The Personhood Project Episode 19: Phil Goldstein
Updated: Sep 8
Sitting down with host Aaron Tyler Hand this month is poet, editor, and copywriter Phil Goldstein. In it they discuss Goldstein's debut collection, How To Bury a Boy at Sea, and the ways he used the poems in the book to help process childhood trauma and help close a painful chapter in his life. Goldstein also recommends ways to write towards a personal truth when there isn’t much separation between speaker and poet, and the importance of having a therapist when writing deeply personal poems. The two also talk about the lack of creative outlets available in carceral systems to help people work through feelings of isolation.
Poetry can be impactful outside of time
Above us the sky lost its natural hue
the clouds locked and the gate closed
trapped for a murder I didn’t
My mind a never ending wheel
of outrageous thoughts
A yearning to be free
from a room filled with nothing
but hot breath and dirty pussy
My dreams of getting high
again keeping me from sleep
Talking so much
Talking about nothing
of substance. O how I realize
ignorance is a disease
A disease incurable
Something you let ride
and laugh off as to pass the already
Can’t even walk
there’s no stars or sun
there only these four walls
around me and this gate
that locks it’s a cage
I sleep on the cold floor
but I have a bed
where this is nothing
but I hear a voice
and it’s not me
hear footsteps but it’s
not me I’m just here
in this cage til
one breath closer to my last
one moment closer to the end
will freedom ever be found at last
soaring high high in the heavens
that’s where I’m meant to be
that’s where I will be when I am free
cold . dark . lonely
scared . confused . angry
chains fall off
happy . liberated . free
I want to eat a steak
yet I know he can’t
his tummy will ache
I don’t want no more salads
yet I know what he goes through
I used to let my chocolate candy run
but now it’s always
frozen hard as a rock
hope I don’t break a tooth
I never ate greens yet
to help him stay
I’m going to stay clean and help
Fries and fast are no longer for us
Cancer is the enemy
I’m his wife
Together we learn to fight
In this place there's a lot of sadness
yet I see so much beauty. People come in so lost
and tired and then one day they are renewed. Full
of life, well rested and fed some food
and I’m glad to be the one who got to hold them
here til they find the path that they were
met to take. Some stay lost and leave
only to return with the same lost soul.
Many feel alone but little do they know
I am right here. Whispering to them all day
to cheer them on, help them find their way.
There are many beautiful things I have seen
Then again there is so much ugliness.
I travel on these tracks and I feel it all.
The sun shining down warming my rails
The rain washing me off
The wind blowing
The hardest is death.
How do I pretend it never happens?
I only wish I could have stopped.
I get lost or no energy or I set you off track
everybody puts their filth on me
and fight over me or sometimes I bring people together
it can be so loud you want
to scream or so low it frustrates
me and makes me wanna
it’s like being on a roller coaster
of emotions happy sad excited scared
but in the end I
have the power to turn it all off
not omnipresent but everywhere you look there I am.
I hold it all together as you fall apart.
Stick with me because you have to.
Stacked taller than your sun deprived eyes can
look over, I will not tumble so easily.
Only in your dreams will you break free.
Open your eyes to a new day and
there I will be again, stagnant as ever
and just as loyal as you are to me.
Goldstein uses “How to Bury a Boy at Sea” to explore themes of self-discovery, grief, and the complexities of relationships. He part that really stands out at hitting all of these themes is in the fifth stanza when he says “He had caged me here & I had agreed to be caged. / I thought cages were safe. They are not; they are merely a tool / used to keep us from being in our natural state.” Write a poem where you talk about what being caged means to you. In what ways are caged, both mentally and physically? How is being caged keeping you from your “natural state”?
“What a Bed Takes In” is a persona poem. A persona poem is a poem written from the point of view of another person or object. In this case, Goldstein is writing from the perspective of a mattress. In this poem, the mattress talks about the many things it’s seen and the regrets it has for not stopping some of them. Write a persona poem from the point of view of an everyday object (you can pick a mattress like Goldstein did or anything you want). In the poem, share all of the things that this object has witnessed in its life.