or sadness. Or, he said, grudgingly, cajoling, realizing my penchant: if you have to do that, do the opposite also.
For him, poetry was about celebration. But perhaps that’s why I left poetry, the way I left guitar: all of my poems and songs seemed to be in minor key, and so sad.
Just looking through some papers today and found this fragment:
over you, I don’t even think of you
there are other beds, other openings of the blinds
at 7 a.m., crow in the garden,
hands both gentle and rough, years pass, this way,
not a tear comes.
Do you catch my drift? Still, I would like to live up to Koch’s faith in me; no one tone is the only tone, I do believe, for any writer, or at least not one key. I want always to sound like myself, of course, but not always to sound the same. A lot to live up to, Kenneth: