The Kitchen Sink

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 3)

Albert Goldbarth has been wrestling with the poetic form and popular culture since the early 1970’s. He has earned the reputation of being one of the most important poets of his generation. Amazingly enough, Goldbarth has found a way not only to write penetrating and complex poems but also to be prolific in his output. Since the early 1970’s, he has averaged almost one collection a year. This certainly is a rare achievement. Goldbarth always has upheld a high standard. Humor, family, popular culture, and civilization have been but a few of the many topics that Goldbarth has successfully juggled. He likes to take the long view, to observe the present by investigating the past and finding connections. It is always an adventure for both the poet and the reader. A lesson must be learned, or the mistakes of the past will be repeated again and again. The wisdom imparted is never heavy-handed, though. Goldbarth believes that playfulness is a strength of poetry, not a weakness. The poet is absorbed with the architecture of a poem and the many cultures described. Born in Chicago, Goldbarth learned to appreciate the rhythm of the urban landscape.

Both Saving Lives (2001) and Heaven and Earth: A Cosmology (1991) won the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. Amazingly, Goldbarth is the only poet to have won the award twice. Asked about the purpose of poetry, Goldbarth has stated, “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.” The poet can serve as a keeper of the record, someone who can capture the flavor of an age or a people. For Goldbarth, curiosity is paramount, curiosity about the world around him. There is a zest both for the mystical and the secular, and both must be given full voice. Goldbarth wrestles with the relationship between the material world and the religious domain. Some of his collections that take on these crucial themes are Faith (1981), Heaven and Earth, and Beyond (1998).

It is always difficult for a poet to select poems for any collection. For Goldbarth, his publisher generously allowed him 350 pages for The Kitchen Sink: New and Selected Poems, 1972-2007, and the poet wondered whether he would be able to fill the book. Soon enough, however, Goldbarth realized that he had more than enough poems. First of all, it was decided that there needed to be a “substantial section of ‘new’ poems.” With this in mind, the number of representative poems from the earlier collections had to be trimmed. Not wanting to “excerpt” long poems, a number of poems had to be instantly set aside. The inclusion of long poems would obviously mean that fewer poems could be included, and excerpts rarely do justice to the whole, so it is no surprise that Goldbarth and his publisher would agree that very long poems had no place in The Kitchen Sink.

He also wanted the “selected” poems to have been published in his previous collections, not merely in journals. For the most part, poems that Goldbarth has published since 1983 have received the largest representation. The “Albert Goldbarth” who existed before 1983 was “seminally important” but receives “little representation” in this collection. The “Prefatory Note” is divided into “What’s Not Here,” and “What’s Here.” More times than not, a collection that includes poems from previous volumes will divide the sections by which collection the poems appeared in, but Goldbarth has decided not to follow that pattern. For The Kitchen Sink, he has divided the volume into four major sections, with a short opening section titled “An Invocation to the Muse” and a “Coda” to end the collection.

Within the opening section, Goldbarth has merely included the poems “Shawl” and “Library.” Midway through “Shawl,” the poet states that “more reliable was the book; he was discovering himself/ to be among the tribe that reads.” The twenty-year-old male riding on a bus who had eyed the woman’s knee several times comes to realize that it is merely himself and the book that really matter. The poem “Library” opens with the line “This book saved my life.” The poem ends with “This book is going to save the world.” This poem can be looked at as a description of a book...

(The entire section is 1828 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 3)

Booklist 103, no. 13 (March 1, 2007): 54.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 11, 2007, p. 2.

Publishers Weekly 254, no. 9 (February 26, 2007): 61-64.

The Virginia Quarterly Review 83, no. 3 (Summer, 2007): 264.