"John Koethe's The Constructor is a scrupulous, elegant account of the meditative intellect as an instrument continually registering the passage of time. Exquisitely modulated and brutally honest, these poems would be harrowing were they not so seductively beautiful. No one writing in this country today sees as deeply as Koethe into the tears that lie at the heart of things, and no contemporary investigation of the life of the mind may be called complete that does not accommodate the lush intricacy of his terrifying recognitions."
-- George Bradley
"I prize John Koethe's intimate expanses and unsettling reveries, his tender contemplations and odd mental landscapes. He is an heir to Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery and, like them, he gives us the sensation of thinking itself, of a certain fleeting, daily, solitary consciousness rescued from oblivion and held aloft."
-- Edward Hirsch
Few poets can compete with Koethe's long lines for their prosy clarity or their oneiric intensity, sounding out "how intricate a tone of voice could be, or how evasive/ The direct approach to life could finally become." For Koethe, past obsessions--like the fantasy of disembodiment of Falling Water (1997)--are always found lacking when matched against present desires: "Pining Away," an autobiographical reworking of the Narcissus myth, and the Dickinson nod "`I Heard a Fly Buzz...'" return insistently to epiphanic moments only to find them outrun: "I/ Think that I was wrong to see my body as a kind of place/ From which the soul, as entropy increases, migrates/ In an upward-moving spiral of completion." While his Proustian sense of how imagination affects memory lends poignancy to his meditations in this fifth collection, the poet's debt to Stevens often treads a thin line between flashy allusion and direct borrowing ("the intricate evasions warming up again"; "conditions of mere being"). And sometimes Koethe, a professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, understands too well the subtlety of thought, and the result, in long poems like "Mistral" and the title poem, is a lyric voice too self-consciously ambivalent, lapsing into disenchanted abstraction and dwelling too long in constructed ambiguities. Koethe is at his best when austere, nostalgic and exacting, when the emptiness that frustrates his nothing-if-not-self-critical speakers ripens into reconciliation with the "increasingly composite individual" we all occasionally fear ourselves to have become.