"Volume editor Henderson's introductory essays have always been part of the charm of his annuals, prizeworthy in their own right, and this one is no exception: In the space of a few pages, he dedicates the enterprise to Reynolds Price, a founding editor and master of contemporary literature, contemplates E.F. Schumacher's "small is beautiful" ethic as it applies to the small-press world, snarks against e-books and reckons, quoting his poetry editor, that the business of being a Pushcart judge is "an impossible job." Granted, but the impossibility yields some very good work in this case. A standout on the poetry front is Douglas Goetsch's odd lyric "Black People Can't Swim," its controversy-begging title unfolding a complex tale of ethnic relations in a supposedly post-racial America. Meanwhile, stalwart Paul Zimmer, writing in theGettysburg Review(which, small-press literature being an incestuous enterprise, Goetsch edits), turns in a lively short story, "Brief Lives," that becomes a bittersweet meditation on how age divides us, with anyone old enough to remember C.P. Snow's two-cultures division suspect in this brave new world. Never mind that Zimmer's contentious cuss remembers Snow's thesis as "a good shtick for a while and he cleaned up with some best sellers." Whether there are any bestsellers here remains to be seen, but a few trends can be spotted, including a growing obsession, it would seem, with food: "Today, for no good reason, I ate two slices of toasted cinnamon/raisin bread at 9:30 a.m., a mere two hours since breakfast." "We waited for the meal to be cooked when we had food, but when we didn't, we waited for the trucks to bring food." If these concerns seem Carveresque, see editor Gerry Howard's fine disquisition on how privileged MFA students ape the working class when not despising it, then turn to Anis Shivani's essay "The MFA/Creative Writing System Is a Closed, Undemocratic Medieval Guild That Represses Good Writing," whose title says it all—and then ponder how many of these contributors participate in that system.
These few lines have the speaker transition from a painful memory of
an abortion kept secret into justifying it in light of the aftermath,
showcasing Goetsch’s superb ability to turn phrases and draw power
from the rhetoric of conversation.
The poem comes close to being merely a diatribe, albeit a hilarious one.
The turn at the end, however, when the speaker turns the focus on the
reader by saying, “...and now / I can hardly wait, because it’s
your turn to talk.” the poem takes on a new dimension, showing an
awareness of the power of provocation. This move takes material that is
shocking and gives it the muscle of argument.
This turning to the reader shows several things: it is a speaker refusing
to indulge in self-pity; it is also another purposeful use of provocation.
The poem, by condensing in three lines a horrific scene in the form of
an argument, impresses upon the reader the full meaning of the opening
line. While it is easy to want someone dead, it is a harder thing to see
what that want really means.
This candid talk of expectation, of indulging vicariously in danger, of celebrating it while only experiencing the risk of the bystander, the witness, all of it builds up against the feeling that follows, the way that, “...like glass in the surf, / the city buried us back into our anonymous selves.” The character of cities, of crowds, of feeling small beside skyscrapers, parallels that of danger and anonymity, both of which command a sort of response, a declaration of self that is acted out in these poems. In the handling of volatile emotions in the face of the transient nature of life, Goetsch’s poems do what good poems do and remind us of the soul, its place and its power. . .
– read José Angel Araguz's full
review in Rattle
“The gritty naturalism of these poems would qualify them as “anti-lyrical”
were it not for the mix of sweet nostalgia and bitter truth that gives
them their pungent, winning flavor. It’s hard to imagine a reader
who could resist Goetsch’s seductive opening lines.”
“Doug Goetsch is, without a doubt, an unbridled creative talent.
His pinpoint lyricism and apparent reverence for craft stamp his work
with a gorgeous signature, and he just gets better with every outing.
These are poems of desire and disappointment, the magnificent and the
mundane—and in Goetsch’s capable clutches, each one leaves
an electric charge in the air. This is no misty-eyed look at where poetry
has been or where it’s going. The Job of Being Everybody
is where poetry should be, where it should have been all along.”
