Goedicke, Patricia

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GOEDICKE, Patricia

Nationality: American. Born: Patricia McKenna, Boston, Massachusetts, 21 June l931. Education: Middlebury College, Vermont, B.A. (cum laude) 1953 (Phi Beta Kappa, 1952); Ohio University, Athens, M.A. 1965. Family: Married 1) Victor Goedicke in 1956 (divorced 1968); 2) Leonard Wallace Robinson in 1971. Career: Editorial assistant, Harcourt Brace and World publishers, New York, 1953–54, and T.Y. Crowell publishers, New York, 1955–56. Instructor in English, Ohio University, 1963–68, and Hunter College, New York, 1969–71; reader-writer, Book-of-the-Month Club, 1968–69; associate professor of creative writing, Instituto Allende, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico, 1972–79; writer-in-residence, Kalamazoo College, Michigan, 1977; guest faculty member of the writing program, Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York, 1980–81. Poet-in-residence, 1981–83, associate professor, 1983–90, and since 1990 professor of creative writing, University of Montana, Missoula. Co-editor, Page, 1961–66. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts award, 1969, fellowship, 1976–77; William Carlos Williams award (New Letters), 1977; Duncan Frazier prize (Loon), 1976; Quarterly West prize, 1977; Carolyn Kizer award, 1987; Strousse award (Prairie Schooner), 1987; Vi Gale award honorable mention (Hubbub), 1987; Arvon International Poetry Competition special commendation, 1987; Hohenberg award (The Memphis State Review), 1988; University of Montana research grant, 1989; New York Times Notable Book of the Year 1990, for The Tongues We Speak: New and Selected Poems; University of Montana Distinguished Scholar award, 1991; Edward Stanley award (Prairie Schooner), 1992; Rockefeller Foundation residency at Villa Serbelloni on Lake Como, Bellagio, Italy, 1992. Address: Department of English, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana 59812, U.S.A.



Between Oceans. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1968.

For the Four Corners. Ithaca, New York, Ithaca House, 1976.

The Trail That Turns on Itself. Ithaca, New York, Ithaca House, 1978.

The Dog That Was Barking Yesterday. Amherst, Massachusetts, Lynx House Press, 1980.

Crossing the Same River. Amherst, University of Massachusetts Press, 1980.

The King of Childhood. Lewiston, Idaho, Confluence Press, 1984.

The Wind of Our Going. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon Press, 1985.

Listen, Love. Muncie, Indiana, Barnwood Press, 1986.

The Tongues We Speak: New and Selected Poems. Minneapolis, Milkweed, 1989.

Paul Bunyan's Bearskin. Minneapolis, Milkweed, 1992.

Invisible Horses. Minneapolis, Milkweed, 1996.

As Earth Begins to End. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon Press, 2000.


