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This review is taken from PN Review 123, Volume 25 Number 1, September - October 1998.

UNBREAKABLE STYLE JOHN KOETHE, Falling Water (Harper Perennial)

Falling Water by John Koethe, a philosophy professor at the University of Wisconsin, contains long interlocking poems about America written in the most uncannily mellifluous lines of any American poet now writing. Koethe's subject is declension and his widening sense of disconnection but the tone throughout is lullingly serene, eschewing drama or histrionics for an acceptance of the fall. Koethe frames his terms and sets the tone right off the bat, beginning 'From the Porch' with, 'The stores were bright, and not too far from home. / The school was only half a mile from downtown' and concluding

          You could set your course
On the day after tomorrow. And children fell asleep
to the lullaby of people murmuring softly in the kitchen,
While a breeze rustled the pages of Life magazine,
And the wicker chairs stood empty on the screened porch.

This is gemeinschaftland: the organic community and apple-pie America of myth - the Clutter farm in Kansas before the killers kick the door in - and Koethe is too acutely critical to buy it wholesale; those wicker chairs are empty. Immediately thereafter in 'The Constant Voice,' he writes, 'Yet now and then a phrase, echoing in the mind / Long after its occasion, seems to resurrect / A world I think I recognize, and never saw. / For what was there to see?' Conscious of entropy, the poet is doubly lost: for the myth itself and his knowledge ...


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