“Douglas Goetsch’s autobiographical poetry is so consistently bleak, I’m not quite sure why I so often find it moving. I guess partly because the poetry seems so free from baloney, and because there is a sweetness down inside Goetsch’s insistence on the factual.”
Nobody’s Hell by Douglas Goetsch is filled with the kind of poetry I feel comfortable recommending to anyone. High school kids who would never consider reading a poem are invited in by the everyday language, the sense of humor and the way Goetsch accurately portrays the childhood of a brainy, never too cool kid living through his family’s disintegration. Fellow poets will be drawn in by the subtle rhythms, the strong, logical narratives that move the reader through each poem naturally, without wasted motion or words, and Goetsch’s uncanny eye that always seems to pick precise, perfect details that get to the heart of matters we all recognize but rarely take the time to examine.
I go for the poems that are much more than a poet who likes to hear the sound of his own voice. In the opening piece, "Counting," a boy is walking along side a building, running his finger "in the grout/ till it grew hot and numb" counting bricks, floors, buildings, city blocks. We learn he comes from a family of counters: his brother counts cavities, his grandfather compounds daily interest and his father uses "numbers to predict/ when men are going to die." The poem gracefully turns at the start of its close with the unexpected yet inevitable line, "That’s all any child wants: to count," and you sense that this boy hasn’t felt like he’s counted too often and you suspect that a number of the poems in this collection will watch this boy learning what counts and how he can matter in the world.
In "Dark Morning" there’s a power shortage and the boy’s mother hands him a flashlight, tells him to help his father shave. The language is taut and simple like directions that even I can follow. The tension simmers as the boy shines this small spotlight on his father’s face and comes to a boil with the penultimate line, "A face I can’t ever remember touching." I had to ignore the silly, self important title and the dead poet the poem "Self Portrait With Radio" invokes to feel that I was in my room listening to Phil Rizzutto do play-by-play. I hear the Yankees lose and marvel at the way Goetsch weaves the game into his life, how unbearable this loss feels (before he knows the real disaster of his grandmother’s death) and I sulk along with him until the next night when "Rizzutto’s voice would be lit up like neon as if no bad thing could ever happen." "Walking Wounded" made me remember how much trouble, how laugh out loud funny and how incredibly significant a boner could be in high school. In the prose poem "Lawyer," despite the divorce lawyer’s hesitancy, the narrator’s mother brings him into the office and the boy hears things that can only be called cruel. The effect is like a good, clean hit in football that comes out of nowhere and leaves you on the ground stunned. When you go back to read it over again it is still hard to believe that the tiniest of movements, the briefest bits of conversation and a few choice details could add up to so much force.
Tony Gloeggler, Amazon.com
This publisher insists on keeping alive the spirit of poetry in Brooklyn where it has always been housed whether that meant the grandeur of Wait Whitman, the style of Mariann Moore, the youthfulness of Kenneth Fearing, et al. The borough of Brooklyn separated from Manhattan (what people think of when you say New York City) by a less than lordly river and connected by bridges is a hometown for many of us. Goetsch has finished his childhood there and now has become responsible for agreeable poems that sway and pulse, that deceptively start plain like bread and butter and stay that way. He is writing autobiographically about the Brooklyn of his youth and some other places but he never resents or speaks bitterly about his mysterious family and their unique dysfunctions. He lives in the cosmetic fragrances of fried onions and junk food. He is delighted by it all. What a grand eulogy he makes for Harry Gordon (everybody knew a Harry Gordon at one time or another): "not once in forty years did you spit on a client/telling numberless stories, none of them quite true, of clubs where leggy waitresses swished by carrying the best bourbon, prime rib/at the Gaslight, flanken at Lou Siegel’s/Pat Cooper in the Catskills/and the night your dice caught fire in Vegas/and Dean Martin came round to watch you roll—/he cheered for you, for you Harry!"
