Everyday People: Poems


The not-at-all-everyday new poetry collection by Albert Goldbarth, twice winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

          I brought a book of many words

to an emptiness in my heart,

and I shook them out in there, to fill it.

In my time I wrote this very...

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The not-at-all-everyday new poetry collection by Albert Goldbarth, twice winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

          I brought a book of many words

to an emptiness in my heart,

and I shook them out in there, to fill it.

In my time I wrote this very thing.

In your time you read it.

                                        —from “What We Were Like”

Virtuoso poet Albert Goldbarth returns with a new collection that describes the wonders of everyday people—overprotective parents, online gamblers, newlyweds, Hercules, and Jesus. In Goldbarth’s poetry—expansive, wild, and hilarious—he argues that our ordinary failures, heroics, joy, and grief are worth giving voice to, giving thanks for. Everyday People is an extraordinary new book by a poet who “in thirty-five years of writing has amassed a body of work as substantial and intelligent as that of anyone in his generation” (William Doreski, The Harvard Review).

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Detractors call Goldbarth prolific to a fault, but admirers say, with great justice, that they just can’t get enough: the poet’s 20-odd books reflect an irrepressible energy. Who else could bring into the same poem medieval bestiaries, “an eyeleted shoe,/ a cello, a used syringe, a lush bouquet of backyard iris,” a serious pun that finds “pain” inside a “piano,” and “Ace Digornio, who... did/ spend forty hours every week behind the counter/ at Talman’s Home Decor and Paint Store”? Again Goldbarth (To Be Read in 500 Years) casts a wide net for obsolescent pop culture, middle America, archeology, Jewish history, and the natural sciences—the human brain is “a drama/ compounded of glial cells and electrical links.” Again Goldbarth directs his amazing collection of little-known facts toward the same simple truths: people fall in and out of love, grow old, die, and hope to be remembered, even as Goldbarth hopes to remember and cherish every odd quotation he incorporates from an “astute, high-style comic strip,” from Whitney Houston, from Charles Darwin, from his friends, all treated with a sympathetic and finally optimistic gusto, “large and excited and various and full of that/ exuberance we call everyday life.” (Jan.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Everyday People:


"Again Goldbarth directs his amazing collection of little-known facts toward the same simple truths: people fall in and out of love, grow old, die, and hope to be remembered, even as Goldbarth hopes to remember and cherish every odd quotation he incorporates from an 'astute, high-style comic strip,' from Whitney Houston, from Charles Darwin, from his friends, all treated with a sympathetic and finally optimistic gusto, 'large and excited and various and full of that / exuberance we call everyday life.'" Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Trust Goldbarth, with his recklessly rich, culturally acute writing, to capture everything from helicopter parents to Hercules." Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal, PrePub Alert

"[Goldbarth] infuses his poems with an old-fashioned, childlike wonder at the marvels of our world, along with a bemused chuckle at the ways in which we so obviously fall short of our lofty goals." The Rumpus

"[Everyday People] is a lively and detailed exploration of human relationships and an expansive examination of the interconnectivity present in the natural world. . . . Blending the antediluvian with the contemporary, Everyday People does markedly well in revealing what its author sees as the 'secret life in everything." Time Out New York

"[Everyday People] is a book about the mundane. About seemingly uneventful lives and unspectacular dreams and unheroic deaths. The danger of such subject matter is that it can also be un-compelling to read about, but Goldbarth is a master of both the craft of poetry and the craft of storytelling. . . . The poems' 'payoffs' are [their] moments of kaleidoscopic focus, when seemingly random images suddenly click as part of one master pattern. Goldbarth approaches this wholeness through relentless accumulation, treating it as one does a horizon that ever recedes but is worth the walk." Bookslut

"[Everyday People] throbs with Goldbarth's garrulous energy, as exuberant and unpredictable as a Barry Sanders touchdown run. . . . Everyday People is yet another example of [Goldbarth's] world-class poetry." The Wichita Eagle

Praise for Albert Goldbarth:

