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About this poet

On September 6, 1920, Barbara Guest was born in Wilmington, North Carolina. She attended the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California, Berkeley, from which she graduated in 1943.

Early in her career, she was known predominantly as a writer of the New York School, a group of poets that included John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara, and James Schuyler. The New York School represented a rejection of the dominant school of confessional poetry and was deeply influenced by the action painters of the 1950s and 1960s, particularly Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Larry Rivers.

Throughout the 1950s, Guest worked as a writer for Art News magazine, and she has continued to write articles and reviews for many art magazines. The tension between the lyrical (or musical) and the graphic (or material) is a defining feature of her work, and her poetry often utilizes space as a way to draw attention to language.

Guest has published numerous collections of poetry, among them The Red Gaze (Wesleyan University Press, 2005); Miniatures and Other Poems (2002), Symbiosis (1999), Defensive Rapture (1994), Fair Realism (1989), Musicality (1988), The Nude (1986), Quilts (1980), and Biography (1980). She is also the author of several plays and a novel, Seeking Air (1978).

Her honors include the Robert Frost Medal for Distinguished Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Society of America, the Longwood Award, a San Francisco State award for poetry, the Lawrence Lipton Award for Literature, the Columbia Book Award, and a grant from The National Endowment for the Arts.

She lived in Berkeley, California. Guest died on February 15, 2006.

A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

The Blue Stairs (1968)
Moscow Mansions (1973)
Biography (1980)
The Nude (1986)
Musicality (1988)
Fair Realism (1989)
Defensive Rapture (1994)
Symbiosis (1999)
Miniatures and Other Poems (2002)
The Red Gaze (2005)

Prose

Seeking Air (1978)
The Confetti Trees (1999)
Rocks on a Platter: Notes on Literature (1999)

Plays

The Ladies Choice (1953)
The Office (1963)
Port (1965)

Noisetone

Barbara Guest, 1920 - 2006
     Each artist embarks on a personal search.
         An artist may take introspective refreshment from green.

Or so they say in Barcelona when air is dry.
     In our country it is a water sprinkler that hints, "rinsed green."
              Colors often break themselves into separate hues

     of noisetone.          In a Barcelona cabaret when green is overtaken,
it is stirred into the mint color of drink.

     The spirit is lifted among primary colors. Nine rows of color.
                         The future writ in white spaces.

From The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest. Copyright © 2008 by The Estate of Barbara Guest. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

From The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest. Copyright © 2008 by The Estate of Barbara Guest. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Barbara Guest

Barbara Guest

The author of numerous collections of poetry, Barbara Guest was predominantly a writer of the New York School.

by this poet

poem
Someone has remembered to dry the dishes;
they have taken the accident out of the stove.
Afterward lilies for supper; there
the lines in front of the window
are rubbed on the table of stone

The paper flies up
then down as the wind
repeats. repeats its birdsong.

Those arms under the pillow
the burrowing arms
poem

"Sound leads to structure." Schönberg.

On this dry prepared path walk heavy feet.
This is not "dinner music." This is a power structure.
heavy as eyelids.
Beams are laid. The master cuts music for the future.

Sound lays the structure. Sound leaks into the future

poem

The form of the poem subsided, it enters another poem.

A witness was found for the markings inscribed upside-down.

It might have been a celebration, so strong the presence

of the poem. The sky sinks slowly inside the past.