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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Activist poet Goodheart presents ‘Earthquake Season’

Published: April 15, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

Poet Jessica Goodheart read selections from her first book of poetry “Earthquake Season” and brought to life brief snippets of bright imagery for members of the Brandeis campus on a rainy evening.

This wasn’t Goodheart’s first time at Brandeis campus; in fact, the university has a unique place for Goodheart. Her father, Eugene Goodheart, taught English at Brandeis, so the university played a significant role in her past. The audience, comprised mostly of members of the Brandeis faculty, was warm in their reception of Goodheart.

Currently, Goodheart is an environmental activist who works for an advocacy organization based in Los Angeles. LAANE promotes the development of a “new economy” with an emphasis on a healthy environment and good jobs.

Although some of Goodheart’s poetry featured natural imagery, her focus was on various human dramas. Her poems were populated with unfulfilled servants, Wal-Mart workers, mothers and office denizens. They dealt with human needs and wants.

One of her poems, dedicated to Jdimytai Damour, a Wal-Mart worker who died in the crush of people who swarmed the store on a Black Friday, focused on humanity’s destructive desires. She portrayed Damour as a stone and the shoppers as an indifferent wave.

Her strongest poems, however, were those which displayed Goodheart’s biting sense of humor. Her poetry dealing with motherhood was greeted by chuckles from the audience and nods from the female attendees as if to say “that’s right.” In “Caesarian,” Goodheart tells her newborn child who had been plucked from her, “I was not ready to meet you this way.” Another poem dealt with college-aged “babies” whose parents had to clap for them and praise a job well done.

Not all of Goodheart’s poems were amusing; however, some resulted from adversity. One poem was a response to her 2005 cancer diagnosis. Using the imagery of Russian nesting dolls, “Matryoshka” was powerful in its depiction of a woman who discovers that in her “right breast a ragged flower bloomed.”

Sprinkled throughout Goodheart’s poetry were flashes of brilliant imagery. In describing a c-section, she said that she was “split like a blood orange;” in a poem about a child at the beach, she beautifully depicted “the wind’s fingers takes his face in hand.” Another memorable moment was when, in the poem “My Doorman is a poet in need of praise,” she said that “doors are like books that he opens and closes.”

Most of Goodheart’s pieces were brief, and she seemed to go from one to the other very quickly. There was no time for a reflective pause between poems, for them to sink in; instead, they settled lightly on the audience who had no time for deeper introspection. This could have also been because a few of her poems, while employing vibrant imagery, seemed to exist solely on the surface. What more meaning could “Advice for a Stegasaurous” have? Or “Stick Your Head in the Copier”? This begs the question: Should all poems have deeper meanings?

Whatever the answer may be, Goodheart’s reading made for a delightful evening of poetry, a relaxing way to spend time before the break.