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Recommended Reading: Katherine Koch on Growing Up Among the New York School
Katherine Koch–the daughter of New York School poet, Kenneth Koch–has published a moving portrait of her childhood among the New York School in the current issue (#102) of Hanging Loose. There’s a lot of excitement surrounding this essay, as it is Katherine’s first foray into writing about her childhood: She is a painter. However, Katherine clearly has a gift with words. Her essay, “Love and Irony: Postcards from a Child of the New York School,” is also available to read online at Poetry Daily and a reflection of the piece is at Andrew Epstein’s Locus Solus. We’re so delighted to read her essay, that we’ll excerpt from it here, also. Want more? Scope out the newest issue of Hanging Loose!
There’s a photograph of my mother, Janice, with her typical one-eyebrow-high look of ironic disengagement. She’s sitting next to her bossy, talkative, and stylish mother-in-law, Lillian Koch, at an outdoor café high up in the mountains of Taormina, Sicily. It’s April, 1957. Italy is poor, still getting over the war, and my mother is wearing some dark clothing, disappearing into herself. My mother and father and I are living in Florence for a year on a Fulbright grant my mother has gotten to study Italian literature at the university there.
In these color snapshots from Taormina, taken by my grandfather Stuart, my mother is 26, I’m almost two, and my father is 32.
From nearby Agrigento, there’s another photograph from that trip, posed, in black and white, taken by a professional photographer. It shows my parents and me seated in front of the ruin of a Greek temple receding classically above and behind us. The photo evokes the grandeur of history; our little family looks like conquerors who, having taken the temple by storm, commissioned an artist to show us, majestic, before it.
It’s different from a picture taken instantly with a camera or phone, one of an endless-seeming stream of photos from a trip.
We have to be set up by a photographer, who had to approach my parents first and offer his services. Once they’ve agreed to his terms, he proceeds to place us carefully, in a row, on a bench-sized-and-shaped fragment of ancient architecture. We are in our formal 1950s visiting-a-ruin clothes: my mother wearing a suit and heels, a white dress and white knee socks for me, and my father in a sport jacket, checked button-down shirt, and dark trousers. No one else is in the photo, except a shadowy man in the background; we are the main characters. The photographer uses a camera on a tripod, for which we have to sit still.
My mother, pretty with her hair tied back, holds my hand, facing me and smiling down at me. I’m in the middle, with a tear running down my cheek and a sulky look for the photographer—I am hating having my picture taken. My father, on my right, holds me by the crook of my arm, his other hand keeping a messy pile of clothing—a jacket or two—from falling off his knee. He’s smiling in a slightly tight way, looking off to his left, into the distance, beyond my mother and me. He appears to be trying, under difficult circumstances, to be a poet at a Greek ruin.