It seems unavoidable that the assemblage of a time capsule would release a sense of unabashed sentimentality and nostalgia in its creator. Poet Albert Goldbarth has not been spared this fate with To Be Read in 500 Years, his take on the Golden Records that were blasted into space aboard the Voyager spacecrafts in 1977. This lengthy collection surely displays a whole-hearted attempt to distill the intangibles in which human joy resides. However, with so much attention paid to the largeness of his self-assigned task, Goldbarth neglects to provide engaging analysis of what he's collected.
Goldbarth's ponderings resonate like guest lectures practiced in the shower; at best, they're quirky — a happy reminder of comfortable memories and the potential for goodness to come — and at worst, they're self-important. His observations run a well-trodden path of everyday experience, yet his conclusions rarely scratch the surface. A particularly egregious example of this comes in a lengthy poem in which Goldbarth (amidst all his playful diction, enthusiastic scare quotes and historical digressions) repeatedly implores creative writing students to "keep a dream journal" to "battle against ephemerality."
"Rereading Attempts at Poetry from My Earliest Teenage Years" presents a self-deprecating yet sentimental review of young work. While the poem attempts to pass older-wiser judgment on the topics of childhood poetic musings — noting that "only great ignorance" tackles the grand themes that young poetry often takes on — the poem is simply too pleased with itself. Referring to the younger self, it begins, "Frankly it amazes me/—how urgently he talked about death,/this sweet blank flan of a boy." But is that really an amazing revelation, or just the ordinary stuff of teenage musing?
In the end, the problem with To Be Read is not that it attempts to draw everyone together through shared experience, but that it does so in isolation from meaningful conversation. If Goldbarth's poems entered a dialogue with outside ideas, the result could be something that pushes our understanding of humankind further rather than simply pointing, albeit enthusiastically, at what we already know.