Los Angeles readers may be forgiven for thinking that Dana Goodyear is a food writer. In The New Yorker, where Goodyear has been a staff writer since 2007, she's written about Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, the chefs who own Animal and Son of a Gun. She's cataloged the dining habits of Jonathan Gold, trailing the restaurant critic from restaurant to San Gabriel restaurant for months, pen and notebook in hand. Most recently, she chronicled the guerrilla dining world of Wolvesmouth's Craig Thornton.
But Goodyear is many things to many people. To those at USC, she's a lecturer in creative nonfiction. To young-adult writers, she's the co-founder of Figment, an online community for YA fiction. To compulsive channel surfers, she's the owner of a website that somehow functions as an Etch-a-Sketch. But to those of us who read her poetry in The New Yorker, she's a poet.
Maybe because she's been busy trailing itinerant chefs, Goodyear waited eight years after her debut poetry collection, Honey and Junk, published in 2005 by Norton, for the follow-up. The Oracle of Hollywood Boulevard comes out later this month, also from Norton. And the wait, in addition to giving us all fun nonfiction to read, has been worth it.
Poets can bring many skills to the world of journalism (compression, good headlines), but the skills journalists bring to poetry are less often in evidence. Goodyear locates her second book in Los Angeles, where she now lives. But although there is a certain requisite composition of place — you can't title your book as she does without establishing street cred — the landscape is as much interior as exterior.
Goodyear's voice has weathered since her last collection, as parenthood and the vicissitudes of reporting the imperfect world have their effect. The poems are more compact, the images tighter and more elaborate, than in her earlier work — as if the gorgeous absurdity of the California landscape has given her more to juggle. Or maybe it's just the way things work — the years, the accumulating scenery — in the hands of someone who pays attention.
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Goodyear weaves past and present, mythic and local, as in the excellent "Wild Fire," wherein the poet considers the myth of Daphne, the nymph who, chased by Apollo into a forest, becomes a laurel in order to escape her fate. In Goodyear's poem, she's transformed back into a girl, only to have the poet observe, "All it takes is one dumb fuck, trigger-happy,/with a six-pack and bad aim,/to fill the world with flames." That's always been true but seems even more so these days. In one poem: Catullus. In another: Griffith Park.
Of course in this poem, and others, it's both catastrophe and chronicle — which is part of the fun. Myth and the mundane layer themselves, as they do to the freeway-literate. That's why the collection's title is ironic rather than literal, a conflation of the past and the present that is filtered through the lens of the absurd.
In the final poem of the collection, called "Home," which is maybe ironic or maybe not, Goodyear writes, "This imperfect world./We are going, we are almost gone." It's the reporter's job to catalog the end, to notice the suburban swimming pools, to interview the owners of the dildo factories. It's the job of a poet to triangulate the end, to figure out what it might look like, if it comes or it does not. In Goodyear's book, she does both, and in so doing, triangulates the landscape even further.