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About this poet

On January 31, 1948, Albert Goldbarth was born in Chicago, Illinois. He received his BA from the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle campus, in 1969 and his MFA from the University of Iowa in 1971. He taught at the Elgin Community College in Chicago until 1972 and as a coordinator for the Traveling Writers Workshop for public schools in the Chicago area.

In 1974, he completed a year of classes at the University of Utah while working toward his PhD in creative writing. Over a year's time, Goldbarth received the Poetry Northwest Theodore Roethke Prize, published a chapbook, Under Cover, and had completed two full-length poetry collections, Coprolites and Opticks (published in 1974). He left Utah early to pursue a teaching career and worked briefly at Cornell and Syracuse Universities before moving to the University of Texas, Austin, where he taught from 1977 to 1987.

Since then, he has published more than twenty-five collections of poetry, includingTo Be Read in 500 Years: Poems (Graywolf Press, 2009); The Kitchen Sink: New and Selected Poems 1972-2007 (2007); Saving Lives (2001) and Heaven and Earth: A Cosmology (1991), both of which won the National Book Critics Circle award for poetry (Goldbarth is the only poet to have received the award twice); Popular Culture (1990), which received the Ohio State University Press / The Journal Award; and Jan. 31 (1974), which was nominated in 1975 for the National Book Award.

When asked about the "job of poetry," Goldbarth told The Missouri Review, "It's not my place to define the job of poetry, but a lot of my poems do try to serve as memorials, as segments of frozen time that save people or cultural moments that have otherwise passed away or are in danger of passing away."

Goldbarth was invited to edit Every Pleasure: The "Seneca Review" Long Poem Anthology (1979). He has also written several collections of essays, including Many Circles (Graywolf Press, 2001), winner of the PEN West Creative Nonfiction Award, A Sympathy of Souls (1990) and Great Topics of the World (1994), and a novel, Pieces of Payne (Graywolf Press, 2001). His work has been featured in numerous anthologies, including The Harvard Book of Contemporary Poetry (Harvard University Press, 1985).

About his work, the critic Helen Vendler has said, "Half of Goldbarth's imagination . . . is what is usually called religious. Goldbarth's tenderness toward the mystical does not, however, vitiate his enormous curiosity, or the momentum of his zest, or his sympathy of souls with the historical personages he resuscitates. . . . His rhetoric is eager to mirror the number of things the world is full of, the unexpected fulfillments it holds in its arms."

Goldbarth's honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He was also named to the arts advisory board of the Judah L. Magnes Jewish Museum in Berkeley, California, in 1999.

He is Adele Davis Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Wichita State University, where he has taught since 1987. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.

27,000 Miles

Albert Goldbarth, 1948
These two asleep . . . so indrawn and compact,
like lavish origami animals returned

to slips of paper once again; and then
the paper once again become a string

of pith, a secret that the plant hums to itself . . . . 
You see? — so often we envy the grandiose, the way

those small toy things of Leonardo’s want to be
the great, air-conquering and miles-eating

living wings
they’re modeled on.  And the bird flight is

amazing: simultaneously strength, 
escape, caprice: the Arctic tern completes

its trip of nearly 27,000 miles every year;
a swan will frighten bears away

by angry aerial display of flapping wingspan.
But it isn’t all flight; they also

fold; and at night on the water or in the eaves
they package their bodies

into their bodies, smaller, and deeply
smaller yet: migrating a similar distance

in the opposite direction.

Copyright © 2007 by Albert Goldbarth. Reprinted from The Kitchen Sink: New and Selected Poems, 1972-2007 with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Copyright © 2007 by Albert Goldbarth. Reprinted from The Kitchen Sink: New and Selected Poems, 1972-2007 with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Albert Goldbarth

Albert Goldbarth

Albert Goldbarth was born on January 31, 1948 in Chicago, Illinois. He

by this poet

poem
It's as if every demon from hell with aspirations

toward interior design flew overhead and indiscriminately

spouted gouts of molten gold, that cooled down

into swan-shape spigots, doorknobs, pen-and-inkwell sets.

A chandelier the size of a planetarium dome

is gold, and the commodes. The handrails

heading
poem
sleep, little beansprout
don't be scared
the night is simply the true sky
bared

sleep, little dillseed
don't be afraid
the moon is the sunlight
ricocheted

sleep, little button
don't make a fuss
we make up the gods
so they can make us

sleep, little nubbin
don't you stir
this sky smiled down
on Atlantis and Ur
poem
Physics says: go to sleep. Of course
you're tired. Every atom in you
has been dancing the shimmy in silver shoes
nonstop from mitosis to now.
Quit tapping your feet. They'll dance
inside themselves without you. Go to sleep.

Geology says: it will be all right. Slow inch
by inch America is giving