Prompt #35 (Only a teeny bit late) : Kenneth Koch on Beauty

Inspired by a great article (by Heather Altfeld at the North American Review) on the challenges of teaching poetry and teaching beauty, I came here to re-post said article and realized I’d forgotten to post poetry prompt #35 this past Sunday (July 20). Sigh.

To atone for the errors of my ways, I’m giving you a chance to read a really great (and quite long) poem by Kenneth Koch, a giant of American poetry during the 1950s, and a devoted and important teacher who taught teachers of poetry how to teach poetry. I was introduced to Koch’s best-known book on the subject, Rose, Where Did You Get That Red, during my training to be a poet/teacher with California Poets in the Schools. It’s a great little book. You can read mine anytime you want. (Altfeld’s article talks about Koch and his methods.)


The method Koch taught is about imitation: pick a great poem and get kids to imitate its essential qualities. “Rose, Where Did You Get That Red” is the name of a poem written by a child who was imitating William Blake’s “The Tyger” — a poem which essentially asks a creature of God how and where it acquired its power and beauty. (The image featured with this blog is Blake’s poem and illustration.) You can read an excerpt of Koch’s book here.

Your task today is to read Kenneth Koch’s poem “On Beauty by Kenneth Koch” and then imitate it. Just write for a while about what beauty means to you. Be as free-wheeling and long-winded as you like. Be colorful and descriptive and don’t hold back. Call it a poem and call it a day. Or, if you’re inspired, share your efforts with us!

Here’s the last stanza of Koch’s poem, and I think the sentiment is fine.


4 thoughts on “Prompt #35 (Only a teeny bit late) : Kenneth Koch on Beauty

  1. John Nichols says:

    Another great book about Poetry, teaching it, and what it is by Kenneth Koch is “Making Your Own Days”. It’s a wonderful book. This is a great post and a great prompt about a great poem. As a Koch scholar, I thank you for keeping him front and center as an important and regrettably forgotten figure in the history of American poetry!

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