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L'événement

Something else is happening” in Barbara Guest’s poems: the art of creating events

Claudia Desblaches

Abstracts

Barbara Guest’s poetry (American poet from the New York School) runs counter to conventional readers’ expectations, the event(s) of the poem being given priority over what is said: the poem’s subject is under erasure, the “enfolding” plastic process requires the reader’s ineluctable participation.

Not only are Guest’s poems revealed as painterly, musical and playful compositions but they tend to borrow many worldly human processes like film making, plasticity, fabric making, writing as thinning down, as well as natural processes such as iridescence, osmosis and symbiosis. The event becomes the hazardous meeting point between different artistic means (Guest wrote mainly collaborative works) as well as the miraculous and mysterious correlation between reader and poem. To be sound, the poem should be looked at from various angles in order to generate a series of questions: “What is now happening? What does the poem itself, consider to be its probabilities ? (Guest, “A Reason for poetics,” 20).

The reader is however never completely left in the dark since polysemy opens an area of “probabilities”. The latter is indeed faced with the ungraspable nature of events, led to witness the beauty of the ‘dance without a dancer’ (Silverberg) and the paradox of the absent event. Instead of delivering a fixed reality, Barbara Guest, the American Mallarmé, offers the poem as an event made of words and worlds in iridescent colours and subtle vibrations.

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Author's notes

The expression “something else is happening”, cited in the title, comes from Barbara Guest (2003), Forces of Imagination, Writing on writing, Berkeley, Kesley ST. Press, p. 18 (hereafter cited by page number): “Reaching out to develop the poem there are interruptions, some apparently for no reason –something else is happening, the poet has no control – the poem begins to quiver, to hesitate, to become insubstantial, the desire of poetry to elevate itself, to become stronger.”

Full text

  • 1 Charles Bernstein (April 23, 1999), “Introducing Barbara Guest”, Frost Medal, Poetry Society of Ame (...)

1At the Celeste Bartos Forum of the New York Public Library in 1999, Charles Bernstein introduced Barbara Guest (1920-2006) as a pictorial, painterly and musical poet that “has written her work as the world inscribes itself, processurally, without undue obligation to expectation, and with a constant, even serene, enfolding in which we find ourselves folded.”1 The leading advocate of Language Poetry notes the link between movement as processed in Guest’s poetry and the swirls, twists and whirls of the reality we live in. Readers can indeed appreciate the swirls of rain clouds, light and sea that are set in motion in her poetic gems. Her sometimes confusing poetry runs counter to conventional readers’ expectations, the event(s) of the poem being given priority over what is said. In her philosophical poetry the meaning of the term ‘event’ corresponds to the result of artistic, natural and linguistic phenomena at work in the poem as well as the reader’s (re)action. Indeed, this “enfolding” process set in motion requires the reader’s ineluctable participation, a remark that reminds one of the New York school of poetry to whom Barbara Guest, John Ashbery, James Schuyler and Frank O’Hara belong.

  • 2 Barbara Guest (2003), “Radical Poetics and Conservative Poetry”, in Forces of Imagination, p. 12.
  • 3 David Lehman (1999), The Last Avant-garde: The making of the New York School of Poets, New York, An (...)
  • 4 Barbara Guest (2003), “The Shadow of Surrealism,” in Forces of Imagination, p. 16.

2Her work however retains the particular grain of her own private voice, closer to radical poetry, nearer to “a defenestration process of saying something new.”2 Skydiving or freefall would be a prerequisite to creative innovation. The risk inherent to the poetic process is that the reader might not understand the work but only what sets the poem in motion. Reading Guest’s playful but rigorous poetry is close to the “activity [or] present-tense process”3 experienced in action painting. In “Vision and Mundanity,” (Forces of Imagination, 102) she acknowledges her admiration for the playful abstract expressionist painters, thus justifying the importance of mixed arts or “roads which led from palette to quill to clef.”4. Not only are Guest’s poems revealed as artistic compositions but they tend to borrow many worldly human processes like film making, collaborations, plasticity, fabric making, writing as thinning down, as well as natural events such as iridescence, osmosis and symbiosis.