"When I read [Goldbarth's] poetry, I recall what was said of Coleridge's conversation, that it was so wide-ranging and so freighted with curious speculation, that his listeners were dazzled. . . . It is flat-out fascinating from beginning to end." Mark Jarman, The Hudson Review

"Albert Goldbarth must be accounted one of our most considerable poets." Poetry

"In the hands of a poet like Goldbarth . . . the whole is so much more than the dribblingly delicious sum of its parts, your jaw just has to drop." The Los Angeles Times

"Albert Goldbarth just may be the American poet of his generation for the ages." The Georgia Review

Library Journal
"The first rule of the universe is/ that it's meant to contain all things," writes National Book Critics Circle award winner Goldbarth in his newest collection (after 2009's To Be Read in 500 Years), a pronouncement that applies as well to the poet's own all-encompassing, ever-expanding body of work. Into these densely packed, strategically digressive meditations on time, perception, language, memory, and the inevitability of age, Goldbarth's inclusive imagination enlists both the famous (Darwin, Emerson, Woody Allen) and the not so famous (acquaintances, relatives) to contribute to his operating definition of a world "at its most absurd and wonder stuffed," recording (when not inventing) the marvels occurring all around us while we're "busily sorting glass from the plastic/ for the recycling cart." VERDICT Goldbarth overstuffs his poems with ideas, images, humor, compassion, and coincidence enough for several lifetimes, somehow "walking slantwise toward veracity" and effectively arguing that the human comedy is in fact a cosmic one. The overall effect may leave some readers feeling a bit too full but satisfied nonetheless.—Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555976033
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 1/17/2012
  • Pages: 178
  • Sales rank: 1,531,452
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Albert Goldbarth is the author of more than twenty-five books of poetry, including To Be Read in 500 Years and The Kitchen Sink: New and Selected Poems 1972–2007. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.

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Read an Excerpt


By Albert Goldbarth

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2012 Albert Goldbarth
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-55597-603-3

Chapter One

      Everyday People

    The oceans are dying. They require a hero,
    or a generation of heroes. The oceans are curdling
    in on themselves, and on their constituent lives,
    they're rising here, and lowering there,
    I swear I've heard them gasping. And my friends ...?
    Are brooding over who their kids are playing with
    on the streets. Are coming home after a day where some
    midlevel management weasel sucked
    their souls out like a yolk from an egg—right through
    a tiny puncture-hole in the dome of the skull. The cat
    has worms. The price of gas is nearly what
    their grandparents' wedding rings cost. The oceans

    sorely need a paladin, but my friends are exhausted
    disputing how many angels can trample the truth
    from a twelve-dollar overcharge on a cell-phone bill.
    Our privacy is disappearing, cameras sip it up
    like thirsty beasts surrounding a shrinking pool of water, my friends
    are worried, oh yes certainly they're worried, but also the tumor
    and the marriage and the alcoholic uncle. The war
    that's this war but is any war and all war is requesting
    a little attention in the cause-part, maybe only
    a little more in the effect-part, but my friends know
    how impossible it is to attend to even a single other
    person sufficiently, plus the dentist, plus the eye exam,
    and can't they spend some time renewing their sense
    of making beauty in this wreckage, Edie
    her hummingbird feeders, Sean his libretto, Omar
    his amazing organic noodles: something like Balenciaga

    the haute couture designer whose life I'm reading compulsively
    while the ice caps and the red tide and the polar bears,
    Balenciaga for whom "the business of making beautiful things
    absorbed him totally, and there was no room in his life
    for anything else," he did a piece of sewing "every day
    of his adult life: from the age of three," in 1913 (age eighteen)
    "he was learning the women's-wear trade" as the guns
    of the World War cleared their throats and aimed, and through
    the world depression, "a fishnet cloak
    of knotted white velvet, and swathes of parachute silk
    to make pink-and-white flowers," and through
    the Spanish Civil War, "regarded making dresses
    as a vocation, like the priesthood, and an act of worship,"
    through (he bargained with Franco) World War II,
    chantilly, chenille, mohair, tulle,
    "he took the sample of intractable material
    into his sanctum and returned in only moments
    with a superbly accomplished buttonhole: it
    would have been a half-hour's labor for anyone else,"
    a buttonhole while Israel was forged in 1948,
    a buttonhole for Sputnik, yes a buttonhole,
    a perfect—consummate—buttonhole, is this
    a condemnation of my friends (and so myself)

