ROTC Kills

John Koethe, Author
John Koethe. HarperPerennial, $14.99 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-06-213602-2
Reviewed on: 08/20/2012
Release date: 08/01/2012
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In this ninth collection of poems, very much obsessed with time's passage and its ending, with aging, remembering and preparing to die, poet-philosopher Koethe is in full, lucid command of his voice, an amiable hybrid of late Wallace Stevens, late John Ashbery, and William Bronk, to whom Koethe owes a great debt. Amidst blankly forthright profundity—"I live, as you do, to celebrate myself,/ But it isn't easy. Sometimes life goes well/ And brings a sudden sense of exaltation/ That doesn't last, and quickly seems beside the point"—Koethe also finds instances of intimacy and identification: in one poem, a night spent in the emergency room recalls famous "doctor's office" poems of the past by Bishop and O'Hara. Though his loves are personal , too: the long, talky final poem, "Watchful Waiting," mourns deceased friends ("I'd always liked him, though I hadn't known him well. In January/ He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; ten weeks later he was dead"), ponders cancer and wonders whether there will be time to tackle "so much/ Left to do and redo." Koethe manages to take in an expansive view from the confines of a single, sometimes claustrophobic perspective; it's a feat only poetry could accomplish. (Sept.)
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