Friday, February 09, 2007

Koethe

Andrew Osborn's interview with John Koethe (from the Southwest Review, on-line at Poetry Daily) not only taught me how to pronounce "Koethe" ("katy"; not a rhyme for "Goethe") but also contained this interesting summary of Koethe's writing style:

"I like poems to be locally clear so that when you're reading them sentence by sentence you sort of think you understand what they're saying. But then I also like them to be globally obscure, so that the whole poem remains the kind of free-standing artifact I was talking about earlier. You don't really know what the whole poem means, but you can read any sentence of it and, in a conventional sense, it seems clear."

I've tried to find the passage where Reginald Shepherd made the same point on his blog, but I have not found it. I was struck by how two quite different points made the same claim (one I am quite sympathetic to).

I printed out the interview to read it because it is so long. I had also printed out John Ashbery's "Yes, 'Senor' Fluffy" from PD, and it happened to be the next thing in my pile of things to read. The last lines of the interview with Koethe refer to "an enchanting exhibition devoted entirely to clouds" that he attended in Berlin. The first lines of Ashbery's poem:

And the clouds fretted and flew, as though
there was a reason for their acting distraught.

2 comments:

sciolist said...

"You don't really know what the whole poem means, but you can read any sentence of it and, in a conventional sense, it seems clear."

Makes sense.

Andrew Shields said...

Sometimes it helps to put things in as straightforward a way as possible. Or as my friend Dan put it:

Sometimes, you want to be led.
Sometimes, you want to be misled.