cover image Great Topics of the World

Great Topics of the World

Albert Goldbarth. David R. Godine Publisher, $22.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-1-56792-017-8

Poet Goldbarth's essays are singular hybrids, seamlessly melding autobiography, history, fantasy, myth. ``Delft'' features an imagined encounter between painter Jan Vermeer and microscopist Anton van Leeuwenhoek, set against a meditation on fleas which hops from the biblical plague to circus history. In ``The History of the Universe Is Important to This Story,'' worldviews collide as astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler meet Rabbi Yehudah Loew of Prague, the presumed occultist of Golem legends, who creates a clay man to protect Jews from persecution. The sky-scanners' personal lives fold into Goldbarth's poignant recollections of his mother dying of cancer and his teenage affair with his best friend's half-sister. In ``Worlds,'' the struggles of Goldbarth's grandparents, Polish Jewish immigrants on Manhattan's Lower East Side, run parallel to the antics of George Herriman's Krazy Kat comic strips, astronomer Percival Lowell's misidentification of ``canals'' on Mars, and Hopi cosmology. Death, eros, hope for the future and rueful wisdom are inseparably entwined in these wondrous essays full of intriguing lore and surprising connections. (Dec.)