Critical Studies: "The Fruit of Her Orchard" by Tom O'Grady and Shirley Bossert, in New Letters (Kansas City), fall 1977; "A Bow to Women for Poetic Providing Wealth" by G.E. Murray, in Sun-Times (Chicago), 9 July 1978; "The Trail That Turns on Itself" by Peter Schjedahl, in New York Times Book Review, 17 December 1978; "The Desperate Tongue" by Ron Slate, in Three Rivers Poetry Journal (Pittsburgh), March 1979; by Rochelle Ratner, in Library Journal (New York), March 1980; by David Clothier, in Los Angeles Times Book Review, 27 April 1980; by David Kirby, in Times Literary Supplement (London), 13 June 1980; in Virginia Quarterly Review (Charlottesville), summer 1980; by Robert Phillips, in New Letters (Kansas City), summer 1980; by Hayden Carruth, in Harper's (New York), December 1980; by Donald M. Hassler, in Tar River Poetry Review (Greenville, North Carolina), spring 1981; "Intellect, Grit, and a Chance to Sing in Our Chains" by Douglas Myers, in The Missoulian (Missoula, Montana), 31 May 1985; "Poetry: Changes and Channels" by Robert McDowell, in The Hudson Review (New York), summer/fall 1985; in Virginia Review, 61(4), autumn 1985; by Betty Thiebes, in Cutbank, 1985; "Lion" by Richard Simpson, in Tar River Poetry Review, fall 1985; by Hans Ostrum, in Small Press Review, November 1985; in Bloomsbury Review, November 1985; "Disc Jockeys, Eggplants, and Despesparacidos" by Carol Muske, in New York Times Book Review, 9 February 1986; by Lex Runciman, in Western American Literature, 11(3); by Bette Tomlinson, in The Missoulian, 12 December 1986; by Floyd Skloot, in Calapooya Collage (Monmouth, Oregon), 11, summer 1987; "Poetry in Moments," in The Missoulian (Missoula, Montana), 28 July-3 August 1989; "Wordsworth and Four Americans" by Richard Simpson, in Tar River Poetry Review, fall 1989; "Giving in to the Passions" by Stephen Dobyns, in New York Times Book Review, 28 January 1990; "Giving Voice to Vision" by Kay Marie Porterfield, in Bloomsbury Review (Denver), March/April 1990; "Kent State: A Gathering of Poets" by David Shevin, in People's Daily World Magazine, 19 May 1990; "Taking Nothing for Granted" by Bette Tomlinson, in New Letters (Kansas City), spring 1990; by Gennie Nord, in The Missoulian, 29 March 1992; by Carolyn Kuebler, in Hot Dish, March/April 1992; by Janet Homer, in Cutbank, 38, summer 1992; by John Bradley, in Calapooya Collage, 16, August 1992; by Alice Derry, in Hubbub, 2(1), fall 1992; "Emblems of Authenticity" by Frank Allen, in Poet Lore (Bethesda, Maryland), spring 1993; "Parody, Passion, and Communion" by Richard Simpson, in Tar River Poetry Review, 32(2), spring 1993; "American Latitudes" by Calvin Bedient, in The Southern Review (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 29(4), October 1993; by James Finn Cotter, in The Hudson Review (New York), summer 1994; "Patricia Goedicke, Jorie Graham, and Mary Kinzie" by Jonathan Holden, in Prairie Schooner (Lincoln, Nebraska), fall 1997.

Patricia Goedicke comments:

I write to set myself and perhaps a few others free: free politically in the sense that the process of "sharing" the private views of reality each of us sees from the separate hotel room windows of our lives is part and parcel of the assertion—indeed even a validation—of the very idea of community; and free spiritually in the sense that the intensity of poetry's concentration on the already deeply metaphorical character of language is chiefly important for the way it enables the individual, apparently incorporeal psyche to move back and forth between the material world of exterior reality and the invisible, eternally isolated interior world of the self.

Also, trusting in poetry's fierce insistence on the—at least—double-edged, continually punning nature of language to keep us true to the many-folded complexities of "the real story" of whatever experience brings us, I write to keep myself honest. And finally I write for pleasure, not only for the sheer delight—familiar to everyone—of rolling words around in the mouth but also for rhythm's sake, in a prosy world of walkers to evoke the liberating power of the dance, of poetry's great, healing ability to move us, as we say, "beyond ourselves."

*  *  *

In her first volume, Between Oceans, Patricia Goedicke treated with spasmodic power the chief themes that have haunted her since—myth and dreams, childhood fantasies, the I-Thou relationship wherever it is found (be it in marriage, friendship, or the larger community), and the issue of paradise and hell in human experience. She has spoken powerfully of the experience of death. Her first book has a poem about a suicide ("Priscilla") and a loved one's death in a hospital ("The Gift"), and a sense of death pervades poems like"The World Draped in White Sheets," which treats the miracle of childhood, when the capacity for perceiving even tragedy and accident as beautiful has not yet been lost:

   No one ever remembers how it rained when we were
   There may have been bucketfuls more than now
         sluicing down over the hills
   Great wet gallons of it spilling down the streets
   but no, it is the snow, the snow we remember
   the scabbed corpse covered up
   the world draped in white sheets.

The poet moves with the eyes of the children who are inventing myth, learning to abstract the unacceptable into the acceptable, and continuing their survivors' duty to marvel:

   The couple that smothered in the car
     and the cold, the cold
       the turnip-white fingers and toes
         the old feet stumbling, stumbling

In her later books Goedicke copes as bravely as any poet of our time with her own mortality; her poems sometimes describe the fight against a life-threatening illness, and she uses all of the resources of wit and metaphor to hold onto poetry's sustaining power and to the people whose love can be crucial. Yet she acknowledges the loneliness and alienation of her struggles:

   Slipping out of the sleeping bag of our love
   Only for a little, to try it
   In the warm bedroom, in the city
   I am astonished, at first
   The air is empty, I am naked
   None of your arms enfold me
   Nevertheless I must walk
   Once in awhile by myself

At every turn she reminds the beloved addressed and the reader (sometimes the reader is her beloved addressed) that it is essential, even a duty, to grasp the beauty of every moment. Yet "… the future is lying in wait / with sad eyes looking back / like a huge slaughtered mountain."

