cover image SAVING LIVES


Albert Goldbarth, . . Ohio State Univ., $45 (136pp) ISBN 978-0-8142-5073-0

Hard on the heels of the poetry of Beyond (1998) and Troubled Lovers in History (1999), and almost simultaneous with Many Circles: New and Selected Essays —which follows 1999's Dark Waves and Light Matter: Essays —comes this umpteenth volume of Goldbarth poems. Like all his work, it's talky, exuberant and packed with trivia and discoveries in fields from archaeology to old radio shows to Judaica. Goldbarth moves easily from big, serious, personal topics—his friends' divorces and near-divorces, his mother's cancer—to quirky phrases and delightful facts: P.T. Barnum, "a sterling example/ of willed bizarritude," illuminates "our own belabored piffles of imagination," the "Power of Weirdness" to be found in "woven radish baskets, bobbered fishing skeins, and god dolls." Here is a poem about insect bodies, "spoken by a plaque at Scenic View"; there is a sequence (among his best) based on "The Hardy Boys' Detective Handbook." Here is "schoolboy humor" about bras and panties, illuminating (among other conjoined stories) the life of Goldbarth's refugee "Great-Auntie Yetta"; there is a long poem (a flop) about a great library, and another (a winner) about everything that takes place on his 50th birthday. Like all his books, this one repeats motifs—detection and detective stories, radio, Rembrandt, aged relatives; these motifs let many poems focus on questions about dual, or hidden, identities or lives. Goldbarth's poems do not offer the concentration, the once-and-for-all rightness, of most lyric: mostly they are lineated essays, meant, tender, personal and fun. (May)

Forecast: With the Goldbarth market glutted, and with this book's few departures and modest imprimatur, its primary audience will probably be the shelves of university libraries—unless buyers there wait for the inevitable selected or collected.