  • 5 Barbara Guest (2003), “A Reason for Poetics”, in Forces of Imagination, p. 21.
  • 6 Barbara Guest (2008), “Parachutes, My Love, Could Carry Us Higher”, The Location of Things, The Col (...)
  • 7 Barbara Guest (2003), “A Reason for Poetics”, p. 21.

3To find its own truth and movement, the poem needs to be the showcase for the mysteries of nature as well as rule-governed poetics. The Guest poem is “an open-field” (to borrow Charles Olson’s term) that enacts varied processes to finally “take off in its own direction. […] It is noticeable that a poem has a secret grip of its own, separate from its creator.”5 In brief, in Guest’s poetry, both reader and writer take the risk of skydiving, reading with parachutes that might not take them down but up or enable them to drift towards unknown territories. It is the unpredictable trajectory of the parachutes that matters too: “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.”6 The poet herself might provide a clue to the writing and reading processes as risk-taking performances when she explains that “the search for its originating mystery now becomes an adventure. Poet-reader perform together on a highwire strung on a platform between their separated selves.”7. The poem’s events set as performances help the reader on the road to detecting the mystery of nature in movement and “the poet’s halo that we see arching within the poem” (Forces of Imagination, 85).

1. Experiencing the poem as an infinite plastic process

  • 8 “Stripped Tales” illustrated by Ann Dunn’s drawings, The Location of Things reinforced by Robert Go (...)
  • 9 Barbara Guest (2000), “Symbiosis”, Poet Barbara Guest, Artist Laurie Reid, first edition, Series pr (...)

4Barbara Guest’s complex writing process is exhibited in her collaborative writings.8 With the lithographer Laurie Reid in her poem “Symbiosis,”9 Guest tells it straight to the reader: the poem solely deals with the symbiotic relation that is at work between two types of artistic means. It centers upon the way drawing and poetry or two living organisms can live together by sharing the materiality of the page to their mutual benefit. Both collaborate to the point that they forget their own sense of “belonging” (“Symbiosis”, 452). It is through the weaving process that a metamorphosis takes place. Guest explains clearly her will to use the process of painting since

  • 10 Barbara Guest (2003), “The Shadow of Surrealism,” p. 16.

“the physical extravagance of paint, of enormous canvasses can cause a nurturing envy in the poet that prods his greatest possession, the imagination, into an expansion of its borders.”10

5The poet questions

  • 11 Barbara Guest (2003), “The Shadow of Surrealism,” p. 17.

“what has led the artist to a particular predicament, and how does he go about solving it – [She is] alert to the task concealed in the method... [She] question[s] what was the manner in which the metamorphosis took place, and in what way [she] can use this process.”11

  • 12 Louise Rosenblatt (1938), Literature as Exploration, New York, D. Appleton-Century; New York, MLA 1 (...)

6Like Guest, if we are prepared to action reading and are attentive to Laurie Reid’s “task concealed in the method,” her work appears as an interlacing of full grey curves and empty white ones scattered here and there with ink blotches, streaks and full circles. Of course, like the fourth word “fable” drawn on the first page, Guest’s poetic lines appear either inside or outside these curves and blots. The superposition of inkspots and words clearly urge readers to process the poem as a meaningful event on both visual and metaphorical levels, literally reminding us of Rosenblatt’s argument that “a novel or a poem or a play remains merely inkspots on paper until a reader transforms them into a set of meaningful symbols”12. Thus, those spatters of paint simultaneously resemble natural forms, seaweed, ripples on a watery surface, dark or grey tree rings and a woollen mixture.

7From the beginning, there seems to be a tension in the collaborative work between its mysterious or fabulous nature and its organic quality, a balance between the natural events and the ecstatic event that gives life and irregular movement to the poem:

  • 13 Barbara Guest (2003), « A Reason for poetics,”, p. 20.

