I listened to a 2004 Segue reading where Rodney Koeneke read with Sharon Mesmer on PennSound to prepare for writing this introduction. I don’t think I have ever heard so much laughter from the audience at a reading. I then had a fantasy the laughter from Koeneke readings could provide laugh tracks for TV. Each poem could be the sounding of the person who is invited to object at a wedding right before the ceremony reaches its conclusion. Rodney is agile and friendly in his poems. The poems are calming, while at the same time being a disrupting voice at the volume of acute social criticism. This produces what he names in his poem “The Real Aeneid” a “winkingness,” at and with the system of happiness, while also performing an exegesis of the accumulations or simultaneities that don’t make sense. Instead of sense for Keonoke the import is an itch.
He kaleidoscopes historical references so that the present is never alone in its absurd artificiality, as it manifests “Pringles, Pringles on everything, fresh junk.” Never without a backwards vision, “corners/grow eyes” questioning even the gesture of an “epiphany.” Many of his poems in the newly released Etruria from Wave books sound like lectures as rehearsals to an empty room or lectures high on nothing but the sustained tangent.
How to handle Koeneke’s range of references is like whipping the reins of the horse I don’t quite know how to drive. Can something like “all time” exist in Koeneke’s poems? Language is a box of toy parts that a kid dumps on the floor and it’s a mess you could play with indefinitely. What else can we expect from a poetry responding to when “things happen with us at such wicked speeds, but over such a small/ surface/that velocity itself becomes an aspect of feeling.” Sentimentality is fruitfully tested, while our speeds get cross-examined.