Yale University Press
Thursday, May 8th, 2003
Disclosure: Loren Goodman’s time at Columbia coincided with mine. While I generally follow Publishers Weekly‘s lead in preferring not to talk about first books of poems, and given that my eyebrows arch automatically when I see other critics praise their friends, I would feel remiss if I failed to alert the reading public to Goodman’s work.
We knew he wrote poems—he would stand a short distance away, gesturing and smiling, and occasionally letting on that he knew us. From time to time he would take the stage at one of the many folk-music venues on campus that also accommodated poetry readings. From the very beginning, his work demonstrated a philosophical sensibility:
This is when I begin my discussions with Sidney
Morgenbesser. “Sidney” I say. “Morgenbesser”
I say. “Sidney Morgenbesser” I say. He looks up
And nods. Everyone nods. I stand up, my voice
Stands up. “Sidney Morgenbesser,” I say. Now he is
Nodding, nodding and smiling, “Morgenbesser,”
“Sidney, “Sidney,” “Morgenbesser.” “Morgenbesser,”
“Morgenbesser,” “Sidney,” “Sidney.” Then we discuss
Shloymee . . .
It may be useful to know that Goodman served a stint on the journal Telos; it may also help to know that Morgenbesser has been identified as the subject of the anecdote of the professor who responded to the eager philosophy-of-language student’s claim that there is no positive equivalent in English to the double negative with the curt and immediate rejoinder, “Yeah yeah.”
On the other hand, of equal use may be the knowledge that Goodman rowed crew and hails from Kansas. After graduation, Goodman periodically (and abruptly) vanished to attend various graduate programs, taking his MFA at Arizona, and, after a brief spell in the University of Buffalo law program, entering the PhD program in Poetics, where he came under the tutelage of his second great poetry teacher, Robert Creeley.
His first teacher, though, was the late Kenneth Koch, with whom Goodman engaged in many a protracted staring contest.
Of all the world’s great cities, none can boast the heart-pounding excitement of New York City. As the pulsating vitality bursts forth in creamy emulsion around the Statue of Liberty, it startles you with its realism.
Most recently, Goodman has taken up residence in Japan, where by various accounts he is retranslating Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories from the Japanese, is translating a prominent middleweight boxer’s memoirs, or is training and managing a prominent middleweight boxer. When pressed, Goodman remains evasive. His publicist states simply that he is “active in martial arts.”
I wish you much happiness,
In this time of piercing cold . . .
I have a favor to ask of you
I’ll be staying at the Imperial Hotel until May 10
I’d really like to get together and chat with you.
The cherry trees have started to blossom;
Would you be so kind as to come at least this once?
I’ll have beer and a light meal ready. (“Ex-Patriot,” 36)
The impulse to create one’s own “River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” is as a childish wish to never have one’s nose itch beside this pure and unpatronizing delight in the faintly refracted English of Japanese students.
What motivates Goodman? What unifies the approach of a poet at once given to manufacturing unknown works for a Max Von Sydow festival (as Castro opposite Omar Sharif’s title character in “Che!”, singing the part of Radames in Aida, in various bit parts as “Hawaiian Thug” and “Prof. Ned Brainard/Robotic Blob,” and all parts in the MVS-directed “Black Caesar”), playing the Who would win? Game (“William Shatner vs. Gil Gerard, who would win?” “World War I vs. World War II, who would win?”), and a profile of himself as a Mexican boxer? How did he uncover that subject of hidden concern to us all, the profane reliquaries of conquerors and geniuses?
It is not surprising that many of those who have seen Einstein’s brain and Napoleon’s penis wonder what they would taste like; people are accustomed to eating things from bottles and jars. (20)
I would say there are two qualities that Goodman looks for before he decides that a particular language act qualifies as Goodman-worthy: 1) it must include (and if possible splice together) two sentences of uncommonly ordinary beauty, or 2) it must be transcendently goofy.
While I was familiar in advance with many pieces in this book (I edited three of the twelve publications mentioned in the acknowledgments), please note that my favorite works in this noteworthy collection were new to me a month ago. I defy the reader not to smile at some point while reading the opening title sequence. My secret favorite piece is the Jarmusch-like non-drama “The Prize,” a dialogue echoing the Hemingway story in which disappointment at the fiction of George Meredith is expressed.
Charles’s room is very nice, the walls are covered
With colorful and witty collages he himself makes
“I like them,” I say
“Thank you,” he replies
“So who wants to go first?”
“I’ll go first,” says Charles
Charles reads a good short piece in a mellow voice
“That was good”
“Yes — I like the blue magnets,” I tell him