Beyond Belief: Poems

Farrar. Sept. 2022. 96p. ISBN 9780374604332. $26. POETRY
The Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize–winning Koethe (The Swimmers) offers a blend of memoir and philosophy centering on the meaning of life, death, and whether there is an afterlife: think Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy as the Danish prince considers “the thousand natural shocks/ That flesh is heir to.” In his early seventies, Koethe reminisces about similar jolts as he offers if not a swan-song then a “Musing on my ends and my beginnings one more time/ As though to be alive were to wonder what they were.” Koethe often references the COVID pandemic, as in “Sheltering at Home,” where he spends his days reading the paper, lying in bed, and sitting on the balcony reflecting on things that, he says, lie hidden from us because they are inconceivable until they happen—as is implied by the title poem, “Beyond Belief.” Threading through these poems, one can hear wide-ranging allusions to work by T.  S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Shakespeare, and others.
VERDICT In Koethe’s relaxed, prose-like style, long sentences meander until his thoughts, taking a philosophical turn, dead end in a reverberant image or a metaphor like the enigmatic smile in “Daddy,” one of the best poems in this striking collection.
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