Wednesday, December 02, 1998

From the Archives: Success at Columbia (Meeting Kenneth Koch, December 2, 1998)

This is part of my "From the Archives" series, which consists of texts from e-mails I sent to friends describing my experiences at poetry events. I may have taken some small editorial liberties with these texts, and I have included related pictures and hyperlinks, but these are all BBB (Before BillyBlog). Remember, for me readings are enjoyable for two separate reasons: the love of poetry, and the mania for collecting. I am who I am. Enjoy!

The following is an e-mail to Hubert, a friend and fellow book enthusiast in California.


Just had a nice little encounter with Kenneth Koch up at Columbia University.

Stopped by during his office hours and was very polite. He was quite surprised, "no one's ever come to my office before to get books signed."

He was meeting with a student when I arrived, so I waited. He poked his head out and called me into his office, would've loved to go through those books in there!

The person he was meeting with packed up as I stood around. Then he asked me to have a seat while he made a call to his barber to set up a haircut appointment (Friday 4:30). Then I handed him books, a couple I picked up today because [my friend] BGM advised not to go with just anthologies. Sound advice, indeed.

He inscribed Straits (poems, 1998) and Making Your Own Days; The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry (1998, and a rather nice little nonfiction poetry book/anthology---check it out). He inscribed both "To Bill Cohen with best wishes Kenneth Koch New York 12/98"

Then I gave him the Lehman book [The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets] and above his portrait on the title he drew a balloon and inside it wrote "Hello, Bill Cohen" and signed it with NYC 12/98 just below the portait. Very cool. Very very cool.

Then he signed my Contemporary American Poets anthology which is looking more and more amazing (everyone on one page).

Then I asked him if he wouldn't mind signing his pages in my Best American Poetry anthologies, prefacing it with some poets object to doing so. He assented and signed on his page in 5 of those anthologies. He asked why some poets objected to signing them, and I kind of grunted and said "Because they think I'm a book dealer. Those guys ruin it for the rest of us who just enjoy getting autographs from poets we admire." That seemed to satisfy him. I will admit that since I started reading Lehman's book, my appreciation for both Koch and Ashbery has expanded greatly.

I thanked him profusely and then departed. He asked me if anyone was waiting for him in the hallway, I said "No," and he laughed and said "Thank God!" and started to pack.

Then, at the elevator, a young woman came up the stairs, saw me and stopped. She asked me if I was Professor Koch. Ha ha.......I wish.

Anyway, rather productive little jaunt....possibly seeing Ashbery on Saturday at a little dive in South Manhattan. Wish me luck!