Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wishes, Lies & Dreams

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.


Be the BQE said...

Great discovery! I was also inspired by Koch's work and have used it with my students who will be English teachers.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

Thanks. I have great memories of working with the kids. I also love Koch's poetry & am glad I got the chance to hear him read. Have you read Fresh Air? It always makes me happy:

A blond man stands up and says,
“He is right! Why should we be organized to defend the kingdom
Of dullness? There are so many slimy people connected with poetry,
Too, and people who know nothing about it!
I am not recommending that poets like each other and organize to fight them,
But simply that lightning should strike them.”

Marty Wombacher said...

Great video and he's certainly an inspiring teacher! I love it how the kids applaud him as he walks into the room.

Fringarde said...

"The Yangtze River sounds like a New York baseball team..." that kid was downright "Ginsbergian"! Nice to see that chaos in the classroom is not anything new.