North Point North: New and Selected Poems

North Point North: New and Selected Poems

by John Koethe

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North Point North: New and Selected Poems showcases the work of an important contemporary American poet, winner of the prestigious Kingsley-Tufts Award for Poetry.

The volume opens with twenty-one new poems, some of which have appeared in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, the New Republic, the Paris Review, and the


North Point North: New and Selected Poems showcases the work of an important contemporary American poet, winner of the prestigious Kingsley-Tufts Award for Poetry.

The volume opens with twenty-one new poems, some of which have appeared in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, the New Republic, the Paris Review, and the Kenyon Review, among other periodicals, and in The Best American Poems 2001, edited by Robert Hass and David Lehman. Following are selections from Koethe's five earlier collections of poems: Blue Vents, Domes, The Late Wisconsin Spring, The Constructor, and Falling Water. Together these poems create a remarkable and powerful new volume, a milestone in this gifted poet's career.

Editorial Reviews

Baltimore Sun
“A magnificent, endlessly provocative book.”
Publishers Weekly
This first big selection from Koethe (The Constructor) gives readers a chance to review the career of a meditative poet picking up signals directly from the Stevens-Ashbery continuum. Koethe has been publishing since the 1960s, but his digressive, melancholy verse has been gathering steam, and critical esteem, since Falling Water (1997), which was the Kingsley Tufts Award winner. Aside from the slippery intellections of late Stevens and the insistent metaphorical following-through of 1970s Ashbery, these poems are indebted to Koethe's day job as a professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which includes work on Wittgenstein. Yet readers who expect impenetrability may be surprised (or delighted) to find that Koethe's poems mostly ruminate on familiar topics marriage, divorce; youth, middle age; "minor moods that last All afternoon"; professional fulfillment, or lack thereof; "the confines Of our individual lives." Koethe's poems work, moreover, in a language surprisingly close to that of prose: he asks "if the person I've become is still that other one Who wandered off from home so many years ago," and decides "that experience didn't matter all that much." The shorter, jumpier poems from his early Blue Vents (1968) show how close to Ashbery (and to other New York schoolers, like Charles North) Koethe was when he started out; 21 new poems at the start of the volume extend his recent strengths. The mature poems sometimes seem either too much like essays on lesser topics or too close to their more ambitious models. At other times Koethe's combination of measured reflection and disproportion seems to do justice to growing older among abstractions, leaving one as Koethe puts it "staring at the sky And fabricating private constellations from the stars." (July) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
Edition description:
First Perennial Edition
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.61(d)

Read an Excerpt

North Point North
New and Selected Poems

Hackett Avenue

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 began to seem quaint
And I began to feel myself a victim of coincidence,
Inhabiting a film whose real title was my name --
Inhabiting a realm of fabulous constructions
Made entirely of words, all words
I should have known, and should have connected
Until they meant whatever I might mean.
But they're just fragments really,
No more than that.

A coast away,
And then across an ocean fifty years away,
I felt an ashen figure gliding through the leaves
-- Bewitchment of intelligence by leaves --
A body floating clothed, facedown,
A not-so-old philosopher dying in his bed
-- At least I thought I felt those things.
But then the line went dead
And I was back here in the cave, another ghost
Inhabiting the fourth part of the soul
And waiting, and still waiting, for the sun to come up.
Tell them I've had a wonderful life.
Tell Mr. DeMille I'm ready for my close-up.


In Italy

For Henri Cole

1.Hotel Solferino

I was somewhere else, then here.
I have photographs to prove it, and new clothes.
Somewhere else: call it an idea
Lingering in the air like the faint smell of a rose

Or call it a small hotel
Towards the end of Via Solferino,
With a window open to the sun
And the sounds of automobiles on the street below
And a distant bell.

Call it any time but now,
Only call it unreal. In time's small room
Whatever lies beyond its borders
Couldn't have been, like an imaginary perfume
Nobody knows how

To even dream of again.
I suppose it was an ordinary day
In the extraordinary world where
Nothing ever happens, when in something like the way
A poem begins

I entered upon a street
I'd never imagined before, all the while
Concealed by that close sense of self
I know now is my true home, and by a passive style
That seemed to repeat

My name, that tried to consume
My entire world, that brought me to the entry
Of a small hotel where an image
Of my own face stared at me from another country,
From another room.

2.Expulsion from the Garden

It's hard to remember one was ever there,
Or what was supposed to be so great about it.
Each morning a newly minted sun rose
In a new sky, and birdsong filled the air.
There were all these things to name, and no sex.
The children took what God had given them --
A world held in common, a form of life
Without sin or moral complexity,
A vernal paradise complete with snakes --
And sold it all for a song, for the glory
Of the knowledge contained in the fatal apple.
At any rate, that's the official story.

In Masaccio's fresco in the Brancacci Chapel
The figures are smaller than you'd expect
And lack context, and seem all the more tragic.
The Garden is implicit in their faces,
Depicted through the evasive magic
Of the unpresented. Eve's arm is slack
And hides her sex. There isn't much to see
Beyond that, for the important questions,
The questions to which one constantly comes back,
Aren't about their lost, undepicted home,
But the ones framed by their distorted mouths:
What are we now? What will we become?

Think of it as whatever state preceded
The present moment, this prison of the self.
The idea of the Garden is the idea
Of something tangible which has receded
Into stories, into poetry.
As one ages, it becomes less a matter
Of great intervals than of minor moments
Much like today's, which time's strange geometry
Has rendered unreal. And yet the question,
Raised anew each day, is the same one,
Though the person raising it isn't the same:
What am I now? What have I become?

North Point North
New and Selected Poems
. Copyright © by John Koethe. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

John Koethe is distinguished professor of philosophy emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the first Poet Laureate of Milwaukee. His collections include Falling Water, which won the Kingsley-Tufts Award, North Point North, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and Ninety-fifth Street, winner of the Lenore Marshall Prize. In 2011, he received a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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