cover image Troubled Lovers in History: A Sequence of Poems

Troubled Lovers in History: A Sequence of Poems

Albert Goldbarth. Ohio State University Press, $21.95 (136pp) ISBN 978-0-8142-5015-0

Goldbarth's wackily polymathic exuberance now confronts his scariest foes yet: human separateness, divorce, the parts of the psyche that split couples up. These poems attend to the unknowable variousness of other people's needs: ""out of what smoldering crevice/ in our brainstems do we crawl to bear/ such furred or scaled lumps to one another?"" Most are two- to 10-page verse-essays, juxtaposing science-fact, historical anecdote and current (often apparently autobiographical) scenes. One compares Victorian travelers ""Ambling casually across the leechy muckholes/ of this scary planet"" to a brother-in-law's batttle with MS. Elsewhere X-ray analysis of paintings suggests ""the text/ in the text of the wedding""--the bride and groom who said yes and meant ""no, and no."" Other sequences guest-star a storytelling Jewish grandmother, ""someone dressed like `Burger Bear,'"" Marco Polo, Liquid Dan the Living Geyser, Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner, ""Dr. Meat,"" Fernand Braudel and Pliny the Elder. Goldbarth's sentences zip onwards over their linebreaks, desperate to include each strange way of coping he can uncover. (Fans of brainy novelists like Richard Powers or David Foster Wallace might love Goldbarth even if they don't read much poetry.) Goldbarth (who snagged the National Book Critics Circle award for 1991's Heaven and Earth) wants to use his mountains of facts, his piles of odd words, to unearth old virtues: his drive toward redemption, pathos and comedy tugs heroically against the drag of his largely sad material. It's hard to read these poems without hoping for, even rooting for, the poet's own marriage. They bear a frightened sadness, and a depth, new to Goldbarth's work: they're also an energetic and winning as ever. (Mar.)