Digressive, impressionistic musings on love, loss, and “the multiselves we all carry inside.”
When he was a boy, poet and essayist Goldbarth (Creative Writing/Wichita State Univ.; Selfish: Poems, 2015, etc.) was thrilled by a publishing gimmick promoted by Ace Books: for 35 cents, science-fiction fans could buy two books in one, “each upside down to the other, each with its independent enticing cover and title page.” Goldbarth uses this “topsy-turvying” for his latest collection of previously published essays, but since both sides have the same cover, containing essays not thematically or stylistically different, his choice, though obviously an homage, seems puzzling. More logical was his plan to publish an Ace Double with a life of Keats on one side and a life of Clyde Tombaugh—a self-taught astronomer who discovered 29,000 galaxies, 3,196 asteroids, 1,800 variable stars, 2 comets, and the planet Pluto—on the other. As it is, Goldbarth tells both stories in “Two Characters in Search of an Essay,” an imaginative juxtaposition of two lives focused on, and guided by, a quest to transcend mundane reality. The author shares that quest: “I want to write a poem that’s good enough to endure beyond my own bodily life,” he confesses; “I want to work at a marriage that’s finally larger and more luminous than either I or my wife as individuals.” Love—between Keats and Fanny Brawne, for example, or Goldbarth and his wife—occupies his thoughts, as does the mirroring of past and present. He muses on lust in “Roman Erotic Poetry,” which juxtaposes the love poems of Catullus with the “con-, recom-, and uncombining” of friends and colleagues: Martha and Arthur, who have split up; and Sweet and Danny, who seem obviously in love—obvious to everyone but themselves. “We are so royally screwed up, we human beings,” concludes the author, whose tone ranges from poetic and literary to slapdash and colloquial, which can make for jarring reading.
A nostalgic, rueful, and sometimes sweetly funny collection.