Goedicke is a romantic, and her love poems are always intense and willing to take a risk:

   I'm drinking nothing but rain these days
   Thinking how much I love you
   I still pour tears
   Even in brilliant sunshine,
   Even in snow

She is also alert to the need for change and social responsibility:

   Each day's a hot potato, let me see
   How to say it …
   Between the milk and the orange juice
   I think of the night before, the knife
   Edge of my own tongue—
   But the soldier never intended
   To murder the women and children—

Goedicke's poems often express a startled awareness of the I-Thou fellowship of those who have loved and suffered:

   What faces we hold out to each other! See
   We take off our glasses,
   At meetings our startled smiles
   Shine in the lamplight like such good children
   Nobody believes us, nobody
   Believes anybody

Her concern with what is wrong with the world pervades both personal grief and everyday mundanity:

   While we're out there standing beside a general doing nothing,
   Standing beside the latest rocket doing nothing,
   While we're standing beside the cash registers doing nothing.

Goedicke's search clearly is for serenity: "For the shape of self pity is a real swamp, finally." There also is comfort in a relationship even with the dead: "I put my arms around you / My last sight of you / For I am about to be killed, too." She has documented the familiar but unavoidable stages of grief and concluded, "In the courtyard of my ears / Everyone's death comes whispering." Yet she bravely, even wisely, asserts hope: "We must build more on less."

In her mature poetry, showcased in Paul Bunyan's Bearskin, Goedicke moves through themes already familiar to her readers to a grander vision, one more objective, as if she were observing earth from a spaceship. The title poem is itself a dazzler, reminding one of Ginsberg's discursive poems on a troubled America. The arrogance that has threatened the very existence of the nation, not only a betrayal of its ideals, seems to both poets a manifestation observable at every turn. Men meddle impiously with nature; their technology gives them "claws / to pull down Ursa Major." They wish, like the fools Shakespeare depicted in the days of Henry IV, to change the course of rivers, to make their impression on the heavens. As if from an airship, Goedicke inspects with a worrying compassion a nation that seems to have cancer: "the corpse pinned to coordinates … one-of-a-kind cells breathing / the live rippling spirit of a bear taking up his bed / and walking, no one can predict how or when or where." The Native American bear is trying to survive, and the poet sings of her bond with him and the earth, not with those who have created the stone monuments of Washington, D.C., and Salt Lake City ("dazzling white bone"), showcases of death. A cancer survivor herself, Goedicke has made of her own odyssey through life-threatening illness a journey that has given her much to share with the world, especially a sense of the sacred and how precious the world was before men began their Faustian gambles, staking life on their new discoveries or the inventions of new weaponry, which are their toys.

In "Weight Bearing" an obese Native American seems to bear his caloric burden like the weight of his sufferings. A handsomer image of his isolation strikes the poet as she observes his landscape: "Out there on the mesa he is a lone cottonwood / Muttering to itself in the wind." In fact, Goedicke's poetry is almost entirely the voicing of an equally painful isolation. Even at a cocktail party (depicted in "The Periscope of the Eye"), while others are numbing themselves, angst is intrusive and commands attention, the posing of questions, an obligation to acknowledge that "there's never enough time / to think about how trapped we are, how terrified / Of drowning, of losing ourselves in the ocean / Out there with all those others … My friend says to be able to bear it / We must put on our blinders." This is the dilemma, but for being concerned the speaker is merely further alienated, even punished, a payoff hardly to be desired.

