Wichita poet reads work at Washburn

Tricia Peterson

Poet Albert Goldbarth read some of his poetry in the Mabee Library Monday, March 30.

Originally born in Chicago, Ill., Goldbarth now resides in Wichita, Kan. and is a Professor of Humanities at Wichita State University where he has taught since 1987. He has written around 30 poetry books and has received various awards.  His newest books include “Kitchen Sink: New and Selected Poems 1972-2007” and “To Be Read in 500 Years: Poems 2009.”

He is also the only poet to receive the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry not only once, but twice.

Eric McHenry, a Washburn assistant professor who teaches English and poetry read Goldbarth’s poems since his college days.  McHenry met Goldbarth  when McHenry wrote an article for the Topeka Capitol-Journal profiling Kansas poets. They ended up becoming friends and have stayed in contact since, which is how Goldbarth came to do his reading here at Washburn.

“It seemed to me he was well received.” said McHenry. “He is very dynamic, very engaging, very entertaining, funny and a little bit edgy and all of those things I think are good for holding people’s attention. People were telling me afterword they enjoyed the reading.”

The first poem Goldbarth read was a long one, about the idea behind names, who gives objects names and where they come from.  He only read the final section, which is one of twelve, and even commented that he couldn’t read the entire poem because it would take up the entire 45 minutes. The published version of the poem in its entirety is 16 pages long.

“The entire poem asks to look at names and the idea of names, to what extent are we represented by our names, and how we are not,” said Goldbarth. “How do new names come into being and to that extent, the final section looks at the idea of words as they die out of our language even as new words are cycled up from below and being used for the first time.”

Another poem Goldbarth read is one he told the crowd he wants etched on his gravestone, all 14 lines.  This poem is called “Shawl” and is about a book, and not an electronic book, Goldbarth insisted, but a real paper book.  It is about a ride on a Greyhound bus, and how the night is coming on and the light shining on the page is like a shawl.

“I kind of like this poem, it seems to stand for me, who I am and what I am about,” said Goldbarth.  “It is a sonnet-size poem and I told my wife this is the poem I want on my grave, should she outlive me.”

The final poem Goldbarth shared was titled “The Clothes” about a movie or play director who tells a story about himself stealing clothes from a laundromat. Goldbarth used a high-pitched animated voice for this poem, taking on a whole new persona and acting the poem out instead of just reciting it.

Goldbarth has many books available for purchase in stores as well as online.  There are a couple of poems available online, but not near as many as he has published. The Poetry Foundation has some of his work as well as a more detailed history of Goldbarth. It’s website is www.poetryfoundation.org.