Goetsch has made that transition and now lives in Greenwich Villiage where he undoubtedly tells people about his adventutes drinking with Dylan Thomas. They must have taken him to the emergency ward when he was barely eleven. Everything here seems to read like the "Grand Opening" of Douglas Goetsch’s young life, then it doesnt.
I think he has made a marvelous contribution to contemporary poetry and deserves a militant following. He is a rare street fighter and better than you deserve.
Arnold Falleder, Independent Publisher
If I am nervous to review this book it is because it is the first book I have reviewed by someone from New York and being a person from a town of under 700 people, I’m afraid that the author may come to kick my ass.
Nevertheless, Goetsch’s book has a four star opening piece, "Counting." The poem encompasses images that the author would count as a kid, from " pine needles on the shoulder of the road/ bubbles in my white summer spit." to breaths and even standing next to God, counting. My favorite image is this end of one stanza,
I dreamed of counting the galaxies
Part One has some of the strongest poems in it, two of which face side by side, "The Walls" and the title piece, Nobody’s Hell. The former is a short poem in which every image disintegrates within your mind. The latter work, starts off with how physically numb the author could get from winter, but ends on an image of a chilling numb that physically freezes you even more: experiencing racism on the receiving end. All of the poems in Part One have a simultaneous young adult and adult perspective. Goetsch does not so much romanticize his youth as he presents it like a film. He has done all of the directing and editing and you the reader are left entertained by what is flickering now before your eyes.
Onto the part he’s going to kick my ass over. I don’t feel that Part Two is as strong. These poems are the early adult poems and seemed to fizzle towards the end. I don’t know if it was the gambling, the booze or the failed dates, but the title "Love in Las Vegas" seemed to read "Leaving Las Vegas" as I finished this section. The two redeemers in this section are "Urban Poem" and "The Key," the latter of which opens with the line, "I have memorized the coastline/ of your key." Still, I feel that if this is the introduction to what Hanging Loose Press has to offer, I am eager to find out the diversity [of] its other authors. I am also eager to see what Mr. Goetsch will have out in the next five to ten years. Perhaps he can bring his next book to my front door and brain me with it.
Matt Welter, Cambridge Book Review
"On the Poetry of Douglas Goetsch"
by Mike Steffen
If there is one blindingly obvious fact to the poetry of Douglas Goetsch, it is this: a desire not to let go of experience, to linger over persons and incidents in the ordinary course of life, to fix in memory whatever he deems worthy, with all of its depth and subtle shadings. In Goetsch’s poems, the speaker is always considering and considering things, lingering over whatever involves him, unable to part with anything or anyone he may have loved or even hated. Goetsch’s desire, as compelling and pervasive as it is, is the active motive behind his work. It’s what drives him to find language that is durable and suggestive enough to evoke the impact that reality has made on his feelings and awareness. The urge to retain what will inevitably be lost is the most powerful source of his work.
There is a colloquial bite to Goetsch’s voicehardspoken diction coupled with an acerbic wit. And I like how he seems to know exactly where he is at all times in his poems. He knows when to accelerate, to shift gears, throttle down. Though the form of his poems is, for the most part, unremarkable, his syntax direct and unelaborate, Goetsch is deceptively skillful. He doesn’t rely on pyrotechnics to get his point across. In fact, he seems to eschew any poetic convention that seems overly dramatic, preferring instead a direct utterance, a steady narrative thrust, endings that are arrived at, not driven towards, language that is edgy and interesting. The components of his poems work as a unitsubtle rhythms, simple forms, inconspicuous rhymes. His phrasing, though, often suggests a more evocative "quick strike" impulse, not a tame intelligence that seeks to develop an idea or an emotion by associating it to some carefully selected image or situation. In this way, Goetsch routinely shuns Eliot’s "objective correlative," which seems to have been a governing influence for the way many twentieth-century poets in this country expressed emotion in their work. Under Eliot’s guiding principle, the poet is supposed to line up a set of objects or a chain of events in a poem which then become a formula for the emotion(s) the poet is trying to express. With this approach, though, poems seem to feel more "constructed," less spontaneous. Goetsch deftly avoids this problem by repeatedly opting for language that is chock full of interesting, often unusual connections. His poems frequently have the feel of spontaneity about them, their emotions based more on impulse rather than on any organizing principle. It’s an approach that seems to yield a freer emotional range to his work, a genuine intensity and honesty.