    or an exoneration? I truly don't know: any more
    than I can tell if the boy in Rembrandt's etching
    Christ Preaching (circa 1652) is celebrated
    or ridiculed (or possibly, with a complicated fondness,
    both) for yielding to his innocent daydreams, lost
    in drawing figures in the dust on the floor, as only a few
    feet overhead, on an impromptu stage in inkily velvet blacks
    and the dramatically empty spaces that signify sun,
    the Master holds forth with his parables
    while a crowd of the commonplace—beggars and burghers—
    listen, enrapt. Two-hundred-and-twenty years later,
    Adolph von Menzel paints Departure
    of King Wilhelm I to His Army on 31 July 1870
; here
    we see the fashionable (and patriotically worked-up) throng,
    waistcoated men and richly bustled women by the hundreds
    as they line that famous avenue of lime trees, gas lamps,
    wind-snapped flags, the Unter den Linden, to witness
    their king in his cavalcade, off to join the troops
    —at age seventy-three!—in defending their nation
    against the French ... they look at him, these members
    of a time and place, as if they form a single compound eye.
    Except for the paper boy, with the day's news
    over an arm. He has eyes solely for
    a friendly dog on the pavement. Someone has to
    sell the Berlinsche Nachrichten (maybe it's
    the Berlinsche Zeitung). Someone needs to carve this
    personal moment out of that heavy communal block
    of pomp, accomplishment, and (soon, at the battle front)
    butchery. This crowd ... do they disperse,
    go home, and that night dream

    my dream of my friends? It comes to me so often these days.
    My friends who are busily sorting the glass from the plastic
    for the recycling cart. My friends the oil change and tune-up,
    the interview, the team to cheer, the argument
    and the apology—and some of them the intricate and cheesy
    psychological architecture (like the windmill-strewn
    and dragon-populated Putt-Putt golf course) of denial
    of the need for an apology. My friends the e-mail list
    on carbon footprints. And a tad of porn. With guilt,
    with beer, with in-laws, with the lawn, with the tuition.
    With their lo-cal, and their hi-tech, and deluxe.
    I see them gathered, and then falling
    down a long and floating drop, not
    through an astronomer's darling black hole, not
    through Alice's Wonderland rabbit hole, but

    falling through a buttonhole,
    into the lives of everyday people.

      Natural State

    I'm sitting at Nathan's, reading a biography of Darwin
    who, right now, is dissecting a barnacle

    "no bigger than a pinhead (and with two penises)":
    he'll work like this on barnacles, his wrists supported

    by rigged-up blocks of workshop wood, for eight years.
    Nathan is reading too, in the worn-down banged-up "daddy chair":

    those philosophical poems of William Bronk's. What's
    most delightful is that Tristan, 11, and Aidan, 10,

    are reading, each of them enmazed in a fantasy novel
    that squeezes them by the attention-bone behind the eyes

    in its thimble pool of pineal juice and drizzled endorphins.
    Tristan cared enough to cry when he finished his previous book

    and its battle of shadow and radiance was over.
    Each of us: his individual book; and yet

    the silence is communal. This is a natural state
    at Nathan's. Rebecca, however, is reading the Sunday paper

    and so serves, without saying a word, to remind us
    how natural it was for Raeshawn Nelson, 7,

    to fall while running and burn out his eye
    on the disregarded meth pipe, or for Anna Rietta, 9,

    to have come home from school and excitedly been
    the **!star!**, each day, of the homemade porn her parents

    peddled as "young fun" over the internet. This
    was what they knew, and all they knew, and so they entered it

    as comfortably as Tristan does his opened world
    of sorcerors and valiant knights and fancy-talking beasts, since use

