Albert Goldbarth looks at life as a complex maze, something not easily reduced. As a poet, he has thrived on the contradictions of life. Goldbarth is fascinated by the common human quest to establish connections with some people and to break connections with others. He is amused by the need to find a structure to life. In his poetry, Goldbarth throws together myriad images, facts, anecdotes, and historical perspectives. It is an understatement that Goldbarth is a challenging poet. He has a knack of gathering together obscure details in order to fill out his universe. The uninitiated reader may scratch his or her head and puzzle over where the poetic journey may lead.
Goldbarth is the author of more than twenty volumes of poetry and several collections of essays. Two of his previous volumes have won the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. His poetic approach has been called postmodernist. Some of his poems can be best described as puzzles, as labyrinths for the curious and diligent reader. Every subject is fair game for Goldbarth, worth adding to the mix.
Educated at the University of Illinois and the University of Iowa, Goldbarth published his first full-length poetry collection, Coprolites, in 1973. Since then, he has amazed the literary community with his output. He has stated that he strives for “a kind of shared wisdom or power” to exist “between my poems operating at their best and the best reading that can be brought to them.” Goldbarth clearly recognizes the special bond that can be established between reader and poet. Any truth that can be culled from a poem becomes possible only when the “good reader” and the poem that was “so well written” intersect. Goldbarth believes intensely in the “integrity to the written word.” The good reader must be able to absorb what is on the page.
Goldbarth searches for connections in odd places, between strange items, things that are in seemingly unrelated orbits but in the end are linked by the human condition. For him, “the universe is nothing but incomprehensible multilayers.” He can be looked at as an archaeologist or a private detective, a sleuth for the ages. A Goldbarth creation is packed with details. For him, individuals are “all a thousand things at once.” People and the universe are “multiplicitous.” It is as if he has plucked elements out of the air like a magician, has unearthed a lost civilization like a dedicated scientist. A Goldbarth reader must love becoming immersed in the surroundings. There is no fast in and out, poem understood, point made. If Goldbarth can dig, collect, gather together, then his readers must be willing to do the same.
Over his career, Goldbarth has been extraordinarily productive. Budget Travel Through Space and Time is his twenty-third volume of poetry, and it is no less complex than all of his previous volumes. It is divided into nine sections. Most of the sections contain four or five poems. Three of the sections, the first, fifth, and ninth, are named “Space and Time.” Sections 4 and 7 are titled “Through History on Pennies a Day,” with 4 subtitled “1” and 7 subtitled “2.” The collection opens with the poem “Budget Travel Through the Universe.” As Goldbarth’s poetry primarily is written for the peruser, the casual reader may immediately recoil and seek refuge elsewhere. The first line of the title poem makes the bold statement “We can rig a supernova in a single laptop jiffy.” This certainly is an intriguing concept, and the curious reader will continue down the page with eager anticipation of what comes next. Toward the end of the second stanza, the poet lets the reader understand that “It turns out we can travel assuredly through time/ by simply sitting in our chairs or on the floor/ and...
(The entire section is 1556 words.)