The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest

The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest


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Winner of the SFSU Poetry Center Book Award (2010)

One of the most notable members of the New York School—and its best-known woman—Barbara Guest began writing poetry in the 1950s in company that included John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara, and James Schuyler. And from the beginning, her practice placed her at the vanguard of American writing. Guest's poetry, saturated in the visual arts, extended the formal experiments of modernism, and played the abstract qualities of language against its sensuousness and materiality. Now, for the first time, all of her published poems have been brought together in one volume, offering readers and scholars unprecedented access to Guest's remarkable visionary work. This Collected Poems moves from her early New York School years through her more abstract later work, including some final poems never before published. Switching effortlessly from the real to the dreamlike, the observed to the imagined, this is poetry both gentle and piercing—seemingly simple, but truly and beautifully dislocating.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"[Barbara Guest's] 500-page Collected Poems belongs among the achievements of 20th-century modernism, a sphere overlapping almost nowhere with the mimetic, anecdotal, psychologically motivated poetry that predominated in the US for much of her career."—Ange Mlinko, London Review of Books

"The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest belongs on every poetry lover's bookshelf. This large and lovely volume, as the title suggests, contains all the poetry Guest published in her lifetime, along with a smattering of new, posthumous poems, a partial bibliography, a time line, and a fine essay by Peter Gizzi."—Dan Giancola, The East Hampton Star

"The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest gradually reveals and artist's growing expressive confidence and self-possession. Despite the false starts and wrong turns, Guest found a way, mastering the labyrinth of tradition and influence. Her work is a struggle to render the order of perception in language, for clarity of the observed phenomenon."—Robert Huddleston, Mantis

"[Barbara Guest's] 500-page Collected Poems belongs among the achievements of 20th-century modernism, a sphere overlapping almost nowhere with the mimetic, anecdotal, psychologically motivated poetry that predominated in the US for much of her career."—Ange Mlinko, London Review of Books

"A micro-cinepoetic border-crosser, Guest epochalized here is already well-known for her exquisite, exacting ways of connecting and weaving her way through various modernist and postmodern Avant-garde trends, visual and verbal, including objectivist poetry, Abstract Expressionism, language poetry, etc."—Kyoo Lee, The Brooklyn Rail

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819567772
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 05/03/2016
Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 600
Sales rank: 692,247
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt



The Location of Things

Why from this window am I watching leaves?
Why do halls and steps seem narrower?
Why at this desk am I listening for the sound of the fall of color, the pitch of the wooden floor and feet going faster?
Am I to understand change, whether remarkable or hidden, am I to find a lake under the table or a mountain beside my chair and will I know the minute water produces lilies or a family of mountaineers scales the peak?


On Madison Avenue I am having a drink, someone with dark hair balances a carton on his shoulders and a painter enters the bar. It reminds me of pictures in restaurants, the exchange of hunger for thirst, art for decoration and in a hospital love for pain suffered beside the glistening rhododendron under the crucifix. The street, the street bears light and shade on its shoulders, walks without crying,
turns itself into another and continues, even cantilevers this barroom atmosphere into a forest and sheds its leaves on my table carelessly as if it wanted to travel somewhere else and would like to get rid of its luggage which has become in this exquisite pointed rain a bunch of umbrellas. An exchange!

That head against the window how many times one has seen it. Afternoons of smoke and wet nostrils,
the perilous makeup on her face and on his,
numerous corteges. The water's lace creates funerals it makes us see someone we love in an acre of grass.

The regard of dramatic afternoons

through this floodlit window or from a pontoon on this theatrical lake,
you demand your old clown's paint and I hand you from my prompter's arms this shako,
wandering as I am into clouds and air rushing into darkness as corridors who do not fear the melancholy of the stair.

  for Mary Abbot Clyde
In the golden air, the risky autumn,
leaves on the piazza, shadows by the door on your chair the red berry
  after the dragonfly summer

we walk this mirroring air our feet chill and silver and golden a portrait by Pinturicchio we permanently taste the dark grapes and the seed pearls glisten

  as the flight of those fresh brown birds an instant of vision that the coupling mind and heart see in their youth with thin wings attacking a real substance
  as Pinturicchio fixed his air.