“ideally, a poem will be both mysterious (incurabula, driftwood of the unconscious), and organic (secular) at the same time. If the tension becomes irregular, like a heartbeat, then a series of questions enters the poem.”13

8The reader is invited to listen to the lively “wool fable” (451) that hisses between the painterly and poetic lines. The reader’s imagination, fuelled by the intersections is led to plunge to the heart of the multiple layers that might hiss in the “symbiosis aflame” (452). Within a gentle structure, the poet is laying words while the lithograph is laying paint. Woollen thread after woollen thread, their work interweaves, the visual poetic construction is processed in close collaboration with the brushed shapes of the lithograph and vice versa. Like a hissing snake whose skin sheds and is continuously transformed, the reader attends the transformations in this “room of liberal fountains” (454) “pasting and printing in the same room- sharing” (457). The process of working in interwoven layers encloses a “ripening spirit beyond sheer height” (451). Through different making processes (“winding up in volume,” “thinning down,” “interweaving,” “knitting or singing a song,” “overlapping,” “rippling” and “noise traveling,” (451-460), the work might affect the final ongoing process of iridescence. With this cooperation, both the values of poetry and lithography are upgraded, “each line power wound up in volume” (452).

9Both arts are coming to full development through artistic collaboration seen as a vital process of maturation. “Each player,” (454) the reader included, interferes with the other, iridescence might be achieved through the fruitful encounter between the two thinned artistic surfaces as well as the reader’s retina. It is as if the constructive interference was the result of the light waves produced by the poetic lines reinforced by the second light wave produced by the drawing. The two overlapping beams of light or “light from the transom”(458) on the page alternate between bands of light (revelations in “filled iridescence”, 452) and bands of dark (a mysteriously hidden underworld).

10Guest and Reid’s work reminds the reader of the natural phenomenon of iridescence as found in nature: either it is used by peacocks, butterflies or hummingbirds to attract the viewer’s attention or it is used by beetles as a camouflage to blend in with their environment. It points to the importance of color for Guest and painters in general to understand the world and its beauty. The process of iridescence also outlines unusual freedom, the possible subtle changes of color (orange, fluid orange or plain orange in Guest’s writing process, the use of pigments for Reid) and meanings (“color of the image as it changes”, 460) Words do not need to be directly apprehended: schooners, hair, threads, ropes or bones have to be loosened to yield to the freedom of suggestion. Seeing iridescent colors is also a complicated process for the reader, seeing and reading become active performances. As in cubist paintings or literary works, colors or meaning change with the viewing angle. The Poem-Painting (456) is ingrained and never perceived the same way as each word and stain appear as iridescent layers, “close and away” (451). Like a unique rainbow, the work of art gains some understanding through the unique prism of the reader or each individual reading process.

2. Creating the event by activating the reader’s thinking process

  • 14 William Watkin (2001), In the Process of Poetry, the New York School and the Avant-garde, Lewisburg (...)
  • 15 Barbara Guest (1990), Denver quarterly 24.4, p. 15 (qtd. in Watkin 2001, p. 100).
  • 16 Louise M. Rosenblatt (nov 1964), College English, 126, “The poem as event”, Vol 26, N°2, p. 123-128
  • 17 Rosenblatt, Louise (1978), The Reader, The Text, The Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary (...)
  • 18 Sara Lundquist (2002), “Implacable Poet, Purple birds, the work of Barbara Guest”, American Poets i (...)

