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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.

Units

Albert Goldbarth, 1948

We could say that Rembrandt was a greater painter than Kandinsky. We could not say that Rembrandt was three and a half times better than Kandinsky. . . . We could say, "I have more pain than I had yesterday." When we tried to say, "I have nine dols of pain," we found we were talking nonsense.


		   - Leshan and Morgenau

This is the pain you could fit in a tea ball.
This is the pain you could pack in a pipe
 – a plug of pungent shag-cut pain,
a pain to roll between the thumb and the forefinger.
Here: this pain you could pour down the city sewers,
where it would harden, and swell, and crack
those tubes like the flex of a city-wide snake,
and still you would wake and
there would be more for the pouring.
Some pain believes its only true measure is litigation.
For other pain, the glint of the lamp
in a single called-forth tear is enough.
Some pain requires just one mouth, at an ear.
Another pain requires the Transatlantic Cable.
No ruled lines exist by which to gauge its growth
(my pain at three years old. . . at five. . . ) and yet
if we follow the chronolinear path of Rembrandt's face
self-imaged over forty years - a human cell
in the nurturing murk of his signature thick-laid paint – 
we see the look-by-look development,
through early swank and rollick, of a kind of pain
so comfortable it's worn, at the last,
like a favorite robe, that's frayed by now, and intimate
with the frailties of its body, and has
an easy fit that the showiest cloak of office
never could. In 1658, the gaze is equally
into himself, and out to the world-at-large
 – they've reached a balance of apportioned
disappointment – and the meltflesh under the eyes
is the sallow of chicken skin, recorded
with a faithfulness, with really a painterly
tenderness, that lifts this understanding of pain
into something so accommodating, "love" is the word
that seems to apply to these mournfully basso
bloodpan reds and tankard-bottom browns. Today
in the library stacks, the open face of a woman
above this opened book of Rembrandt reproductions
might be something like the moon he looked to,
thinking it shared in his sadness. What's
her pain? her ohm, her acreage, her baker's dozen,
of actual on-your-knees-in-the-abattoir misery?
I don't know. I'm not writing this
pretending that I know. What I can say is that
the chill disc of the stethoscope is known to announce
an increment of pain not inappropriate
to being blurted forth along the city wall
by a corps of regalia' d trumpeters.
Who's to say what a "unit" of pain is?
On a marshy slope beyond the final outpost,
Rembrandt stares at the moon, and stares at the moon,
until the background drumming-in of the ocean
and the other assorted sounds of the Amsterdam night,
and then the Amsterdam dawn, are one
with his forlornness, and the mood fades
into a next day, and a woman here
in Kansas turns to face the sky: she's late
for her appointment. She's due
for another daily injection of nine c.c.'s of undiluted dol.

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

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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
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Eight hours by bus, and night
was on them. He could see himself now
in the window, see his head there with the country
running through it like a long thought made of steel and wheat.
Darkness outside; darkness in the bus—as if the sea
were dark and the belly of the whale were dark to match it.
He was twenty: of
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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