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Spring 2003

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Goldensohn retires

At the close of spring semester, poet Barry Goldensohn—who’s the first to admit he loves teaching—will delight in the fact that he can finally spend as much time as he wants writing his own poems. Ah, the luxury of retirement.
     Before joining Skidmore’s English department in 1982, Goldensohn taught at Goddard and Hampshire Colleges and at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. His poetry collections include St. Venus Eve, Uncarving the Block, The Marrano, Dance Music, and East Long Pond, and his poems and essays have been published widely. Besides writing, his special interests include twentieth-century British and American poetry; Shakespeare, Swift, Blake, Keats, Hopkins; and women poets.

Poet Barry Goldensohn
     “Lively colleagues and students,” plus Salmagundi, have made Skidmore “a nice place to work,” Goldensohn states. “I’ve been teaching since the Eisenhower era—and this is by far the best English department.” Absent at Skidmore, he notes, is the “grim and deeply unimaginative competitiveness—and trendiness—that typically creeps in to art-school atmospheres.” Skidmore’s undergraduate program, he says, is “more open.”

     Goldensohn’s workshops have been popular among students, though he discloses, “I’m not one of those warm and fuzzy teachers who praises indiscriminately. I think false praise in an art is terrible. I mean, no piano teacher would praise someone’s mistakes. So, I’m perceived by a lot of students as ‘friendly, but severe’!” He once overheard a conversation among several seniors who were “hilariously quoting to one another the awful things I’d said to them about their poems. But anyone has to be able to hear criticism as well as encouragement.”

     As a teacher, Goldensohn resists categorization. His approach to teaching students how to write is hardly rigid, but he does weigh in with suggestions. He reminds them that they have to make decisions and take risks with their poems. “I teach a lot about form, but don’t insist they use it,” he states. “I do insist they read, because art begets art.” And he teaches them “to read from the inside, the way poets read—to read with real engagement, with the choices a writer is making moment by moment as he writes. It’s a very vital and exciting way to read.”

     He himself is “not a poet of one subject,” Goldensohn observes. “I write about a lot of things: politics, passion, death, love—the classic stuff.” His colleague Robert Boyers has noted that his poems bear “the mark of a restless and large intelligence, a capacity for wonder that is never very far from a capacity to register and absorb pain.” While retirement may grant Goldensohn considerable time for writing, the process, he claims, is “never like turning on a faucet. The muse is fickle—notoriously so.” But once he’s conducted his last workshop, the poet intends to crack open the notebooks he’s filled during the semester with imagery, sketches, and drafts—and start extracting poems.

     Other plans include spending time with friends in California and then in Vermont, where he and his wife have a home. Eventually, they hope to visit Paris and London, two of their favorite cities. —MTS


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