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About this poet

Originally from San Diego, John Koethe was born on December 25, 1945. He began writing poetry in 1964, during his undergraduate studies at Princeton University and went on to receive a PhD in philosophy from Harvard University.

Koethe's Ninety-fifth Street (Harper Perennial, 2009) won the 2010 Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets. He has published numerous books of poetry, including North Point North: New and Selected Poems (Harper Perennial, 2003), which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; The Constructor (Harper Perennial, 1999); Falling Water (Harper Perennial, 1997), which won the Kingsley Tufts Award; Domes (Columbia University Press, 1974), which won the Frank O'Hara Award for Poetry; and Blue Vents (Audit/Poetry, 1968).

Critic Robert Hahn notes, "Koethe's poetry is ultimately lyrical, and its claim on us comes not from philosophy's dream of precision but from the common human dream that our lives make some kind of sense. What Koethe offers is not ideas but a weave of reflection, emotion, and music; what he creates is art—a bleak, harrowing art in all it chooses to confront, but one whose rituals and repetitions contain the hope of renewal."

Koethe is also the author of three collections of essays: Skepticism, Knowledge, and Forms of Reasoning (Cornell University Press, 2005); Poetry at One Remove (University of Michigan Press, 2000); and the scholarly work, The Continuity of Wittgenstein's Thought (Cornell University Press, 1996).

He is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Koethe's work has been nominated for The New Yorker Book Award and the Boston Book Review Award. He is a fellow of the American Academy in Berlin, and received a lifetime achievement award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers. From 2000 through 2002, he served as Milwaukee's first poet laureate.

Koethe served as the Elliston Poet in Residence at the University of Cincinnati and as the Bain-Swiggett Professor of Poetry at Princeton University. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, where he resides with his wife.
 




Selected Bibliography
Poetry

Ninety-fifth Street (Harper Perennial, 2009)
North Point North: New and Selected Poems (Harper Perennial, 2003)
The Constructor (Harper, 1999)
Falling Water (Harper Perennial, 1997)
Domes (Columbia University Press, 1974)
Blue Vents (Audit/Poetry, 1968)

Prose

Skepticism, Knowledge, and Forms of Reasoning (Cornell University Press, 2005)
Poetry at One Remove (University of Michigan Press, 2000)

The Bean House

John Koethe, 1945
. . . humming in the summer haze.

Diane christened it the Bean House,
Since everything in it came straight from an 
L.L. Bean Home catalog. It looks out upon two
Meadows separated by a stand of trees, and at night,
When the heat begins to dissipate and the stars
Become visible in the uncontaminated sky,
I like to sit here on the deck, listening to the music
Wafting from the inside through the sliding patio doors,
Listening to the music in my head. It's what I do:
The days go by, the days remain the same, dwindling
Down to a precious few as I try to write my name
In the book of passing days, the book of water. Some
Days I go fishing, usually unsuccessfully, casting
Gently across a small stream that flows along beneath
Some overhanging trees or through a field of cows.
Call it late bucolic: this morning I awoke to rain
And a late spring chill, with water dripping from the
Eaves, the apple trees, the pergola down the hill.
No fishing today, as I await the summation
Of my interrupted eclogue, waiting on the rain
And rhythms of the world for the music to resume,
As indeed it does: all things end eventually,
No matter how permanent they seem, no matter how
Desperately you want them to remain. And now the sun
Comes out once more, and life becomes sweet again,
Sweet and familiar, on the verge of summer.

Copyright © 2012 by John Koethe. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2012 by John Koethe. Used with permission of the author.

John Koethe

John Koethe

Born in 1945, John Koethe is the author of several collections of poetry, including Falling Water, which won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.

by this poet

poem
             . . . hope would be hope for the wrong thing

                                                                  —T. S. Eliot


Instead of the usual welcoming sign to greet you
There's the brute statement: This is Lagos.
If you make it to the island—if you make your way
Across the bridge and
poem
In the end one simply withdraws
From others and time, one's own time,
Becoming an imaginary Everyman
Inhabiting a few rooms, personifying 
The urge to tend one's garden,
A character of no strong attachments
Who made nothing happen, and to whom
Nothing ever actually happened—a fictitious
Man whose life was over
poem

     . . . and the holocaust was complete.
                  
                                                          —The Great Gatsby


Like a question in a dream
Whose answer lies across the water
In a green light of hope, in a slow scream
Beginning with a single breath
Exhaled in a dining room