Summary (Magill's Literary Annual 2004)
Albert Goldbarth is the author of more than twenty collections of poetry.Combinations of the Universe is his latest foray into the infinite world of knowledge. He always has been a poet who believes in the power of the imagination, almost to a fault. Goldbarth never shies away from pulling together seemingly disparate items into a new and complicated whole. For the poet, everything under the sun can belong in the same poem. He not only ventures into uncharted territory with exuberant abandon but also has the talent to make his creations work.
Relentless in his approach, he has been a tireless creator for thirty years. Born in Chicago, Goldbarth received his B.A. from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1969. He went on to earn an M.F.A. from the esteemed creative writing program at the University of Iowa. Since 1987 he has held the position of Distinguished Professor of Humanities in the English department at Wichita State University. He published his first full-length poetry collection, Coprolites, in 1973. Goldbarth’s 1974 collection,Jan. 31, was nominated for a National Book Award in Poetry. BothHeaven and Earth: A Cosmology (1991) and Saving Lives (2001) won for Goldbarth the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry; he became the first writer to win this prestigious award twice. In addition to being considered an important American poet, Goldbarth has published a number of essay collections, including A Sympathy of Souls (1990), Great Topics of the World (1994), Dark Waves and Light Matter (1999), and Many Circles: New and Selected Essays (2001). In 2003 he published his first novel, Pieces of Payne.
Goldbarth has stated that he is not one to look back at what he has already written. It is more to his liking to move ahead, to get on with the task of creating something fresh. New challenges and new inspirations drive the poet forward. Goldbarth aspires to have devoted readers invest some quality time with his words in order to understand better what he is trying to do throughout the collection.
When read aloud, Goldbarth’s poems have a strange, hypnotic effect on their audience. For this reason, he has been compared favorably with the nineteenth century American poet Walt Whitman. There is an almost electric quality to Goldbarth’s poetry. It has been his way to specialize in the “extended” poem. Goldbarth wants there to be enough room in each poem for him to “weave” various motifs throughout a poem or even add “quoted source material.” Within each of his long poems, there are still flashes of “concentration” that a reader might expect “from a brief poem,” but Goldbarth is looking for the accumulative richness that comes from the impact of the whole work.
Goldbarth’s poems are more than just the sum of their parts. Each of them is only as long as is necessary to arrive at the desired destination. It has been said that his creative method is one of putting everything around him “into the shopping cart even if the money runs out.” This is only true up to a point. He cannot be called reckless or careless or uninterested in what he dredges up from the world around him. Goldbarth sees interconnectedness in places where others may see none. As with his previous imaginative collections, Combinations of the Universe is brimming with energy and a passionate exuberance. The poet believes wholeheartedly in the interconnectedness of art, science, and myth. One critic said that reading one of Goldbarth’s collections is like “visiting Disney World, Vegas, the Library of Congress, and Graceland all on the same day.”
Combinations of the Universe is made up of eight sections: “Jan. 31st:...
(The entire section is 1533 words.)
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