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About this poet

On January 31, 1948, Albert Goldbarth was born in Chicago, Illinois. He received his BA from the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle campus, in 1969 and his MFA from the University of Iowa in 1971. He taught at the Elgin Community College in Chicago until 1972 and as a coordinator for the Traveling Writers Workshop for public schools in the Chicago area.

In 1974, he completed a year of classes at the University of Utah while working toward his PhD in creative writing. Over a year's time, Goldbarth received the Poetry Northwest Theodore Roethke Prize, published a chapbook, Under Cover, and had completed two full-length poetry collections, Coprolites and Opticks (published in 1974). He left Utah early to pursue a teaching career and worked briefly at Cornell and Syracuse Universities before moving to the University of Texas, Austin, where he taught from 1977 to 1987.

Since then, he has published more than twenty-five collections of poetry, includingTo Be Read in 500 Years: Poems (Graywolf Press, 2009); The Kitchen Sink: New and Selected Poems 1972-2007 (2007); Saving Lives (2001) and Heaven and Earth: A Cosmology (1991), both of which won the National Book Critics Circle award for poetry (Goldbarth is the only poet to have received the award twice); Popular Culture (1990), which received the Ohio State University Press / The Journal Award; and Jan. 31 (1974), which was nominated in 1975 for the National Book Award.

When asked about the "job of poetry," Goldbarth told The Missouri Review, "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."

Goldbarth was invited to edit Every Pleasure: The "Seneca Review" Long Poem Anthology (1979). He has also written several collections of essays, including Many Circles (Graywolf Press, 2001), winner of the PEN West Creative Nonfiction Award, A Sympathy of Souls (1990) and Great Topics of the World (1994), and a novel, Pieces of Payne (Graywolf Press, 2001). His work has been featured in numerous anthologies, including The Harvard Book of Contemporary Poetry (Harvard University Press, 1985).

About his work, the critic Helen Vendler has said, "Half of Goldbarth's imagination . . . is what is usually called religious. Goldbarth's tenderness toward the mystical does not, however, vitiate his enormous curiosity, or the momentum of his zest, or his sympathy of souls with the historical personages he resuscitates. . . . His rhetoric is eager to mirror the number of things the world is full of, the unexpected fulfillments it holds in its arms."

Goldbarth's honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He was also named to the arts advisory board of the Judah L. Magnes Jewish Museum in Berkeley, California, in 1999.

He is Adele Davis Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Wichita State University, where he has taught since 1987. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.

Photographs of the Interiors of Dictators' Houses

Albert Goldbarth, 1948
It's as if every demon from hell with aspirations

toward interior design flew overhead and indiscriminately

spouted gouts of molten gold, that cooled down

into swan-shape spigots, doorknobs, pen-and-inkwell sets.

A chandelier the size of a planetarium dome

is gold, and the commodes. The handrails

heading to the wine cellar and the shelving for the DVDs

and the base for the five stuffed tigers posed in a fighting phalanx:

gold, as is the samovar and the overripe harp

and the framework for the crocodile-hide ottoman and settee.

The full-size cinema theater accommodating an audience

of hundreds for the screening of home (or possibly

high-end fuck flick) videos: starred in gold

from vaulted ceiling to clawfoot legs on the seating.

Of course the scepter is gold, but the horns

on the mounted stag heads: do they need to be gilded?

Yes. And the olive fork and the French maid's row of dainty buttons

and the smokestack on the miniature train

that delivers golden trays of dessert from the kitchen

to a dining hall about the size of a zip code,

and the snooker table's sheathing, and the hat rack,

and those hooziewhatsit things in which you slip your feet

on the water skis, and the secret lever

that opens the door to the secret emergency bunker.

Smug and snarky as we are, in our sophisticated

and subtler, non-tyrannical tastes, it's still

unsettling to realize these photographs are also full

of the childrens' pictures set on a desk,

the wife's diploma proudly on a wall, the common

plastic container of aspirin, and the bassinette

with the scroll of linen shade at the ready

in case the sun is too powerful: reminders of how

a graduated continuum connects these überoperatically

fat interior lives to our own. We all desire

"more" and "better," Melville adds that final "e"

to the family name, and Faulkner adds the "u," in quest

of a signified gentility. My friend Damien

(fake name) won A Certain Literary Award, and

at the stellar after-ceremony party, in the swank hotel's

swank atrium, he found a leggy literary groupie

noshing caviar under a swankily lush mimosa,

and in under an hour his own swank room could boast

the golden statuette, the evening's loveliest woman, and

the silver serving platter of five-star caviar,

and if you think this story's moral lesson is

that satiation is ever attained, you don't understand

the protoknowledge we're born with, coded into our cells:

soon soon soon enough we die. Even before we've seen

the breast, we're crying to the world that we want;

and the world doles out its milkiness in doses. We

want, we want, we want, and if we don't then

that's what we want; abstemiousness is only

hunger translated into another language. Yes

there's pain and heartsore rue and suffering, but

there's no such thing as "anti-pleasure": it's pleasure

that the anchorite takes in his bleak cave

and Thoreau in his bean rows and cabin. For Thoreau,

the Zen is: wanting less is wanting more.

Of less. At 3 a.m. Marlene (fake name) and Damien

drunkenly sauntered into and out of the atrium,

then back to his room: he wanted the mimosa too,

and there it stood until checkout at noon, a treenapped testimony

to the notion that we will if we can, as evidenced in even

my normally modest, self-effacing friend. If we can,

the archeological record tells us, we'll continue wanting

opulently even in the afterlife: the grave goods

of pharaohs are just as gold as the headrests

and quivers and necklace pendants they used every day

on this side of the divide, the food containers

of Chinese emperors are ready for heavenly meals

that the carved obsidian dragons on the great jade lids

will faithfully guard forever. My own

innate definition of "gratification" is right there

in its modifier "immediate," and once or twice

I've hurt somebody in filling my maw. I've walked

—the normally modest, self-effacing me—below a sky

of stars I lusted after as surely as any despot

contemplating his treasury. The slice of American cheese

on the drive-thru-window burger is also gold,

bathetically gold,

and I go where my hunger dictates.

From Everyday People by Albert Goldbarth. Copyright © 2012 by Albert Goldbarth. Reprinted with permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved.

From Everyday People by Albert Goldbarth. Copyright © 2012 by Albert Goldbarth. Reprinted with permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved.

Albert Goldbarth

Albert Goldbarth

Albert Goldbarth was born on January 31, 1948 in Chicago, Illinois. He

by this poet

poem
sleep, little beansprout
don't be scared
the night is simply the true sky
bared

sleep, little dillseed
don't be afraid
the moon is the sunlight
ricocheted

sleep, little button
don't make a fuss
we make up the gods
so they can make us

sleep, little nubbin
don't you stir
this sky smiled down
on Atlantis and Ur
poem
Physics says: go to sleep. Of course
you're tired. Every atom in you
has been dancing the shimmy in silver shoes
nonstop from mitosis to now.
Quit tapping your feet. They'll dance
inside themselves without you. Go to sleep.

Geology says: it will be all right. Slow inch
by inch America is giving
poem
Eight hours by bus, and night
was on them. He could see himself now
in the window, see his head there with the country
running through it like a long thought made of steel and wheat.
Darkness outside; darkness in the bus—as if the sea
were dark and the belly of the whale were dark to match it.
He was twenty: of