College Senior David Salarskey loved Kenneth Koch's poetry so much that he did more than just write a term paper about him -- he brought him to Penn. Salarskey, a member of the Kelly Writers House planning committee, organized Koch's poetry reading at the house last night. More than 30 students and poetry enthusiasts attended the event. Salarskey chose Koch, 73, because he "occupies a pivotal position in post-war American poetry." "I think his work is something that people can relate to on an everyday level while maintaining an artistic integrity," Salarskey explained. Koch -- a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia -- is the author of more than 15 books of poetry, including One Train, Seasons on Earth and Days and Nights. In addition to poetry, Koch has also written works of fiction, essays and plays. Koch is known for having founded the so-called New York school of poets, a movement which tried to rid poetry of its dullness and pompousness. He was influenced by such poets as Shelley and the surrealists. In 1995, Koch won Yale University's Bollingen Prize in poetry. The $25,000 award -- given to the best poetry collection in the previous two years, or in recognition of one's lifetime achievement -- is considered one of the nation's most prestigious literary honors. Besides writing poetry, the New York City resident has also taught it in nursing homes and public schools. Koch explained that he sees himself as an advocate for presenting poetry to a wider audience. "I think people should enjoy and understand life as much as possible, and poetry is a way of enjoying it," he said. Koch began the presentation with selections from Straits, a new collection of poems and songs that will soon be published. The poems cover themes ranging from history to politics. In addition to poetry, Koch also read some songs he had written, including "This Dancing Man was Once the Pope," a satirical piece about the pontiff. His works occasionally aroused chuckles and bursts of laughter from the audience. Koch concluded the presentation with readings from some of his plays, many of which are unusually short. "The problem with short plays is that no one wants to get dressed up, take a taxi to the theater and pay $10 to see a one-minute play," he joked. After the reading, the audience had the opportunity to question the poet about his works. When asked about why he decided to become a poet, Koch said, "I loved doing it, I got praised for it and I couldn't think of anything else to do." As to the role of poetry in academia, Koch expressed a concern that many English departments put too much of an emphasis on literary theory and not appreciation of the craft itself. Several members of the audience said they enjoyed the presentation. "I think he is very funny and very smart," Kelly Writers House coordinator Kerry Sherrin said. "It's like I can hear the whole literary tradition in English, and yet he speaks casually and uses colloquial language."Comments powered by Disqus
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