On Barry Goldensohn


Robert Boyers

   I was on the committee that hired Barry to teach at Skidmore College, where he remained for about thirty years and rapidly became one of my closest friends. Peg Boyers and I published dozens of his poems in the pages of SALMAGUNDI, and my blurbs appear on the covers of several of his books.

   When Barry told us, about twenty years ago, that he intended to retire from teaching at Skidmore, I knew I was supposed to say how glad I was for him. But I didn’t say that, and I wasn’t glad. I was stunned, incredulous that Barry would think to leave us without him, walking those academic corridors for decades, sharply feeling the loss of the brightness and mischief Barry carried with him. Sure, he assured us, it wasn’t as if we’d never see one another. And yet I knew that, in truth, Barry would no longer be, for eight long months, each academic year, perpetually around, available. How, I wondered, would he be able to do without me? Was I not entirely and indisputably indispensable? Wouldn’t he be devastated by the loss of our mid-week Wednesday night dinners, either at our house or his? Wouldn’t he wonder what arguments we were having with Darryl and Jamaica and Jen and Carolyn on those lively, sometimes contentious Wednesday nights? Would he not speculate obsessively about who’d now be sitting in HIS chair? How could occasional visits with us, in Vermont or Saratoga Springs, possibly compensate him for all of the times when he’d have to settle for the company of other friends? How could it be that I was not as essential to Barry as he was to me? How could his trips each year to London or Paris or Berkeley or Austin, Texas make up for all those hours of casual meandering conversation we enjoyed over the decades—he did enjoy those hours, didn’t he?    And so I did, from the moment Barry retired, always miss him. Would catch myself wondering why, when I was busy with students and editorial work and phone messages, Barry was not strolling amiably into my office like a veritable luftmensch, relaxed, with nothing especially pressing on his mind, to shoot the breeze about a hilarious piece of gossip he’d heard, or some lines of an obscure poem he’d just recalled, or a quandary I was rarely bright enough to clear up for him. Barry Interruptus, one of my favorite colleagues sometimes called him. Sovereign flaneur, never ever content to be merely solitary, hoping always to share and to be taken in. So that again and again in the last two decades I found myself wondering where was our Barry, oddly not now present to break up the grind of a long working afternoon, to suddenly recite from memory a Wyatt poem or an Auden elegy. Abandoned, I sometimes felt, guilty to think that absurd term, and then at once remembering that soon, in time, we’d again get together with Barry and Lorrie Goldensohn. Miraculous, no?, that they had managed to discover even greener pastures than the crowded, often inhospitable offices of SALMAGUNDI magazine and the ample spread of the board at the Boyers dining table.    In truth, Barry has been consistently present for me, in head and heart, for more than forty years, and it’s only now that I find it so very hard to accept that he won’t soon be strolling in with a better than good line or stanza, a perfect recommendation for a film to see or a book to buy or a recording to hear. Won’t be telling me, egged on by Lorrie, that my love for Ella Fitzgerald reflects a failure of discernment on the part of someone who only pretends to have a feeling for jazz.    Of course I have as yet friends for whom I’m ever so grateful, and I’ll always have Barry to compare them to, the model for me of a great, complicated, unpretentious, wry, generous soul, our son Gabe’s favorite friend among all of those we ever introduced him to.