After all dragonflies do as much in midsummer with a necessary water there is always a heaviness of wings.

  To remember now that the imagination's at its turning how to recall those Pierrots of darkness
(with the half-moon like a yellow leg of a pantaloon)
I would see you again (like the purple P of piazza).

  Imagination thunder in the Alps yet we flew above it then met a confusion of weather and felt the alphabet turning over when we landed in Pekin. I read the late Empress's letters and thought they were yours,
that impeccable script followed by murders

  real or divined as the youth leaning over the piazza throwing stones at his poems. He reads his effigy in the one that ricochets he weeps into the autumn air and that stone becomes golden as a tomb beware the risky imagination

  that lines its piazzas with lambswool or for sheer disturbance places mirrors for Pinturicchio to draw his face at daybreak when the air is clear of shadows and no one walks the piazza.

All Grey-haired My Sisters

All grey-haired my sisters what is it in the more enduring clime of Spring that waits?

The tiger his voice once prayerful around the lax ochre sheen finally in withering sleep its calendar,

  Relatives delicious plumages your scenery has a black musical depth the cardinal flies into he learns to repeat on an empty branch your distillations. Sombre mysteries the garden illumines a shape of honey hive the vigorous drones lighting up your face as fortunes pour from your cold pockets into the heat and glaze, fortresses for those memories brisk in the now doubling air,

  Adventuresses guided by the form and scent of tree and flower blossoming the willow once frail now image cut of stone so to endure,

  My darlings you walked into the wars with wreaths of pine cones, you lay by the sea and your sweet dresses were torn by waves as over each receded and pebbles were lifted at your feet in the foam,

  Ancestress with blond boating hair as daisies drop at your wrists which flight are you making?
down the lime aisles I see your sashes disappear.

Why should I count you more equinoctal, sun?
Smoothly the oars into the bay the ultramarine fast as a castle, or rock its soul plunged to craters virginal

the rapid twist of spume to all-forgetting wrecks, intensely now that story's done.
Mermaids your hair is green. I recognize the powerful daylight heat. My savages a cooling torpor rearranges,
as at its southern margins, the oak.

From your journals He said: "In nymphic barque"
She replied: "A porcupine."
And later,
"Reason selects our otherness."

In the broad strange light,
a region of silences. The delphic clouded tree knows its decline,
if you were to forget animosities, girls,
and in the pagan grass slide heedlessly blossoms would return such songs as I've sung of you, the youthful ashes fling upward settling fragrant brightness on your dusky marquetry,

All grey-haired my sisters this afternoon's seraphicness is also fading. Linger while I pass you quickly lest the cherry's bloom changed to white fall upon my head.

Windy Afternoon

Through the wood on his motorcycle piercing the hawk, the jay the blue-coated policeman

Woods, barren woods,
as this typewriter without an object or the words that from you fall soundless

The sun lowering and the bags of paper on the stoney ledge near the waterfall

Voices down the roadway and leaves falling over there a great vacancy a huge leftover

The quality of the day that has its size in the North and in the South a low sighing that of wings

Describe that nude, audacious line most lofty, practiced street you are no longer thirsty turn or go straight.

Russians at the Beach

The long long accent
  the short vowel that thing wrapped around a palm tree
  is it this water, or this jetty?

The blue, in air dismal
  to the face further than sand then green rolling its own powder
  you will provide you stranger

The cargo intimate cargo
  of lashes and backs bent like a crew the miles are vast and the isthmus
  shows five-toed feet erect thunders all afternoon

You have traveled more than this shore where the long bodies
  their thin heads do not understand

They are bent
  the breeze is light
  as the step of a native is heavy you are tired
  but you breathe
  and you eat and you sleep where the stream is narrow
  where the foam has left off
  the day meets your borders
    so easily
  where you have discovered it.

