2014: Albert Goldbarth, “The Evolution of Hope”

There are all of those canonical “poetic” occasions,
the lark, the rainbow, the sprocket-sized hummingbird

shimmering itself half into another dimension
—airborne things. Difficult, to feel their inspiration

here at the carnival: the press of needy, jostled flesh
and the fryer grease and the rides the size

of factories built to process cheesy thrills
. . . all, weighting the night down

into gravity’s nonstop grip. This line
of ticket-holders . . . here, he’s the one

who beat his wife (“or really,” he keeps saying, as if
he’s only a tool, “Jack Daniels did”), and

here’s the woman who left her baby alone last week
to party with Two-Tone and Flyboy

out by the Ramrod Inn, and here’s the one
who doesn’t even know he owns a company

that also owns a company that owns
the smaller companies in another country that keep

the people there living on rice and roots,
which is several gravities too many for our species

to endure . . . still, hope evolved in us
to thrive in especially this

forbidding landscape, and its images
refuse to disappear. For example,

the Tilt-a-Whirl, that gaudy eyesore tonnage
In its ups-a-daisy roll. It starts out slow enough,

a massive thing of metal and its massive human cargo,
but if you stare at it, if you won’t look away,

eventually it goes fast enough
to blur, to be a weightless floating wonder

the way the hummingbird is.

Commissioned by the Eta Chapter of Ohio, Phi Beta Kappa, 2014

About Albert Goldbarth

Albert Goldbarth was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1948. 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, while at the University of Utah while working toward his PhD in creative writing, 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 teach at Cornell and then 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, including To 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.

Goldbarth told The Missouri Review, “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.”

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).

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.”

He is Adele Davis Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Wichita State University, where he has taught since 1987. He gave a poetry reading and visited classes at Ohio Wesleyan in October 2013.