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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 Yacht Clubs

John Koethe, 1945

     . . . 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 beneath a tapestry . . . 
What happens is the stuff of history.
What lingers is the new reality
Of photographs and printed words, coalescing
Into colors in the dark behind closed eyes: 
The greens of hope, the yellows and pinks of death.

The passage from the hatred in the heart
To the absurd, from passion to the nearly empty day, 
Like the reductio ad absurdum of some plan—
What starts in fantasy or fear becomes
A sky of softly colored clouds
Whose simple beauty mirrors nothing.
Whose indifference is a way of understanding
The banality not of evil, but of romance
In the old sense, of complexity and art, as the past
Unfolds into an ordinary future, year by year . . . 

The surface of the water is alive with waves.
The bus leaves from the Bahnhof, driving west
Across a bridge and towards a nursery
Selling hothouse flowers and shrubs. Here and there
It stops for passengers, pausing at a corner
Where amid the lowering anxiety of the afternoon, 
The sense of something breathing in the air
Above the marker for the Haus der Wannsee-Conferenz, 
It suddenly turns right and begins a slow descent
Along the road that leads to the yacht clubs.

From Ninety-fifth Street. Copyright © 2009 by John Koethe. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

From Ninety-fifth Street. Copyright © 2009 by John Koethe. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

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
. . . 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
poem
Some have the grandeur of architecture,
The grandeur of the concert hall: the sentimental
Grandeur of an idea lying just beyond recall
In someone's imagination, compelled by an even
Greater music at its most monumental, 
That begins with the explosion of a drum
In chaos and the dark, the twin wellsprings of a
poem
I used to like connections:
Leaves floating on the water
Like faces floating on the surface of a dream,
On the surface of a swimming pool
Once the holocaust was complete.
And then I passed through stages of belief
And unbelief, desire and restraint.
I found myself repeating certain themes
Ad interim, until they