Education: Pursuing a Gray-Haired Muse

Kenneth Koch, 52, a bespectacled, bushy-haired poet and English professor at Columbia, has a peculiar knack of finding poets in unlikely places. In 1968, for example, he whisked into Manhattan's P.S. 61 and, before they could say "Charlie Brown," had sixth-graders versifying about their favorite heroes and fantasies. The result was Wishes, Lies and Dreams, an anthology of the students' poems and a how-to guide for teaching poetry to the young.

Last spring Koch decided to approach another generally ignored group of poetic prospects—the old. He believed that older people have rich and unexpressed fantasy lives. But even Koch feared that the...

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