In 1968 and 1969, the New York School poet Kenneth Koch taught poetry to children at PS61, a school on E 12th between Avenues B and C in the East Village. His account of this experience, Wishes, Lies and Dreams, and a subsequent work, Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? remain perhaps the most important and accessible books about writing with children. Koch made the process rich, strange, exciting! He presented kids with real models to work from (Ashbery, O'Hara, Shakespeare, Rilke), rather than some watered-down childrens' rhyming pap, and made thinking and writing about poetry an act of sheer anarchic bliss. He took all prissiness and preciousness out of the Art, and showed that children, inspired in the right way, could write with truth and beauty. Koch inspired me to work with children in Brooklyn schools for a few years, and I still have boxes of their poems. During this time, I discovered that there was a film about Koch's experience at PS 61, and somehow or other managed to get hold of a copy. It's a real joy to watch. In it, you see an East Village school of the late 60s, and a class of curious, unspoilt kids. It's also very funny. Koch strides into the classroom looking a bit like a poet's version of Austin Powers, and makes writing the most fabulous pursuit in the world. I wish I'd been a student there. I wish more teachers were like that.
Well, happy day! Today I found the film on Vimeo, so here it is. Imagine, the kids shown here are in their 50s today.
Wishes, Lies and Dreams from Zeega on Vimeo.
For a Koch bio and bibliography, read here.. Koch also conducted poetry workshops with older writers, at the American Nursing Home at Avenue B and Fifth St. He wrote about the experience in I Never Told Anybody: Teaching Poetry Writing to Old People.