    x frequency = familiarity. That's the strict, imperious math
    of everybody's insular subuniverse. Sherena asked me what

    this thing "vermouth" was (she pronounced it "mouth") and ordered
    quiche as if it were the brother of "touché"; but then

    she needed to explain to me why C-C was the "bottom bitch"
    and what a "T-girl" is and how to put down money

    on Ice's book at "the county," by which
    she meant jail. And those years when Darwin parsed

    the slimy fiber of his barnacles (discovering the species
    where "the female has no anus" and the one with "tiny parasitic

    males [that were] embedded in one female's flesh like blackheads"),
    "squinty ... laborious," were among the final decades of hundreds of years

    when a woman in China would suffer ritual footbinding,
    at five, the bandages limiting growth until the toes

    were bent and curled (the toenails growing into the balls of the feet)
    and the arches broken. This resulted in the desirable

    "shrunken plums" and "three-inch golden lilies" sought
    by marriage brokers. Traditionally, a prospective mother-in-law

    would check below the hem, and reject any feet
    over four inches long. Entire generations of women could only

    mince and hobble. And this was natural, this was the air
    and the light and "the-way-of-things-forever" that

    you woke up into every day ... as natural as the implicit laws
    in Aidan's book, by which a bear converses

    with a girl in growly mutualspeak, and a boy
    of sturdy heart and his wingéd horse ascend

    their sky with the unremarkable grace of birds
    in ours. That's ordinary Newtonian physics there, and Aidan

    subjects himself to the rules of flying horsemanship,
    and the code of those of innocent spirit

    about to war with wyverns and the wormfolk, and
    the governing instruction of gods with the heads

    of wide-eyed animals ... and even now, Sherena texts
    my phone to say that WEATHER GOOD and SHINE

    these two reports were equally weighted. There's

    that famous and charming anecdote in which Darwin's
    second son George is at the house of a playfriend,

    looking around, and casually asks him
    "Where does your father do his barnacles?"

      Our Heroine Ellen, and Three Pals

    Alia Sabu, 18, is "the world's youngest college professor."
    Check. The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius occurred in 79 AD,
    and victims left hollows that "cast in plaster, yield details
    as eerily fine as the imprints of one man's eyebrows." Check.
    Over in England, Guy Hawkes Day is celebrated
    Whoa. Fawkes. Check. If Keats had had
    a publisher's fact-checker overpresiding his own
    pell-mell exquisitudes, the European discovery
    of the Pacific would never have been—as it was,
    and as it remains—misattributed. Ellen ticks
    mechanically down the list that will lead her to lunch
    (with Thelma the poetess, Short George king
    of the online crypto-universe, and Dora the orphan
    and amateur genealogist: her fact-checker pals), so one

    two three, it's: distance of Epsilon Eridani; name
    of the Japanese lunar orbiter; date of the earliest
    temple so far excavated
... and all the while the "her"
    of her, the irreducible I, is floatingfloating,
    like a dust mote, like an astronaut untethered,
    through the fancies the subconscious burbles fecundly
    nonstop in us ... in her, right now, a sea-breeze beach
    beyond the blot the X-ray hunted down in her shoulder,
    beyond the divorce ... she floats ... there is no fiction-checker
    hired by the brain, in fact the brain requires a space
    in itself ungoverned by the actual ... the moon
    in the waves, the scent of the lei of flowers that serves
    to complement her neck and naked breasts ... 10.5 light years;

    Kaguya; 10,000 BC. The joke at lunch is
    they yell "check!" at the flustered waiter in unison.
    Short George tells Thelma he could build an online crypto-England
    in which Keats survived and married Fannie Brown, no,
    Fanny Brawne, check. They all riff on this delightful possibility
    a little ("Twins." Twins? "Pair o'Keats."), with Dora

    all the while, all this same time, also sitting in the cellar
    of her mind and in its private dark imagining
    the kiosks and the poverty and the bright flags in the springtime
    in those two East European countries she knows her parents
    came from though she doesn't yet know which ... the woman
    about to be her mother making clumsy girlish vamp-eyes
    (over the suds of the backyard laundry tub) at the man,
    the private in spit-shine boots and dapper mufti, about

