Falling Water

John Koethe, Author
John Koethe, Author Harper Perennial $22 (80p) ISBN 978-0-06-055371-5
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
Paperback - 108 pages - 978-0-06-095257-0
Ebook - 80 pages - 978-0-06-203486-1
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Even if the author notes didn't reveal that Koethe's day job is that of philosophy professor, it would be easy enough to guess. The 15 poems that make up this collection are nothing if not meditative. There are direct references to Wittgenstein and Freud. Disembodiment is a favorite theme. And often Koethe adopts a professorial rhetoric, as in ""Argument in Isolation"": ""Premise: one exists alone,/ Within a system of increasingly mild ideals/ --The good of love, the greater good of dreams--/ Abstracted from the musings of the grown-up child."" Should readers be caught napping (which is likely) at the start of the title poem, a too long discourse on remembrance, they will suddenly be called upon to ""Contemplate a man/ Oblivious to his settings."" At times, Koethe says in 10 lines what should be said in five or finds only a sentimental vocabulary to enliven his dry theorems: ""...the truest/ Statement is the one asserted by the sun// That shines indifferently on loneliness and love."" But then he will rebound with imagery from his life in Milwaukee, or with a sharp triplet: ""Think of an uninhabited landscape,/ With its majesty rendered otiose/ By a stranger's poverty of feeling."" If the volume is inconsistent and doesn't marry passion or bold phrasing to thought nearly often enough, it is always unique and earnest, earning the professor a solid B for his efforts. (Sept.)
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