Archive for Sunday, February 24, 2008

Albert Goldbarth prolific poet, ‘acrobat of words’

February 24, 2008


Editor's note: In her Ad Astra Poetry Project, Kansas Poet Laureate Denise Low highlights historic and contemporary poets who resided in Kansas for a substantial part of their lives. Eventually, she will collect the biweekly broadsides into a book, to be published by the Center for Kansas Studies at Washburn University, in cooperation with Thomas Fox Averill.

One online source says Albert Goldbarth is today's most prolific poet. A critic, Eloise Klein Healy, says of his recent collected poems: "At Goldbarth's birth, someone must have given him an Oxford English Dictionary and said, 'Get going, Mister!' Goldbarth is an acrobat of words. Kansas is fortunate he has been teaching and writing in the state for over 20 years. He is also one of the most compelling performers of his works - do not miss a chance to see him read!"

Albert Goldbarth

For more than 20 years, Albert Goldbarth has taught in Wichita State University's master of fine arts creative writing program. During that time, he has won major prizes for his poetry and essays. Goldbarth is originally from Chicago, and he has not lost the urbanity of that place. He also brings a profound depth of language experience to his work. He studies cultural and historic texts and alludes to them freely. Intellectual thirst is a striking aspect of his writing, and another is his extensive vocabulary.

Goldbarth's longevity in the Kansas university system suggests compatibility with his adopted home. What he shares with his fellow Kansans, I believe, is self-deprecating humor. He pokes fun at all sorts of folks, but most especially himself. Second, he voices strong opinions, also like most Kansans. And he has no patience with phoniness. Thus an earnestness underlies the poet's ironies and occasional sarcasm. Despite a harsh, realistic depiction of details, he affirms the 10 million myriad beings of this flawed world.

Like other Kansans who survive the extreme seasons, both physically and psychologically, Goldbarth is a person of faith. In "Wings," his narrator finds a bird carcass. Rather than describe a headless bird, the speaker conjures the image in human terms, specifically wings of a theatrical stage. But he speaks as though the stagehand were an executioner or deus ex machina. In the next section, the poet does look at the desiccated animal remains, but without poetic metaphor. He accepts "hard summer; the land enameled." He accepts life disintegrating into dust. Then he finds solace in prayer and love.


I always wondered why they called them wings.

Perhaps because somebody always waited in shadow

in them, with a rope.

With a rope like a great braided nerve

and while some sweet singing or bloody melee

completely filled the central light, this person

would raise or lower the god.

It's summer. Hard summer; the land enameled.

I find the bird already half-dismantled

by ants - the front half. It's flying

steadily into the other world, so needs to be this still.

Do I mumble? yes. Do I actually pray? yes.

Yes, but not for the bird. When we love enough

people a bird is a rehearsal.

Education: Albert Goldbarth received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Illinois (1969) and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa (1971). He pursued further graduate studies at the University of Utah (1973-4).

Career: Goldbarth's most recent book is "The Kitchen Skin: New and Selected Poems" (Greywolf Press). He has published more than 20 books of poetry, four books of essays and a novel. He has won two National Book Critics Circle Awards for poetry; a Guggenheim fellowship; three National Endowment for the Arts fellowships; and a PEN Center West Award.


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