MILLTOWN, NJ - For local author, William Koch Junior, poetry is a part of his grieving process not necessarily the healing as some might think. The longtime East Brunswick resident is the author of three books. The first, Casualties of War, was published in 2011, three years after the death of his son, Cpl. Steven R. Koch. The latest, Oh Conscience was released early in October.
Inspired to a call of duty by the tragic events on September 11, Koch’s youngest son Steven joined the military. He was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Infantry on March 3, 2008. A little over two years later, he would loose his daughter, Lynne as well. Lynne suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder following the death of her brother and took her own life on May 6, 2010.
“It was almost life-ending,” Koch said in a recent interview on the deaths of Steven and Lynne. “Writing is a way of putting order back into your life. Afterwards, nothing makes sense. You lose interest in things that used to matter. The idea of linking words together was a way of reorganizing my life.”
Koch explained that he hasn’t had a complete night’s sleep since losing his son. As a way to combat the insomnia, he began to write. His poems are an emotional experience from start to finish and he’s not quite sure where the words come from though the inspiration is his children.
Tate Publishing, a Christian vanity publisher, has published all three of Koch’s books. However, the first one was more of a lengthy editing process since he didn’t know what to expect. The title was originally “Always on my Mind”, which is a poem in the book about Steven since he is a constant presence on Koch’s mind. After reading his poems, his editor felt the title Casualties of War more adequately depicted the overall feel of the poetry since both Steven and Lynne’s tragic deaths were ultimately tied to war.
On October 25, Our Lady of Lourdes in Milltown hosted a special ceremony honoring Steven, the Fallen Heroes of America as well as POWs and MIAs. A special monument to Steven is located at Our Lady of Lourdes where he was also a student. Lynne gave the dedication speech when the monument was unveiled back in 2008, seven months after her brother's death.
Koch talked openly about how all three of his children are his muses. His poems emanate themes of pride, family, freedom and courage, which he garners from Steven’s memory while the vibes of compassion and loneliness stem from Lynne. His oldest son, William is also a source of inspiration. Koch’s poem, “The Rock”, is a tribute to him.
The East Brunswick Library is featuring a display of Koch’s poetry this month in honor of Veterans Day. Koch’s poems are written on poster boards along with the images that inspired them. The effect is quite poignant, interlocking the heartfelt words with the visual imagery behind them. Reading the poem "Sullen Eyes" with his daughter’s eyes as a backdrop, is quite touching.
Koch will retire from his full-time position as a senior estimator for Forest Electric in January. He will continue to work part-time and hopes to be able to devote more time to promoting his books; doing readings, signings and speaking. In the past, he’s enjoyed talking with students about his poetry, describing the writing process from paper to publication.
Thus far, Koch hasn’t experienced commercial success with his books. He understands that “sorrow is a hard sell.” Yet, an audience remains for his moving poetry; military families, veterans, active soldiers as well as parents, friends and loved ones that have lost someone to suicide.
For Koch and his wife, Christine the silence from the empty chairs at their table will always be “deafening” even as more time passes.
Empty Chair is a poem in Koch’s first book. The cover of Casualties of War also depicts two empty chairs. Anyone who has ever dealt with the loss of a child or someone close to them understands the words because they hear the sometimes overwhelming silence as well.
While sorrow may indeed by a difficult “sell,” those who have experienced loss in their life may find comfort in Koch’s heart-rending poetry.
A fourth book isn’t necessarily in the works though Koch has many unpublished poems that he’s written during the past seven years as well as new material. Therefore, he hasn’t ruled that thought out entirely.