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Cover art by Douglas Kinsey

About the Author

Barry Goldensohn is the author of 5 collections of poems. He has taught at Goddard College, Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Hampshire College and Skidmore College. When not at home in Cabot, Vermont, he can be found in Berkeley, NYC, Paris or London with his wife, the poet and scholar, Lorrie Goldensohn.


“They couple words and music as surely as Schubert and Irving Berlin. But Goldensohn’s poems aren’t song lyrics; rather, they are intense reflections on music as experienced, by ear and by mind. The essence of listening is his key topic.For the Bach cello suites, it’s the inviting conundrum of one voice being several. For Schumann’s Dichterliebe it’s the clarity and purity of the piano in contest with the “groping,” “searching,” “laboring,” “huffing” voice. Broader issues matter, too: Don Giovanni’s “comic murderous lust” and its absurd end, he and his “phallus errant cursing through the trap door and stage flames.” The people making the music enrich the experience: “The first violinist, all of him, follows his arm… The cellist grinds his teeth, clenches his face in spasms of control.” Blues and jazz are there with the classics: we hear Bessie Smith, “with the whole world’s sorrow in her voice” and see Thelonius Monk “doing a march time heavy footed non-dance dance.” Eros is often up front: “the girls forget themselves, skirts / above their breasts as they flash their white unsunned asses and the house is all meat, / shrieks and hair.”Mainly, we are led to open our ears wider and to abandon the filters that steer our hearing by custom. Immediacy is Goldensohn’s great gift in this brilliant collection.

—Lewis Spratlan, composer, Pulitzer Prize for his opera Life is a Dream

“I know of no other selected poems that selects on one theme, but this one does, charting Goldensohn's career-long attraction to music's performance, consolations and its august, thrilling, scary and clownish charms. Does all art aspire to the condition of music as Pater claimed, exhaling in a swoon toward that one class act? Goldensohn is more aware than the late 19th century of the overtones of such breathing: his poems thoroughly round out those overtones in a poet's lifetime of listening.”

—John Peck, poet, editor, Fellow of the American Academy of Rome.

“Barry Goldensohn has long been a poet of many measures: now intricate and allusive, now tender or severe, here ecstatic, there playful and colloquial. But again and again in his work he has allowed music to lead him to the deepest places, where contraries are evoked and accommodated as they have been only very rarely in our poetry. His newest volume, devoted entirely to the subject of music, brings us poems sovereign and whimsical: the pianist with "gunfighter's hands," the music of love and the loss of love, the strains of a music powerful enough to ‘rouse to sexual frenzy the eroded statues of the female saints.’ With this new book, drawn from the work of a lifetime, Goldensohn reminds us why he has long seemed to many of us ever fresh and sustaining.”

—Robert Boyers, editor, Salmagundi

"These music poems quietly accumulate our desperate need for art."

—Paul Nelson, poet, former Director of Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Ohio University

“Barry Goldensohn is a good listener. But this lovely collection—witty, sensual, moving—is more than a suite of poems about various aspects of music: it’s a multi-faceted meditation on the nature of music itself and its meaning in our lives (and deaths)—from the way, in the title poem, a literally transcendent performance of a Bach cello suite can turn ‘the still/gross grounded lump that listens’ into music, to how in the last poem (“Rest”) the Mozart Requiem becomes ‘the way, lost,/we want ourselves spoken of, sung of.’”

—Lloyd Schwartz, poet, music critic for Boston Phoenix, Pulitzer Prize in Criticism