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Sally's Hair: Poems by John Koethe

Sally's Hair: Poems

by John Koethe

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The annual Beall Poetry Festival at Baylor University has become an event I eagerly await as each spring rolls around. This year was no exception, despite the fact I had only the slightest familiarity with only one of the three poets, Carol Frost. However, the poet that impressed and inspired me the most was John Koethe.

His poems tell stories, in plain language, with gentle strokes of humor, pathos, and intelligence -- all with profound insights into human nature and the creative mind. I even found an epithet for my own thesis, which Prof. Koethe enthusiastically gave me permission to use.

The epithet comes from the opening lines of the title poem of Ninety-Fifth Street. Koethe wrote,

“Words can bang around in your head
Forever, if you let them and you give them room.
I used to love poetry, and mostly I still do,
Though sometimes ‘I, too, dislike it.’ There must
be something real beyond the fiddle and perfunctory
Consolations and the quarrels -- as of course
There is, though what it is is difficult to say.” (72)

I was thrilled to recognize the interior quote as the words of Marianne Moore, the eccentric 20th century poet, editor, librarian, and teacher. Her apartment was moved from New York City -- following her death in 1972 -- and reassembled at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. So, I have a close personal connection to her work.

Like Moore, Koethe’s poetry is simple, yet profound with wit and irony. He tells stories and -- in the telling -- reveals philosophy and the inner workings of the human psyche.

Furthermore, a measure of irony lay in my selection of this epithet. To paraphrase Koethe, “I used to hate poetry, but now I mostly love it, although some I still dislike.”

The title poem from Sally’s Hair is a good example of the story-telling talent of Koethe. He writes,

“I took the train back from Poughkeepsie to New York
And in the Port Authority, there at the Suburban Transit window,
She asked, ‘Is this the bus to Princeton?’ -- which it was.
‘Do you know Geoffrey Love?’ I said I did. She had the blondest hair,

Which fell across her shoulders, and a dress of almost phosphorescent blue.
She liked Ayn Rand. We went to the Village for a drink,
Where I contrived to miss the last bus to New Jersey, and at 3 a.m. we
Walked around and found a cheap motel I hadn’t enough money for

And fooled around on the dilapidated couch. An early morning bus
(She’d come to see her brother), dinner plans and missed connections
And a message on his door about the Jersey shore. Next day
A summer dormitory room, my roommates gone: ‘Are you,’ she asked,

‘A hedonist?’ I guessed so. Then she had to catch her plane.
Sally -- Sally Roche. She called that night from Florida,
And I never heard from her again…” (69-70)

Hearing the poet read this poem impressed me with the power of his words, and his voice reinforced the story-telling nature of his work. I can only begin to hope to write something as touching, sincere, and emotional in my own work

Lastly, a poignant piece from North Point North, “The Little Boy.”

“I want to stay here awhile, now that there came to me
This other version of what passes in my life for time.
The little boy is in his sandbox. Mom and Dad
Are puttering around in the backyard.” (116)

I have to stop here, because memories of my own childhood are welling up inside, and I have gone on long enough. If these three samples don’t tempt you, you have not discovered the depth, the breath, the beauty of well-crafted poetry. 15 stars -- 5 each!

--Jim, 4/3/10 ( )
  rmckeown | Apr 6, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061176273, Paperback)

Let me stay there for a while, while evening

Gathers in the sky and daylight lingers on the hills.

There's something in the air, something I can't quite see,

Hiding behind this stock of images, this language

Culled from all the poems I've ever loved.

John Koethe's remarkable gift to readers is an elegiac poetry that explores the transitory nature of ordinary human experience. The beautiful poems in this new collection celebrate the creative power of human beings, the only weapon we possess against time's relentless "slow approach to anonymity and death."

Of all Koethe's books, SALLY'S HAIR is probably his most human and various. He is well known for his meditative lyrics and this volume begins with a brilliant series of such poems, among them "Eros and the Everyday." This is followed by "The Unlasting," a long poem devoted to time and experience, and a third section comprised of more public poems, some of them political, such as "The Maquiladoras" and "Poetry and the War." This perceptive, luminescent collection concludes with a group of vivid and conversational poems, recollections, including the gems "Proust" and "HAMLET."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:21 -0400)

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