When Albert Goldbarth's Heaven and Earth: A Cosmology
received the 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award, the citation called it "a dazzling, delirious book as full of zest and joy as it is prodigal in the sweep of its learning and the warmth of its affections: Goldbarth is manna in the desert, a cure for what ails our poetry". Now Goldbarth offers Across the Layers: Poems Old and New
, which allows the poet to reconsider recent and previously published work in a continuum of wide stylistic variety and yet deep unifying concerns.
The collection opens with his book-length "novel-poem" Different Fleshes, a serious romp through smalltown Texas and gay Paree in the twenties, and closes with the "essay-poem" "Dual", a study of both intimate filial affections and the risk-taking photographs of Diane Arbus. Between these two major works are poems that range from a twelve-line lyric meditation on loss and continuity to a thirty-four-page narrative adventure of life on the road with a band of antique radio collectors; from poems in autobiographical voice to a chorale spoken by Walt Whitman's imagined children; from the world of Miss Aluminum Siding to the rigorous vision of Georgia O'Keeffe; from an antic litany of comic-book superheroes to a dark look at government espionage on the homefront.
Connecting and further vivifying this surface expanse are shared explorations in the uses of memory, in the bittersweet sounding of elegy, and in patterns and balances on the cosmic scale as registered by small moments of pleasure and pain twinned in individual lives.