Yet complacency and indifference seem as elusive to Goedicke's speakers as they are easy to the people who surround her at cocktail parties. "But now all we have is our own life jackets" seems a pathetic wail, a cry for help that is answered only by "steamy saunas of self help …" and some joy of the body: "Cruising along in the one body / That keeps me and my family safe." Her ramblings—philosophical and provocatively near theology with their questioning about life's ultimate meaning—never seem far from a nostalgia for Eden, a simpler world, a praise of poverty and simplicity, lost to intellectuals of every ilk: "My friend says Poetry blooms best / On bread and water, even slipped through the barred / Metal hatchways of prisons." Goedicke's work affirms the old truth that only the outsider sees through shame and pretense and can offer the truth needed to confront the world's evil. "But here," she says of the unreal "real world" (this reader suspects that she includes the academic as well as the military-industrial and the political establishment, bureaucratic power structures of every description, not exempting religion), "Poetry is invisible: / As strange silos thrust themselves up …" The silos come not just from under the earth but also from those haunted caverns where the designs first formed themselves, the aggressive mind of man, "out of the troughs of the unconscious." The poet survives by "pretending I don't care, hurling myself into the statistics / In the land of instant gratification …" Yet that is no gratification at all, she confesses. Such complacency and me-tooism offer as temporary a fix as ice cream on the tongue.

Goedicke does not seem to think that technology has helped. In "Coin of the Realm" all money seems tainted by the weapons industry that endangers the lives of all, most poignantly the children. The worst-case scenario that the cold war's end promised to resolve—beneath the sham and false promises—is a continuing and terrible cause for anxiety. The doomsday scenario is kept active as a possibility and an option. Goedicke's poem seems to see purported progress as a tease and a torture. The threat is still present, and we still bankrupt ourselves to keep humanity terrified. The "missile silo near Great Falls / Montana" is still manned.

We share a planet, then, with those who are aware, terrified, and concerned—and also with the indifferent who prowl about them. Unfortunately, as Goedicke maintains in "Beyond the Mountains," our compassion is limited to what we can identify with, what we have ourselves suffered. "Pain has no shape" so long as it is known only through photographs. Only when we have walked in another's shoes can we get outside ourselves enough to care what that person has been through. We are left, therefore, with a terrible vulnerability, an inadequate sense of what we need to protect ourselves and others from. In many poems Goedicke explores the ramifications of these dilemmas and paradoxes. Her people seem to be caught in a vise of suffering yet are too concerned for the world to beg for release, for that would make them the equals of those who do not care, whose indifference helps perpetuate suffering.

Goedicke's particular confluence of formal, intellectual, and imagistic acuity is the marker of her poems. Language as the expression of the self and the terms of the relationship between body and mind are the continuing concerns of her later work. In Invisible Horses, Goedicke's 1996 collection, the physical body's intelligence and consciousness—"crows falling from a brain sky / full of holes"—tells us about ourselves and physicalizes our thinking. In "The Danger of Falling" the voice tells us that what is "extraordinary" is "being-here / / or anywhere," because the body, a mere "collection of cells," goes about its business unhindered, both conscious and somehow severed from consciousness. In "Recipe," the first poem in the book, Goedicke states that "the flesh you live in is an anchor / of damp stones, you cannot move with or without it." This duality—and sometimes contradiction—of experience is the poet's hallmark as well as her particular bravery. Gratitude and devastating loss, loneliness and companionship are all equally defining for her, as "Because We Are Not Separate" states, "frantic / as crabs" at one moment, "exquisite / as a hummingbird" the next. Goedicke's astounding technical limberness and agility are reasserted again in Invisible Horses. Long-lined and short-lined poems, heavily and lightly punctuated poems, dense and looser verse—all reflect the poet's playfulness and love for poetic expression.

It is interesting that the subject of Invisible Horses is linked so closely to that of the deterioration of both the mind and body in old age, the subject of As Earth Begins to End, Goedicke's collection published in 2000. Here the earth itself is treated as a dissolving body, as the title poem asserts—"I've never been able to tell, where we end and earth begins beyond us"—and the pressures of last chances play through almost every poem—"the random cha-cha of cells hacked / into smaller metaphysical tatters." Electric leaps and tones mark the poems and play into the abstractions that always charge the poet. The titles of the poems—"What Holds Us Together," "What the Dust Does," "The Things I May Not Say"—can create a blurry sense of the book's concerns. Life for all of us ends too quickly, and Goedicke, in her resilient, life-affirming, and complex way, has pulled together the energies required to face these endings.

—David Ray and

Martha Sutro