    to become her father, as these two (now
    the various fantasies blend in one communal psychic weather)

    parakeets coo on a swing in their gilt-work bird cage
    in a parlor where the Keatses are—the phone rings,
    "John would you please answer / phone? / [well, yes,
    a retropostulated steampunk phone they call
    a transaudion] the trans?"—"Hullo? Keats
    residence." "Hello, sir, my name is Alia Sabu. I'm
    an assistant professor of English engaged in researching
    your sonnet on Chapman's Ovid (no) on Chapman's Homer
    (check) and"—then the frying-pan noises and sputtering out
    of global communications as the smutch from Vesuvius
    circles the earth—"Fanny!" "John, the children!"—the plume of it
    so high even Kaguya is floatingfloating like a fishing bob

    riding a current—"The children are drowning ...!"—and work
    resumes. Our heroine, Ellen, is back
    at her task of verification ... even as, somewhere inside her
    no less needed and persuasive than the place
    of her employment (and its mission to confirm), she
    heeds those cries, she rises immediately from her languor
    on the sands, she races pell-mell to the violent waves
    —her lei is lost to the evening air—and pulls the two
    Keats children from their near death in those crazily
    volcano-flustered waters.... Jacob Pinker-Sachs: "No matter
    how coolly rational the small globe of our consciousness is,
    it rides on a heated sea of childlike play;
    and alternative selves and trial-and-error futures
    nod and wobble on the top of this like fishing bobs." (I made

    that up.) At home tonight Short George is making up,
    online, the rules and shoes and musics and peninsulas
    of an entire cosmos. Why not? Someone hurt him
    once, and here he heals. Someone grabbed him
    by the smitten-bone, grabbed him by the spigot
    where the juice of infatuation enters the blood, and he was severely
    pummeled, and never the same, but here he's the master
    of clouds and swords and fishing fleets and mass migrations
    and here he can sorcer into existence a cure for the thing
    that eats its way through Ellen's shoulder and Keats's lungs,
    and here Short George can manfully declare his love for Dora,
    which he'd never do in the bruises and blades of the "real world,"
    and Dora right now is online finally nailing down
    her parents' nationalities. Hungarian. Czech.

      "The Human Condition"

    —of course. What else is there to write about?
    Somewhere this side of the smelting-fires,
    the sabers are being forged; and kingly broadswords,
    in a shower of sparks; and those wicked, twisty
    dagger blades the hillmen use; there is, after all,
    such devil-spawn apostasy to fight against: the tents
    to torch, the villages to turn to kindling.
    Somewhere else, another kind—a metaphoric kind—
    of conflagration fills the flesh: entire dynasties,
    and courts of law, and mothers' sleep, will sunder
    and snap like fat on the grill, as lust consumes
    its way across the borders of two young people's lives,
    the way lust will, the way that joy
    in our sexual selves is zealous for completion ...
    just as somewhere else, it's the sudden combustion
    of godly light in a penitent's breast that carries
    in it the vision of warrior seraphs
    and a grace so intense that it sears....
    Worlds shake. There is gnashing, there are hosannas.
    Even so, if the "condition" is "human,"
    it also must attend
      to Neil
    losing at online poker tonight. And Chandra:
    totaling her acceptance and rejection slips.
    And Juddie Q: his regular connection,
    who he trusted, delivered a bag of product
    obviously cut with inferior goods from someone else's
    dead-end hustle. And Della: rosining
    her bow; and thinking soon her chin
    will be cupped—we might say intimately
    cupped—and the strings will take her away
    on their boulevard into another world. And Dan:
    a week of committee meetings. Little things;
    little things. My grandparents
      came here

    from Russia and Poland over a century back now.
    Orthodox Jews are supposed to avoid all secular labor
    over the Sabbath—cooking, for instance, or even simply
    striking a light. And so one burner on the stove
    might be left on, at a minimum level, the way
    that earlier an ember might be saved
    for as long as possible through the night
    —kept low, and patient
    in case a greater flame was called for.