11In Guest’s poems, it is the reader’s thinking process that she aims at activating rather than delivering her work as the poet’s processes of thoughts. The last strategy corresponds partly to Schuyler’s art and mostly to Ashbery’s aesthetics. Indeed, according to William Watkin, Schuyler’s poems appear as “being part of the more general process of ‘everything happening’, (…) “the everything is the ongoing working out of a relationship between subject and object […] when the poet wishes to downgrade the agency of his subjectivity so as to give a kind of agency of possibility of enunciation to the objective world.”14 Guest succeeds in erasing subjectivity. She mostly admires Schuyler because his work could catch “the ‘uneveness’ of the flow of the day. Because that is how time flows.”15 Ashbery’s readers are invited to playfully follow his poems as external processes of thoughts rather than look for its meanings as Silverberg explains in The New York School Poets and the Neo-Avant-Garde (115). The Guest reader similarly experiences the poem as process: “the poem is something lived-through”16. Guest indeed pushes a bit further Louise Rosenblatt’s view of the poem as “an event in time. It is not an object or an ideal entity. It happens during the coming-together, as compenetration of a reader and a text”17. The poet’s subjective stance tends to vanish from the page and the search for meaning is not a hopeless quest. There is movement among ideas but also graspable ideas in movement. Beyond difficulty, reader, writer and artist, “can read the image in the overlapping even from outside” (“Symbiosis”, 460). “Symbiosis” deals with the process of randomly encountering the other art, experienced by the reader, as if the poem was being written by chance under his/ her eyes. It is like an organic experimentation, trying to make two compositions work side by side, building an original ecosystem with no determined climate, two metabolisms in the same space. Sara Lundquist argues that space in Guest’s poetry is twofold: “space is always both an emotional and artistic value, both a real phenomenon and a phenomenon of art”18. Each art forces the other gently out of its classical boundaries and this new biotope is rejuvenating for the artist who has to start out on a unexpected voyage, getting off the initial route, taking off the conventional mantle. One artistic means is positioning the strophes while the other is “ranging and tumbling the blue” (455): “this is a strange way to tell a story being where one does not wish, in the midst of a storm” (455).

  • 19 Claude Romano (1998), L’événement et le monde, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, p. 94.
  • 20 Barbara Guest & June Felter (1988), “Musicality”, produced by Rena Rosenwasser, Kesley St. Press. T (...)
  • 21 John Cage (1979), “Preface to Lecture on the Weather”, Empty Words, Writings 73-78, Middleton, CT, (...)
  • 22 Barbara Guest (2003), “Invisible Architecture,” Forces of Imagination, p. 18.

12The explanation of the poem is thus in the making. In L’événement et le monde, Claude Romano explains that such a creative process is equivalent to an event, since the initial lack of established meaning and the necessity of multiple and renewable interpretations give specificity to the event19. With the poem that shapes the world anew, the reader is forced to see the world and himself in a new light. As a further case in point, the poem “Musicality” functions as a drawing, or “Favorite View” of “formal delicacy” composed by “two strangers (herself and June Felter, an illustrator) joining hands in a movie without a sound.”20 June Felter’s drawings mix flat, linear (roads, fields), round or full shapes (trees, mountains) with rectangular forms (houses). You have to look carefully and assemble the vague shapes into meaning. The poem has to be listened to like “the wave of building murmur” (203) as Guest points out right at the opening. The visual vagueness might stand for windy unpredictable weather but it is the reader that has to fathom. This required performance on the part of the reader is as unpredictable as with John Cage’s Lecture on the Weather that relies on technology (improvised sounds of the storm emerge from the walls), location (the performance varied accordingly) and a random selection of excerpts from Thoreau.21 Randomness and the accompanying sketching process clearly appears on the page as something, the event as a phenomenon that gives life and movement to the landscape represented. Guest shows how her Forces of Imagination are at work in her theoretical text. It is the poem that stretches and controls its own shape, as if “an invisible architecture supported its surface.”22 Indeed, the poem is the perfect living habitat for a series of varied, natural or human made processes.

  • 23 Barbara Guest (2003), “Forces of Imagination”, Forces of Imagination, p. 106.
  • 24 Sara Lundquist (2002), “Implacable Poet, Purple birds, the work of Barbara Guest”, American Poets i (...)
  • 25 Barbara Guest & June Felter (1988), “Musicality”, p. 203.

