I got to know him in the last six years of his life. I met him when he came — I was teaching at Loyola when he came to Loyola to read. One of his previous grad students at Columbia was teaching at Loyola. So, through that we got him to come and read. I had some contact with him briefly through the mail before that, because my friend, Mark Halliday, who already knew Kenneth, had given him one of my books. And Kenneth was kind enough to send me a postcard saying that he liked it, which as you can imagine, was just — well, it was so cool, because Kenneth was — his work was work that had always, always been in front of me.
And so, we met then, and I had a corner office, and he came walking down the hall, and I saw him, and I stood up and I said, “Mr. Koch, it’s such an honor.” And he said, “Knock it off Dean.” And so, that sort of set the tone of our relationship for that time. He was very kind to me, always knocking the legs out from under me any chance he got. And he was just — I’d see him about once or twice a year in New York. He had me come to New York once and read with Paul Violi, and that was just an incredible experience.
He’d call me up periodically. And it seemed like he called me only to make fun of me. He’d ask me what I was doing, and then he’d tell me it was ridiculous. And then I’d say, “What are you doing?” He’d say, “I’m not going to tell you, because you’d steal it.” He was so sort of — at that point in my life, I felt like I was the luckiest poet in the world, because I was — in one ear I had Kenneth Koch talking to me, and in the other ear I had Robert Hass talking to me. They were my east and my west.
And I felt like if I can’t absorb something of this, and use something of this, it’d be an incredible waste. But anyway, then I tried to do an interview with Kenneth, I did an interview with Kenneth, it was in the last couple of weeks of his life. And that was kind of extraordinary, working on that with him. The first thing he said to me when, you know, I had this stupid little tape recorder, it started and he said, “I don’t want to talk about the past.”
And here was a man who had this incredible-incredible past, and he knew he was dying, and I knew it too, but it was like, “No, I’m still focused on poetry, and poetry always moves into the future.” So, he was just so instructive to me, and he was such a big spirit and an amazing-amazing poet. Just full of joy. His poems are full of joy in a way that is just extraordinary.