July/Aug 2017 • Vol. XXXIX No. 4 Book Reviews |

Nothing There: The Late Poetry of John Koethe

The Swimmer by John Koethe. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016. 96 pp. $23.00.   John Koethe's tenth book, The Swimmer, is the sum of its author's contradictions. Koethe's view of the human condition is as mordant and bleak as Samuel Beckett's, but he can be urbane, wry, and witty, treating lightweight topics with a light touch—there are poems here about his cat, his clothes, his car, and a Frank O'Hara-like stroll through Manhattan ("A Coupla Yeggs"). For all his gloominess, he writes poems that are highly pleasurable and, by contemporary standards, surprisingly straightforward and accessible, at least on their surfaces. He also writes beautifully and composes passages which, like the saxophone solos he emulates, are hauntingly soulful. Yet this is a dark and depressed book, burdened by disappointment with life, troubled by Koethe's dissatisfaction with what he has achieved ("Sometimes I don't believe a word I say")—the little, in his view, that any poet can achieve—and

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Robert Hahn is a poet, essayist, and translator. He lives in Boston.

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