13There is no definite meaning in words that are nourished by the elastic proprieties of the imagination. We should read “the poem as plastic. It is moveable, touchable. It is a viable breathing substance” (“A Reason for Poetics,” 30.) The reader has to plunge into the “spatial freedom that the poem is enjoying before it settles into images and rhythms and order of its new habitat on the page.”23 Accordingly, “Musicality” opens with the natural process of putrescence, “the fetid slough from outside” (203)  that might allude to the impenetrable quality of the poem, which, in turn might induce further transformations. Thus, the poem might shed its skin to grow and expand, “the brown mouse” encountering “the tree mouse” to make the reader observe “two trees’’ from which “hanging apples half notes” can dangle. Words are meant to be transformed, shedding letters, permuting consonants: “red flagged and rag clefs” are playing on the mutability of sound and meaning. “The reader is thus stirred and disturbed and curious about these eventlike happenings”24. Those encounters are preparing the reader for a thunderstorm, the notes to be heard are that of a cloudburst in the mixing of natural and material words, “barrel cloud fallen from the cyclone truck”25:

  • 26 Sabrina Parent (2011), Poétiques de l’événement, Paris, Classiques Garnier, p. 13.

14The event for the Guest reader becomes an advent, the revelation of the mysteries of nature, unexpected meanings emerging in correlation with other contexts and “many encounters we meet on the way of its writing” or reading (Forces of Imagination, 81). Sabrina Parent further argues that the writing of an event becomes itself the event that transforms the individual who experiences it.26 In the poem quoted above, the osmosis, another process of transformation that results in an equal exchange between two substances (here the reader and the poet, the printed page and the drawing, the natural clouds and the musical discs) is a way to get to another final process. Scintillation or the process of giving sparks and flashes to the reader, makes him gain an understanding of “the euphemisms of nature” or “the creation of orchards,” (206) the sky as an osmotic “rhythmic ceiling” (203).

  • 27 Sabrina Parent (2011), p. 124, my translation.
  • 28 Barbara Guest (2003), Forces of Imagination, p. 84.

15This ecosystemic exchange is made possible by poetic openness: the poem thus gets pollinated by other arts, be they musical or plastic. “The event is what opens onto interpretations and reinterpretations”.27 The Guest poem itself is a constant interpretation and reinterpretation of the world: signs and objects of the real are leading to other signs and objects. As the initial apple trees are turned into “half notes,” (203) noise trees spread their pollen through sound effects, “rag clefs,” (203) notes in the margins, “lightning held to a border of trees,” (205) “a sonatina /edges in like sand grains under the orchard trees” (204) or shall we read “orchestra”? Like a Steinian librettist, Guest feels free to play with words and to allow the reader to indulge in the same playful process. “Underneath the surface of the poem, there is the presence of ‘the something else’, Mallarmé said, ‘not the thing, but its effect’”.28 The “levelled crusts-” (204) of the earth observed by two artists (Felter and Guest) are hence transposed into simultaneous poetic verses or the plane surfaces of the drawings. Those creations constructed by “four hands (Felter’s and Guest’s) of chambered breeze & cloud design” (204) are like a performance conducted on the same instrument (nature) to offer chamber music effects unconfined to the page and free to be echoed in the natural design. The “clef” is the keystone, a mysterious clue to her ‘poem a clef’ or small sonata for four hands. The reader has to understand the euphemisms of nature, that is, nature under different disguises. Poetic writing is seeking the particularly ungraspable nature of events. For example evanescence or disappearance are procedural substitutes for death. Symbiosis is key, delivering “her [Guest or Felter’s] imposing composition of cloud” (204).

3. Searching for the ungraspable nature of events

  • 29 Barbara Guest (2003), “The Beautiful Voyage,” Forces of Imagination, p. 78. 
  • 30 Barbara Guest & June Felter (1988), “Musicality”, p. 204-205.

16Since the writing process depends on the words’ vagueness and tensions placed on the structure, “a plasticity that the flat, the basic words, what we call ‘the language of the poem’ demand and further depend upon,”29 the poem invites the reader to multiple visions30:

17Barbara Guest’s technique mimics the abstract expressionist gesture when the subject matter has to find itself and poems can be understood depending upon the reader’s unstable angle of vision. For instance, the numerous ‘in’ or ‘ing’ forms reinforced by the use of the comparative (like), draw the reader’s attention on writing and drawing as ongoing processes. One can notice the close resonance between “the sketched-in roofs” and the “roofs (a sonatina) edges in,” a visual and auditory chiasmus (etched-in roofs versus roofs edges in) which hides another process, that of etching. Indeed, the process to create a design in metal or aquatint brings to mind William Blake’s use of relief etching to juxtapose images texts. The etching process clearly offers the kind of symbiotic relations Guest tries to establish all along the poem. Surprisingly, “her imposing composition of cloud” may weigh upon the roof but what retains our attention is the fragility and ungraspable “favorite view” she tries to capture. Oxymoronic and protean referents abound: “clouds” may denote dust, thunderstorms, and fog but also connote “casino awnings” and daydreaming. Ideas seem reluctant to get fixed on the page.