The Hero Leaves His Ship

I wonder if this new reality is going to destroy me.
There under the leaves a loaf The brick wall on it someone has put bananas The bricks have come loose under the weight,
What a precarious architecture these apartments,
As giants once in a garden. Dear roots Your slivers repair my throat when anguish commences to heat and glow.

  From the water A roar. The sea has its own strong wrist The green turf is made of shells
  it is new.

  I am about to use my voice Why am I afraid that salty wing Flying over a real hearth will stop me?

  Yesterday the yellow Tokening clouds. I said "no" to my burden,
The shrub planted on my shoulders. When snow Falls or in rain, birds gather there In the short evergreen. They repeat their disastrous Beckoning songs as if the earth Were rich and many warriors coming out of it,
As if the calm was blue, one sky over A shore and the tide welcoming a fleet Bronzed and strong as breakers,

  Their limbs in this light Fused of sand and wave are lifted once Then sunk under aquamarine, the phosphorous.
Afterwards this soundless bay,
Gulls fly over it. The dark is mixed With wings. I ask if that house is real,
If geese drink at the pond, if the goatherd takes To the mountain, if the couple love and sup,

  I cross the elemental stations from windy field to still close. Good night I go to my bed.
This roof will hold me. Outside the gods survive.

Les Réalités

It's raining today and I'm reading about pharmacies
  in Paris.
Yesterday I took the autumn walk, known in May
  as lovers' walk.
Because I was overwhelmed by trees (the path from the playhouse leads into a grove and beyond are the gravestones),
squirrels and new mold it is a good thing today to read about second-class pharmacies where mortar and plastic goods disturb death a little and life more. It is as if perpetual rain fell on those drugstores making the mosaic brighter,
as if entering those doors one's tears were cleaner.

  As if I had just left you and was looking for a new shade of powder orchidée, ambre, rosé, one very clarified and true to its owner, one that in a mirror would pass for real and yet when your hand falls upon it
(as it can) changes into a stone or flower of the will and triumphs as a natural thing,
  as this pharmacy turns our desire into medicines and revokes the rain.

In the Middle of the Easel

My darling, only a cubist angle seen after produces this volume in which our hearts go
(tick tick)

  I see you in a veil of velvet
  then I'm quiet because you've
  managed the apples, you've arranged
  to sit. You are twice clothed
  in my joy, my nymph.

Painters who range up and down Mont hill or Mont this, disarray in the twilight those boulevards,
make every stroke count and when one of the Saints
(in the dark apse tonal) quits,
I'm with you.

  Together we'll breathe it,
  you and I in the sleeve forgiving requiem,
  in the priest tinted air.

  In the gaslight that ridiculous plume
  reminds me of hawks, I admire
  their arc, I plunge
  my everyday laughter into that kimono wing
  what a studio soar! What rapture!
  The gifted night, the billowing dark!

The heroine Paint sobs

   "No one who has ever loved me
  can tell me why
  there are two birds at my wrist
  and only one flies."

On the Way to Dumbarton Oaks

The air! The colonial air! The walls, the brick,
this November thunder! The clouds Atlanticking,
Canadianing, Alaska snowclouds,
tunnel and sleigh, urban and mountain routes!

  Chinese tree your black branches and your three yellow leaves with you I traffick. My three yellow notes, my three yellow stanzas,
my three precisenesses of head and body and tail joined carrying my scroll, my tree drawing

  This winter day I'm a compleat travel agency with my Australian aborigine sights, my moccasin feet padding into museums where I'll betray all my vast journeying sensibility in a tear dropped before
"The Treasure of Petersburg"

  and gorgeous this forever I've a raft of you left over like so many gold flowers and so many white and the stems! the stems I have left!

Cape Canaveral

Fixed in my new wig the green grass side
    hanging down I impart to my silences
Climate cannot impair
  neither the grey clouds nor the black waters the change in my hair.