The Poem of the Little House at the Corner of Misapprehension and Marvel

"... during Napoleon III's coup d'etat when one of his officers, on being informed that a mob was approaching the Imperial Guard, coughed and exclaimed, with his hand across his throat, 'Ma sacree toux! (My damned cough).' But his lieutenant, understanding him to say 'Massacrez tous! (massacre them all!),' gave the order to fire, killing thousands—needlessly."

–Guy Murchie

    "He was mortared to death."
    A pity, how we misspeak and mishear.

    —Or "martyred"? Not that /coin-flip/ either
    makes a difference to the increasingly cooler

    downtick of a corpse's cells. "We heard the crazy mating joy
    of the loon across the water." Yes, but what

    do we know, amateurs that we are? Loon, shmoon.
    It might have been dying, announcing

    its pain in those trilling pennants. It might
    have been the girl who was lost in these woods last week

    and never found by the volunteer searchers,
    it might have been her ghost

    with an admonishment. The truth is,
    even among ourselves we often can't distinguish pain

    from pleasure, not in our beds, our hearts, the tone
    of a poem on the final exam (a coin-toss). A pity, because

    we know the urgency of some utterance;
    and the intended goodwill of our listening; and

    the marvelous basic mechanics of speech,
    of lung: 300 million alveoli that, "if spread out flat,"

    as my eighth-grade science teacher preened, "would come to
    750 square feet, the entire floor space of an average house,"

    and she added that tired magic about how atoms
    of Julius Caesar and Napoleon and Beethoven did

    their fleet anachronistic dance in every inhalation
    of ours, although at thirteen I preferred to think

    that the atoms of Cleopatra's body—my Cleopatra,
    inflating her see-through empresswear

    with husky breaths—commingled with my blood, and also
    realized in my own dim way it wasn't only Einstein,


Excerpted from EVERYDAY PEOPLE by Albert Goldbarth Copyright © 2012 by Albert Goldbarth. Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Most of Us....................3
Everyday People....................7
Natural State....................10
Our Heroine Ellen, and Three Pals....................13
"The Human Condition"....................16
The Poem of the Little House at the Corner of Misapprehension and Marvel....................18
How Did They Live?....................29
A Story....................31
The Winds....................33
Minnows, Darters, Sturgeon....................38
Coming Back....................43
An Explanation....................45
Emma (Mrs. Charles) Darwin....................49
The Asparagus Tongs....................50
With Quotes from William Irvine's Account of the 19th Century Scientist-Explorer Thomas Huxley's Life....................52
Goth Boy: An Instruction....................55
The Storm....................58
The Poem of the Dance of the Real....................60
"A great volume....................62
Charles's Compliment....................66
Struck Together....................72
Honeycomb, Calling....................74
Whatever Surrogate....................75
Photographs of the Interiors of Dictators' Houses....................76
A Few of the Ways to Say It....................79
Our Argument, Like the Thunderstorm,....................81
That Re- (What We Are)....................82
The Nose in Feet....................85
Over Miles of Iowa Fields: Snorkel, Karaoke, Leaf....................91
Round, Polished Stones....................95
The Lamps....................99
Perception Poem....................100
Crazy Way....................102
Off from Shore....................105
The Poppy Fields of Afghanistan....................107
A Typo for "Paths of Gravel" on Page 17 of Jack Williamson's Demon Moon (Tor Books)....................108
A Weather....................110
Before Refrigeration....................112
"A Toast!"....................113
A Partial List of Unacknowledged Musics (Feel Free to Add Your Own)....................115
The Versions....................125
Return Suite: The Little Click....................127
That Was the Year....................135
The Story of Wax and Wane....................142
Bright Motes in the Corner of Your Eye....................154
Prophecy Song....................157
"The slips for G....................159
A Word of Warning....................160
The Whole of the Law of Our Human Vision....................162
The Bivalves Proof....................163
Toward It....................168
Practice Journey....................171
"He held out his hand. 'Zarth has told me that this was the gesture of greeting in your time.'"....................183
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