Selfish by Albert Goldbarth, review by Bruce Jacobs
When a new Albert Goldbarth poetry collection arrives at your local bookstore, you better pay attention—not that there aren’t plenty of other Goldbarth’s on the shelves. The man is a poetry machine with a couple dozen collections in his backlist, twenty chapbooks, even a smattering of essay collections and a lonely novel. Selfish is the National Book Critics Circle two-time winner’s latest cornucopia of verse, and it’s a beauty. All the “usual” Goldbarthian riffs are here (if anything this iconoclastic poet writes can be called “usual”), along with a growing tendency to look to the past as age catches up with him and family lineage, former Chicago haunts, and the body’s increasingly unsprung “mortal coil” attract his attention.
But don’t worry; there’s nothing too serious to deal with here. In the somewhat meditative “My Personal Mythology” with its moody conclusion
“…Anyway that’s what I think on my walks. Poems are good,
and my wife’s paprika-freckled skin is good, and [the stars] return for their encores every night
on the lit stage of my personal mythology; and they bow to the dark.”
Goldbarth still can’t resist a little digression about a piece of his pop culture ephemera and toy collection:
“…It’s like this 1950s
British science fiction adventure magazine I won at auction, the spiffy Worlds of the Universe, its cover art
a spaceship of the old-school, fish-finned light-years-devouring sort, with a cast of valorous
spacefarers to match…”
Whether he is dipping into the existential ramifications of some plastic gew-gaw, the weirdness of a local custom, or his deep bench of literary references as varied as Matthew Arnold and Kenneth Koch, Goldbarth always has something interesting to say—and a funny, mouthful-of-words way to say it. Even the art of catfish baiting has its own poem (“Song: Lore”) whose conclusion I’d love to hear read out loud:
“…But, the truth is, a catfish is ravenous, is an endless small suckhole of ravenous, a catfish will impale itself no matter, a catfish is part of a world that’s the world—enduring, free of ideas of category and consequence—and it doesn’t give a piscine fuck for our rituals, our dice, our poems, the golden lure of our lines.”
There’s no poet quite like Albert Goldbarth out there, and his new collection Selfish suggests that he’s a long way from done. Lucky us.