Covered with straw or alabaster I'm inured against weather.
The vixen's glare, the tear on the flesh covered continent where the snake withers happily and the nude deer antler glitters, neither shares my rifled ocean growth
    polar and spare.

Eyes open
  spinning pockets for the glass harpoons
  lying under my lids
  icy as summers

Nose ridges
  where the glaciers melt into my autumnal winter-fed cheek hiding its shudder in this kelp

  cracked as the air.

Sunday Evening

I am telling you a number of half-conditioned ideas Am repeating myself,
The room has four sides; it is a rectangle,
From the window the bridge, the water, the leaves,
Her hat is made of feathers,
My fortune is produced from glass And I drink to my extinction.

Barges on the river carry apples wrapped in bales,
This morning there was a sombre sunrise,
In the red, in the air, in what is falling through us We quote several things.

I am talking to you With what is left of me written off,
On the cuff, ancestral and vague,
As a monkey walks through the many fires Of the jungle while a village breathes in its sleep.

Someone stops in the alcove,
It is a risk we will later make,
While I talk and you bring your eyes to the fibre
(as the blade to the brown root)
And the room is slumberous and slow
(as a pulse after the first September earthquake).

Parachutes, My Love, Could Carry Us Higher

I just said I didn't know And now you are holding me In your arms,
How kind.
Parachutes, my love, could carry us higher.
Yet around the net I am floating Pink and pale blue fish are caught in it,
They are beautiful,
But they are not good for eating.
Parachutes, my love, could carry us higher Than this mid-air in which we tremble,
Having exercised our arms in swimming,
Now the suspension, you say,
Is exquisite. I do not know.
There is coral below the surface,
There is sand, and berries Like pomegranates grow.
This wide net, I am treading water Near it, bubbles are rising and salt Drying on my lashes, yet I am no nearer Air than water. I am closer to you Than land and I am in a stranger ocean Than I wished.

The Crisis

Not to be able to carry mice to your room when you have walked the boulevards with rain at your tail and umbrellas opened an edifice of dragoons preparing to ascend when the park was hungrier,
its bursting branches were loaves under the yellow sky. Alas the great days of desire have passed.

Prepare for bulbs and minor grasses; seize on imported mauves, ivory cutlasses prepared in Switzerland for sailors whose white eyelashes will curtain the whim of captains and make graceful the long Cape trip. You will sail upon mats of periwinkles, if you prefer.

Why tramp now the marshes where the expert mice rest on borders and sit with their pierced hearts? They have grown fat under the discipline of raiders who need in the night corridor a lawful pillow, in the black watches a slim straw purchased for a mouse, a hat to cover the dark marches and the small confidences laid on cushions before daybreak when fountains plash and mirrors reflect the thick mud where armies have passed.

Upside Down

Old slugger-the-bat
  don't try to control me I've a cold in my head and a pain in one side

  it's the cautious climate
    of birds.
Where the bitter night shows fat as an owl the skeleton
  not counting the skin.

  This species can't bite,
but it has a hurt. We've all got birds
  flying at us

little ones over the toes.

The hand that holds is webbed no knuckles
  but the bone grows.

Seeing You Off

Bracketed in my own barn
  where ignorant as those armies I flash my light upon the Hudson
  and shout continental factories take fire! Send navies out from Jersey
  let there be more edens
  of soap and fats

Such splendors make rigid a democracy
  define its skeleton permit the night to cleanse its air
  with moving vans
  olympic as dawn

Upon the big liner
  moored at last by little landscape poems
  frail as lifeboats settling down to rest

While we kiss in the saloon
  far above the cries from plows and auto parts
  sending up goodbyes

as ugly as those waifs of paper
  on the pier or that truck profiled into gloom
  his whole insides protest

Departures make disgust into a cartoon
  of rose Nabiscos and I digest the sinking afternoon in a fleet
  of taxicabs dead sure as you

  and Carthage after?
  we'll float on that wine-dark sea


Excerpted from "The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest"
by .
Copyright © 2008 Estate of Barbara Guest.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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