We could say that Rembrandt was a greater painter than Kandinsky. We could not say that Rembrandt was three and a half times better than Kandinsky. . . . We could say, "I have more pain than I had yesterday." When we tried to say, "I have nine dols of pain," we found we were talking nonsense.
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.