‘I owe life, it doesn’t owe me a thing’

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Anyone in the business of teaching writing will enjoy this book published way back in the seventies. Kenneth Koch taught poetry writing to inhabitants of an old people’s home, people who had worked hard at poorly-paid jobs all their lives, hadn’t read much, and certainly had never thought of themselves as poets. Here are some of their poems.

Love poem
I know why the north country is frozen.
It has been trying to preserve your memory.
I know why the desert burns with fever.
It wept too long without you.
On hands and knees the ocean begs up the beach
And falls at your feet.
William Ross

The Quietest Thing
The quietest thing in my life was after plowing acres of corn
then overlooking the work I did and seeing if my row was straight.
I was up on the hill with nobody but me then
And no birds making a sound.
William Ross

The End of The War
I was crying and laughing and singing
And throwing things through the streets
Throwing things from happiness
To make a noise!
The church bells were singing
From happiness!
They were hitting the wash boilers
And people were allowed to shoot off guns
It’s impossible to tell it all
Fire bells were ringing
It was like a fire of happiness
Without the fire.
Mary Tkalec

Kenneth Koch: I Never Told Anybody: Teaching Poetry Writing in a Nursing Home

11 thoughts on “‘I owe life, it doesn’t owe me a thing’

  1. And don’t forget ‘Rose Where Did You Get That Read? Teaching Great Poetry to Children.’ In which he shows ways of teaching children to read and write poetry through readings from Blake, Lorca, Donne, Stevens …

    Other Gert

  2. Oh I love this! I do believe that everyone has at least one wonderful poem in them. I shall hunt down the book, in have a friend currently running a writing group that is full of folk who are most reluctant to actually write.

    1. I wonder if the fact that these people had never thought about being writers in a way freed them up. It might be different with another group. And of course it’s all about the way it was done. You do need to read the book to get a feel for that.

    1. Yep. People get so hung up on the idea of rhyming and good rhyming poetry is incredibly hard. He did show them some rhyming poems but not till well into the meetings.

  3. I’ve only just caught up with this post and ordered both books immediately. Should be ideal books to share with friends and family.

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