While I was writing [Laws of Rest], I felt that all language was alive…I don’t get too concerned with how my work fits together—I just try to explore fully whatever compels me, and hope that I end up in a place I didn’t anticipate.
—David B. Goldstein
David B. Goldstein is one of BookThug’s three debut authors this fall, launching a collection of poetry called Laws of Rest. Laws of Rest is about constraint, and freedom despite constraint, a theme reflected in everything from the words themselves, to how they are arranged on the page, to the unusual, perfectly square trim size of the book itself. In this collection, Goldstein explores a new form, the prose sonnet—an intricate chamber of text enclosed within four quatrains of right-justified prose. In their box-like aesthetics, the poems conjure the weird, meticulous worlds of Joseph Cornell or Edmund Spenser. But anything can happen in these little rooms, in which the overheard conversation of taxi drivers, invented verses of Virgil, found text about Middle-Eastern geopolitics, and the music of extinct butterflies merge into unpredictable collage.
Laws of Rest explores what happens when those little tunes the sonneteers invented (“sonnet” comes from Italian for “little song”) are sung in prose. Or, perhaps, what happens when poetry meets prose in a space so small that neither can escape the other’s clutches.
—David B. Goldstein
Presiding over all is the gender-bending character Lucy, the subject of a failed love affair conducted in convenience stores and equestrian centers. In an interview with Open Book Toronto, Goldstein discusses the intricacies of her character: Lucy is female, but the narrator’s gender is fairly indeterminate, and the gender parameters of their relationship shift over the course of the sequence,” he explains. “I’ve always been fascinated by gender, sexual orientation, and the ways that these play out unpredictably in relationships. In my experience, few people fit gender stereotypes in all their rigidity, and the links between desire and the object of that desire is still a puzzle. These poems were an attempt to explore some of that.” The book ends with a series of poems for a friend who died young, bringing to elegaic focus the poems’ quest to understand the laws of rest (a phrase taken from the Jewish laws of Sabbath observance): the stillness of loss, the mute repose at the end of speaking.
To make a David Goldstein poem: put a small library together. Include some rabbinic commentary, some literary theory, some Shakespeare and some transcriptions of cellphone conversations. Add a dash of longing and a dollop of irreverent wit. Stir vigorously. Never remove from heat.
Goldstein’s poetry has appeared in journals and anthologies throughout North America, including The Paris Review, The Malahat Review, filling Station, CV2, Epoch, Harp & Altar, Jubilat, 6×6, and Octopus. His first chapbook, Been Raw Diction, was published by Dusie Press in 2006. As a literary critic, food writer, and translator, he has published on a wide range of subjects, including Shakespeare, contemporary poetry, translation, cannibalism, philosophies of food, and the politics of Martha Stewart. His first book of criticism, Eating and Ethics in Shakespeare’s England, is due out this fall. His translations from Italian poetry appear in The FSG Book of 20th-Century Italian Poetry, among other publications. Goldstein lives with his family in Toronto, where he is Associate Professor of English at York University.
The elegant, inventive prose poems in David Goldstein’s Laws of Rest deploy mathematical rigor—each of the eight poems in each section has four print blocks with four very tight lines each—to contain a fantasy world in which everyday experience is transmuted into things rich and strange. Laws of Rest will keep you on your toes!