Goldberg pulls hard truths from simple tropes in this superb collection of verse.
The late child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim once wrote that “nothing can be as enriching and satisfying for child and adult alike as the folk fairy tale.” Whether or not Goldberg knows of Bettelheim, the spirit of his line infuses her book, as it’s filled with dwarfs, demons, princesses, and queens. And yet this is not kids’ stuff, for Goldberg takes some of the themes of children’s literature and repurposes them to crafting this blade-thin but lightning-powerful exploration of loss, love, and the life of the mind. Although readers will hear in her work echoes of contemporary poets such as Louise Glück and Jorie Graham, more helpful comparisons are to Lewis Carroll and John Bunyan. It’s Carroll, more than anyone else, who teaches readers that child’s play is seldom childish. From Bunyan, Goldberg borrows an allegorical streak; the former author personifies Faith, Hope, and Ignorance in The Pilgrim’s Progress, the latter births characters named Reason, Passion, and Grief in “The Early Childhood of Grief”: “And from the loins of Reason and Passion / springs Grief, a surly, birdlike boy / who refuses to cry. No gurgling, no babbling, / no scattershot foray into the dense / and dissonant world, choosing instead / to stay mute.” Goldberg deploys her poetic tricks—the assonant “surly, birdlike,” the alliteration in “dense and dissonant”—with thrift and subtlety. As an able, award-winning writer, she has no need to flaunt her gifts, and from the outset, readers will know they’re in the hands of an unpretentious master. Additionally, she’s smart and economical in her use of symbols; favorites include the egg and the flowering plant called love-lies-bleeding. Returning to such images over and over again, she’s content to dig deep into their many meanings, reminding readers anew of the old truth that a rose is never just a rose.
Poetry that excites and mystifies in all the best ways.