Impressions of Albert Goldbarth’s Heaven and Earth: A Cosmology

 (Spoiler Alert: Poetry Plus Physics Equals Sexy)


In early January, I was talking two friends, poets in OSU’s writing program, over a few beers at Bombs Away Café. I had mentioned to them that I had only recently read my first book of collected poems, and that I had enjoyed it very much but found it difficult at times to read due to the absence of narrative in many of them. Then in what was probably a pretentious delivery, I told them that I liked poems the enjoyed looking at the mundane in fantastical ways. One of them mentioned that she thought I’d like Albert Godlbarth’s work, and although I had intended to look it up once I returned to my apartment that night, the beer, the ride, and self-pity I was feeling at the time managed to erase all memory of the night beyond a dude on the street repeatedly screaming at his bro, “DO IT!” as I walked one of my friends to her apartment.

Image by William Blake

Luckily, my friend is smart and kind, and when I arrived at my office the following Monday, I found a copy of Goldbarth’s book on my desk. That night I got started on it, deciding I’d read two poems a night before bed until I made it to the end. It was difficult at first as I was still trying to find a way to enjoy the rhythms of the poems, and not get lost in my own headspace. After the second night, I started to read the poems out loud to myself and began taking pleasure in them much more as a result. I found myself taking on accents that felt appropriate to each poem’s persona, greatly aided by Golbarth’s use of cultural dialects in many of his poems.

However, I soon slowed in my reading of the book as the work of last quarter began to pile up, and the poems took on the role of another task in my never-ending list of to-dos. But even that may not be the whole truth because I still managed to read several other books at the time. Perhaps then what I struggled with was the thought that I wasn’t appreciating the poems as much as I should be, and at times that pressure made reading them feel laborious despite the fact that my friend is not the sort to quiz me about a book once I return it to her.

Last week, I at last got through the last few. Instead of reading them in my apartment in a state of exhaustion though I read them during the day as I took afternoon walks on campus. Perhaps it was just the sunlight and overriding good mood, but Goldbarth’s work took on a renewed sheen that I had missed in the weeks when reading a poem required great effort on my part. And again, I want to emphasize that it had nothing to do with Goldbarth’s poems included in this collection divided into four sections: Talk, Love, Others, and Physics as they were all so incredible that in trying to choose what poems were my favorites to discuss in this post, I found it easier to decide those that didn’t compel me as much. However, as I rather not linger here on where a work didn’t capture me as much, I’ll just conclude with a brief run-through of one poem from each section that I’d like to memorize if I had the capacity for such things.

From Talk, I’d go with the poem ‘Alien Tongue’ that I enjoyed very much for its obvious delight in language and great phrases (granted those are present in all his poems) such as ‘special arboreal steroids.’
In Love’s ‘Another Portrait’ Goldbarth tells the story of Uncle Morris Shapiro who’s depicted with equal parts reverence and mockery, described in one instance as ‘that bathrobed protagonist.’

In trying to come up with an insightful reason for my enjoyment of the poem ‘Spies (Spies? Spies.), I came up with nothing other than to say isn’t that a fantastic title that just makes you smile, and think isn’t Goldbarth a silly and brilliant motherfucker?

‘Toil’ from Physics is remarkable for its ability to connect images from the past and present so seamlessly. I particularly enjoyed the stanza that plays with the idea of playing an instrument as depicted from a Jan Van Eyck painting.

Next week, look forward to reading about this as we ditch the loveliness and get it on with crazed humanity. Still trying to get the first comic outta my head.



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