When looked at separately, Goetsch’s poems don’t appear to do much. But when viewed together, the effect is remarkable. No single poem stands out. Rather, it is the accumulation of his work that impresses. The whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Goetsch poems seem to encourage us to embrace directness and simplicity, to let everything we can imagine or experience be contained in phrases that are candid, without ornamentation, tilted against complacency. In his writing, we get a sense of language that matters, of poetry that will not perish.
Douglas Goetsch, author of Wherever You Want (which won the Pavement Saw Press Chapbook Award), also has a strong ear, but the sounds he creates are not predictable. The music of one poem here is rarely that of another, so I was not surprised to read on the book’s back cover that the poet works part time as a jazz dancer. The variations in tone and rhythm range from the staccato, mostly single‑ Syllable words of "Dark Morning"‑"Mom woke me. Power was out. / She handed Me a flashlight"‑to the more languid words, lines and sentences of "Dinosaurs": "It is the first day of summer, and it feels like it / to the man walking home from work‑not / just hear, but something electric in the breeze, / the swishing of skirts on bare thighs, whistles of shirtless bicycle messengers."
The best poems in Wherever You Want are very good‑abundant in narrative, palpably musical, and powerful enough to both challenge and disturb. Here is the Chapbook’s final poem, "Living Alone":
You take the homeless guy for a cup of coffee
I appreciate here not only the humor ("You love waitresses: they always come back." and the pun in stanza four, "The sun is going down. / Your move"), but also the way the poem’s longest sentence is the one in which the speaker makes physical contact. albeit with someone else’s dog. Much of this chapbook is focused on a young man’s desire to be desired‑by a beautiful female, but also by the father whose "most fatherly" comment takes Place during the one time the speaker and he play golf together: he kicked my ball out of the bunker, so I could make par, so he could say, "Atta boy!" "Watching Golf on Father’s Day"
Goetsch’s poems are filled with city images, so many that in one poem he addresses this. Speaking to "nature poets [who] think you’ve got it, hostaged / somewhere in Vermont or Oregon," Goetsch suggests that along with other city people he is "Made of newspaper and smoke," that "our pigeons play it close / to the vest," and even "When the moon is full / we hear it in the sirens."
Such a quiet sense of humor helps to balance the volume, most of whose poems take sex for their subject: a young man’s sexual desire, his recognition of his father’s, and the confusion, pain, and anger caused by both. If there is any Weakness here, it his something to do, I suspect with apparent truth beneath these poems’ surfaces: there are a few uncomfortable moments when we are left feeling pity rather than empathy for the speaker, who seems at those instances to be the undistanced poet himself.
I wondered why Goetsch includes three prose pieces‑one of them, the tide work, going on for three pages. Although there are no laws governing the composition of chapbooks, I found the combination of genres somewhat disorienting. Perhaps Goetsch and the editors at Pavement Saw Press liked the way the prose interrupts the rhythms inherent in verse, for it is true that the narrative here‑in all the pieces, prose and poetry‑is strong. But so is the music of the poems. Goetsch writes such good "music," in fact, that I believe he misses opportunities to discover musical variation in his prose pieces.
I was pleased that the publisher of Wherever You Want included a tide list of the twenty‑three poems contained in the chapbook; however, I was frustrated that the volume is not paginated, so it is not easy to locate any particular poem. This inconvenience side. Goetsch has written an impressive first collection.
Andrea Hollander Budy, The Georgia Review