- An Interview with Albert Goldbarth
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Interviewer: In the past you've either been hesitant about or outright refused to comment both on the making of your poems and on possible critical interpretations. Do you believe commentary can actually diminish rather than enhance a poem?
Goldbarth: Yes, I think so. Plus, I'm not very articulate when I talk about my poems. I don't spend any time thinking about them in such terms. I don't spend time thinking about an aesthetic out of which I create or an ideal toward which my body of work is heading. It's amazing, when I read interviews with other poets, to see how articulately they discuss their own writing, as if they were sharing long-held theories on the work of Pope or Keats. I'm happy enough that I've poured the best of myself into the poems themselves. What exists outside the poems is, and ought properly to be, a much less interesting garnish to them. Often it's merely a smokescreen.
Interviewer: Do you distrust comments by other poets about their work?
Goldbarth: Of course. Does anyone believe that stuff they read in interviews? I've read interviews and found them engaging enough; some of my poetry peers are very charming, entertaining and bright. But do I believe most responses to interview questions are anything more than the need to present an image to the world or buy into it oneself? No, I'm not sure I believe that. And in any case, the poetry itself—or the novel or the stories—should be sufficient. We don't still read Rilke today because he gave shrewd interviews in Poets & Writers. Or Dickinson. Or Salinger. Ovid wasn't diverting his energy into a homepage at Romanexiles.com.
Interviewer: Does this affect your reading of criticism? [End Page 63]
Goldbarth: Yeah, I think it does. I hope any poem I've ever written could stand on its own and not need to be a part of biography, critical theory or cultural studies. I don't want to give a poetry reading and have to provide the story behind the poem in order for it to make sense to an audience. I certainly don't want the poem to require a critical intermediary—a "spokescritic." I want my poems to be independently meaningful moments of power for a good reader. And that's the expectation I initially bring to other poets' writing.
Interviewer: Does commentary interfere with a reader's privilege to interpret the work?
Goldbarth: In general or for my own work?
Interviewer: For your own work.
Goldbarth: Most ideally I would want a kind of shared wisdom or power that exists between my poems operating at their best and the best reading that can be brought to them—a wisdom and power that rise above and are richer than anything else from outside the poem-reader relationship.
For example, when I read, I don't care about how much of a poem is autobiographically true; I care that the poem is so well written that it becomes true for the time I spend in its aura.
Interviewer: The autobiography might be interesting on its own terms.
Goldbarth: Yes, but it would be extraneous to the poem. Keats and Plath aren't good writers because they died young. Writing is good—or not good—for reasons that have nothing to do with biographical data.
Interviewer: Does this affect the way you workshop students' poems? Do you limit a student's commentary on his or her own poem?
Goldbarth: I modulate my response to meet the pleasures or the problems of a specific occasion. I let students speak, but not by way of defending or explaining what's going on in a poem until the other students have pretty well emptied themselves of their independent responses. This semester I've decided not even to have the poems read out loud beforehand. What we want to know is how meaningful and powerful and memorable a piece is on the page, not as a...