The Kitchen Sink: New and Selected Poems
by Albert Goldbarth
Reviewed by the Kansas Notable Books Committee
This book exhibits the dazzling range of Albert Goldbarth’s genius. The Powell’s Books website describes the collection as “sassy, bold, brilliant, funny, goofy, tender, lyrical, and crafty.” As a description of any other living poet, that series might seem little more than sales hype, but such is the amalgam of wit, knowledge, skepticism, and humanity in these poems that the praise feels judicious.
The extravagant metaphorical mechanisms of Goldbarth’s work might seem merely reckless if they didn’t deliver such cogent insights into the complexities and incongruities of our time, and often of all times. But under the intelligence of his verbal high wire acts there is always the humming tension of our plight. As the persona puts it in “Deer,”
“Despite all of my poetry hokey-pokey-and-parsley,
the life/ of the body – the cellular fundament, the clock – goes on/
until its final electrolytic tick of time.”
Goldbarth can embrace the collective detritus of our past while dancing over these pages with unorthodox and eclectic grace. One of his titles suggests both what the reader is in for in The Kitchen Sink and what the maker can joke about in his own strategies as poet:
A wooden eye.
An 1884 silver dollar.
A homemade explosive.
A set of false teeth.
And a 14-karat gold ashtray.
The question is, “What’s their common denominator?” In the answer are both the random chance of existence and the mind’s compulsion and capacity for order.
Goldbarth’s poems echo again and again our human predicament; an existence studded with mysteries and wonders for all our studied guessing at its core. To confront this reality requires the tentative equilibrium of wit and the stamina of a dogged, even grotesque, desire. As Goldbarth puts it in “While Everyone Else Went Starward,”
. . . . If it’s dire, this abandonment . . .
let’s not forget the half-rhyme,
“dear.” Perhaps to really understand what’s dear requires
absences and loss. Down here, a remnant beauty flourishes.
The ones who come to Stonehenge with their flowers and candles,
centuries after its makers’ disappearance.
That woman in Sydney, Australia, who had her husband’s
ashes sewn into her breast implants.
A coercive voice with guerrilla tendencies, yoking incongruous yet compelling details – that’s a hallmark of this extraordinary American poet.