cover image The Gods

The Gods

Albert Goldbarth. Ohio State University Press, $19.95 (125pp) ISBN 978-0-8142-0595-2

In his latest offering the prolific, many-faceted Goldbarth (who won a National Book Critics Circle Award for Heaven & Earth: A Cosmology ) adopts a tragicomic stance, deifying just about anything (a 15-page masterpiece makes a god of Speedy Alka-Seltzer and other advertising figures). Goldbarth delights in juxtaposing obscure incidents from the speaker's life with those of ancestral ghosts who serve ``as totem mists / about us, curative, enabling.'' The entire book is a mocking of genealogy and family history: the speaker's grandmother is cast in a Brueghel painting, for example. The next poem begins: ``When my grandfather stepped from the boat / they gave him a choice of paintings to enter.'' This could well seem surreal, or at best superfluous, until he chooses Renoir's The Boating Party. Throughout, there are undertones and reminders of death: unknown great-grandparents, a wife, a sister, a mother. This volume is alternately enchanting and infuriating. Often caught up in intellectual word-play, Goldbarth writes long, prosaic lines that can leave the reader behind. But when he lets down his guard a tenderness comes through. About half the poems here display the poet's brilliance. (Feb.)