cover image Selfish


Albert Goldbarth. Graywolf (FSG, dist.), $20 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-55597-708-5

Irrepressibly exuberant and well known for being prolific, Goldbarth (Everyday People) delivers another big set of verse essays, free associations, and reactions to “this popcult free-for-all—this achronologica/ dice-and-resplice American shmooshed-up everynow.” It’s an expansive collocation of long-lined poems into which anything at all might fit: “alchemical alembics/ burbling with eggy messes, opera, rap,/ orgasms, caesarian births, blown glass.” Though the omnivorous unpredictability gives the poetry much of its charm, Goldbarth fans will recognize frequent themes: his father, his Jewish immigrant background, his childhood; pulp science fiction and early comic book superheroes; popular science, from astrophysics to molecular biology; assorted sex workers; the poet’s friends; the friends’ troubled marriages; cancer, and recovery from it; Skyler, the poet’s admirable wife. The very short poems and the work in the voice of other characters, such as a monk who lived inside a beached whale, may come as a surprise to those not familiar with all of Goldbarth’s work. After 27 books of poetry, Goldbarth, a two-time winner of the NBCC award for poetry, still loves the profusion of things and people in the world, and the words for them: “a manticore, a belvedere, a merkin, a firkin.” Yet sex, death, love, memory—the usual suspects—are never far under the surface. If the Museum of All Things Goldbarth may seem overcrowded, the exhibits are still astonishing, and worth the trip. (May)