Born in 1920 in North Carolina, Barbara Guest spent her childhood in Florida and California, and evidence of these varied places is revealed in her poetry. After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, Barbara Guest settled in New York City, where she became connected with the equally emerging poets and Abstract-Expressionist artists of the New York School, who were in turn to influence her poetry. For several years, she reviewed art for Art News, and continued to write about painting in that magazine and in Art and America. Painting and its allied arts have remained a constant in her poetry, particularly through her continuing collaborations with artists. She died on February 15, 2006, in Berkeley, where she has lived, with her daughter Hadley, during the final years of her life.
Her first books of poetry, including The Location of Things, Poems, and The Blue Stairs, were published in the 1960s. During the 1970s, books such as Moscow Mansions, The Countess from Minneapolis, and, in particular, a novel, Seeking Air, pointed to a sense of structure moving in more varied and experimental directions. This was true of her acclaimed biography of the poet H.D., Herself Defined, and especially true of a major poem, The Türler Losses, and of Biography, a book of poetry published in 1980. Fair Realism (1989) was followed within a year by Musicality, a collaboration with artist June Felter, and Defensive Rapture (1990), of which a critic observed that Guest was now "pushing the reader into the spiritual and metaphysical possibilities of language itself."
Guest has continued to publish prolifically during the 1990s, and her work has been recognized by major awards and honors. A festschrift was held at Brown University in her honor in 1993, and for two consecutive years (1995 and 1996), she received America Awards for literature from the Contemporary Arts Council -- for her Selected Poems and for Quill, Solitary Apparition. Fair Realism was awarded the Lawrence Lipton Prize, and Defensive Rapture received the San Francisco State University Poetry Award. In 1999, she was awarded the Frost Medal for Lifetime Achievement by the Poetry Society of America.
Pub. May 2000, update 2006