Showing posts with label Barbara Guest. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Barbara Guest. Show all posts

Saturday, February 14, 2015

@ the Library of Congress


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Friday, February 17, 2006

I only met Barbara Guest a few times, when her move back to the town of her college days, Berkeley, overlapped with the final years of my own life in the Bay Area. But with new twins & a job that was gradually evolving into a career, those were the years when I had the least opportunity to get to know a new poet in town. I saw Guest at a few readings, talked with her at a few parties, the last time at the home of Leslie Scalapino & Tom White in Oakland.
Guest was one of just four women included in the Allen anthology – only Denise Levertov went on to match her reputation & her many readers, while the other two, Helen Adam & especially Madeline Gleason, remain neglectorinos big time. One could argue that they all did. One of the defining poets of the New York School, Guest was bizarrely not included in the Ron Padgett-David Shapiro An Anthology of New York Poets, which contained just one woman, Bernadette Mayer, among its 27 poets. Had she refused the editors? Had this quiet woman whose eyes were etched with laugh lines pissed off somebody? The editors discussed omissions, as editors will, but mentioned only Reznikoff & Ginsberg by name.
Still Guest published over 30 books, according to the bibliography linked to her page at the Electronic Poetry Center. Where Levertov became more & more conservative as a poet as she became more & more active in progressive movements, Guest remained a committed & active member of the post-avant community right up to her major stroke of a couple of years ago. She was still publishing with small presses – tho she had books from Wesleyan, Viking & Doubleday in her career as well – always trying new things. One of her later books, Rocks on a Platter, is an essay on poetics in the form of a poem, some of it utterly whimsical, all of it completely serious.
Guest is often considered an example of lyric, which she herself disputed. Her poetry is painterly not only because so much of it was “about” painting or involved in collaboration with painters, from Richard Tuttle to Laurie Reid, but because she used the page very much as a canvas for prosodic & cognitive effects. It’s never about voice – in this regard, she’s the direct ancestor of Clark Coolidge. Her position – both within & apart the first generation of New York Schoolers – is not dissimilar from that of Jack Spicer’s toward the SF Renaissance, especially after Duncan & Blaser bought into Olson’s program. Both groups acquired much greater depth through the presence of such dissenters.
Her biography of H.D. is fascinating to read not only for what it says about Hilda Doolittle, but about Guest, who is largely absent from that text’s narrative. This isn’t an academic exercise – it’s obviously (indeed, still obviously) far more important than that, to treat this modernist forerunner at this level of depth while some of the living players were still around to talk. Guest doesn’t like Doolittle by the end – one can hardly blame her, H.D. pushed everyone away eventually, using people while complaining about it all the while. Tho H.D.’s narcissism was part of a larger lifelong psychiatric disorder, not really her fault, one senses in Guest’s prose an ethics of relationships that is never precisely judgmental, but never wholly absent.
The best of writing I’ve ever come across about Guest is “The Gendered Marvelous” by Rachel Blau DuPlessis. It’s interesting in part because DuPlessis is not one of the women who I think of as having looked to Guest actively as an example for her own art. In that sense, she stands distanced from her topic not unlike how Guest did Doolittle. Yet I think it is impossible for anyone not to notice how we have gone from the days in which women represented just nine percent of the contributors in the Allen anthology, less than four percent in the Padgett-Shapiro one, to an age in which women represent at the very least half of the poetry being written in these United States. Even more than Stein or H.D., that transformation could not have occurred without Barbara Guest.