Albert Goldbarth taps his inner Jagger

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A full house of poetry lovers sat and sweated through the ‘Poet’s Voice’ panel in the deep well of UCLA’s Humanities Hall this afternoon. Maybe it was the heat, but they didn’t have to wait long for the fireworks.

The panel, featuring poets Eloise Klein Healy, Mark Doty, Amy Gerstler and Albert Goldbarth, took a turn for the contradictory when Goldbarth, the 60-year-old author of ‘Kitchen Sink: New and Selected Poems,’ gingerly removed his microphone from its placeholder and grinned, ‘This is how Mick Jagger must feel.’


He was referring to the act of holding the microphone, rather than leaning forward to speak into it. The comparison proved to be apt, if unintentional.

Responding to the panel’s starter topic about when and how the poet’s voice is discovered, Goldbarth went on to declare that he doesn’t think about such things. ‘I wouldn’t want to be the archeologist, seismologist or cosmologist of my own writing. I think it may be the case that the question placed before this panel today is counterproductive.’

Cue collective gasp; cue college student giggles.

‘Writing is a private matter,’ Goldbarth went on. ‘I’ve already written the poems and they can answer these kinds of questions better than I can. Mark and Eloise and Amy are up on this stage right now, and between them, there are dozens of books of poetry that I urge you to go buy when you leave here. The words are there. Go read the poems; don’t listen to this ... up here,’ he said, using a well-placed expletive.

Cue applause.

Read on for more ...

As Goldbarth played devil’s advocate for the rest of the panel, his relative politeness and sincerity showed through as he sat back and let Doty, Gerstler and Healy answer questions about poetry’s place in modern society, the literal ‘voices’ of Virginia Woolf and Walt Whitman and the poetic contributions of Tupac Shakur.

Goldbarth declined to divulge any information about his process, his motivations or the stories behind any of his long, shambling poems (check his 1993 book ‘The Gods’), referencing instead the works of Theodore Roethke and Stanley Kunitz.

Smiling still, sipping a Diet Coke, he offered finally that the process of asking poets to discuss their work (at least for him) was like seeing a cute little baby in a carriage and then asking the mother what position she was in when she conceived. ‘When I tell my students that, I use a more vulgar example,’ he acknowledged.

-- George Ducker

Photos, from top: Albert Goldbarth; credit: Michael Pointer. Mick Jagger; credit: Max Nash / AFP/Getty Images