A Harper Perennial paperback original, Ninety-fifth Street is a beautiful new collection of poems by John Koethe, acclaimed by poet Edward Hirsch as an heir to Wallace Stevens. In this, his eighth book of poems, Koethe, the author of North Point North and Falling Water, offers readers the reflections of a poet in mid-life, an “aging child of 62,” passionately engaged with the world yet drawn to meditate on memory, time, and the mysteries of human existence.
Always thoughtful and heartfelt, Koethe's poems have become simply heartbreaking. Koethe a 60-something professor of philosophy writes meditative, introspective poems that have long encouraged comparisons to Wallace Stevens, and Stevens's poems of old age remain on his mind. But Koethe now makes his Stevensian techniques and his sinuous sentences serve a pellucid, omnipresent, all-American nostalgia, for the sights and streets where he grew up and for the promise of youth. Part one considers the sunlit San Diego of his childhood, the diminished Rust Belt aura of Milwaukee, where he lives, and the way that, in poems, anywhere can be everywhere: I wish the presence of the everyday could be enough, he muses. It isn't, though. It's something incomplete. Part two (a letdown) considers Berlin, where the poet lived for a year; part three (a triumph) investigates, in quietly and carefully metrical lines, the consolation of old age; the excitements of a remembered New York; the fun Koethe had at a dinner party (on 95th Street, in 1966) where he met Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch and John Ashbery; and the purpose of art and memory. That's what poetry is, the title poem muses, a way to live through time,/ And sometimes, just for a while, to bring it back.