  • 31 Frank O’Hara (1995), The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara, ed. Donald D. Allen, Berkeley, University (...)
  • 32 Barbara Guest (1999), “Rocks on a Platter,” The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (2008), p. 433.
  • 33 Barbara Guest (2003), Forces of Imagination, p. 52, p. 103, p. 107.

18The subject loses ground behind the importance given to the different objects vaguely drawn or pictured as living entities interacting with each other. This strategy seems at first sight to run counter to the technique of personism as observed in Frank O’Hara’s poetry. The latter opposes abstraction in poetry since it implies the erasure of the poet as a person. For O’Hara, “the poem is at least between two persons instead of two pages.”31 In Guest’s poem, however, what seems to matter is the way written and drawn pages and objects interact to create a process of iridescence and help the reader to get to illumination. Through the process, the poet is necessarily withdrawn from the picture, “losing the arrogance of dominion over the poem, in the form of an invisible hand or architecture which guides the poem away from the poet” (“Invisible Architecture”, 2003, p 19). This process of surrendering the subject to the poem, offering only “a remnant of self”32 enables the work to acquire infinite plasticity. When reading O’Hara’s poems, it is the poet’s method and poetry as process that Guest keeps in mind.33 For example, “Second Avenue” is the ongoing collaboration between O’Hara and Rivers, both borrow objects from the close material environment and try to reassemble them on the page. In “Symbiosis,” Guest and Felter are going further, drawing “A Favorite View” of nature by showing its evanescence and impenetrable quality. In the two collaborative works though, it is the reader who has to be sensitive to this interplay of painterly and musical motifs, as if the view had to be assembled from different parts, words, lines and angles. In Guest’s poem, the effect creates an imaginary quilt that offers itself as mysteriously (in)visible. “Something else” hiding the view is partially offered to the viewer. It is the event of nature passing away, ungraspable, the vanishing process that can better be rendered. Even the painted subject himself “the bather in the pool” disappears in water as if too much subjectivity could indeed spoil the “Favorite View.” The only self that can process Guest’s organic text is the reader’s whereas in O’Hara’s inorganic texts, the self that interacts with the other is reconstructed from the memories of the poet’s life. The O’Hara reader is invited to process the text to experience “the poem as a process of poetic being.” (Watkin, 169). In Guest’s poems, subjective presence gives way to the unceasingly active imagination to be embraced by the reader.

  • 34 Barbara Guest (1993), “Restlessness,” The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, p. 280-281.

19Guest’s poems are delivered as the process of imagination at work, the event is that of the elastic imagination to be experienced as a “magnetic field” (Forces of Imagination, 28). This logic is also apparent in Guest’s “Restlessness”34 that exhibits the word “plasticity” in one enigmatic stanza:

  • 35 Daniel Hoffman (1968), The Harvard Guide to Contemporary American Writing, “New York Poets,” p. 209 (...)

20The poem seems to demonstrate the transience of meaning and the activity of a restless imagination. The mysterious poem enacts the restlessness the reader feels when reading. Not only does the poem use typographical codes (the italics) to refer to the Japanese playwright (Hasegawa Shigure) and her description of Tokyo but it also hints at the movie character of Takahashi Oden, a poisonous courtesan who stole jewels (“the bag of garnets”, 281) and entertained adulterous relationships. The vague location here is that of a forest that seems to promise “a halo,” (280) or light produced by the poet’s restless imagination. The proximity of the word “plasticity” with “noodles” is a case in point. Apparently, four persons have taken amorous refuge inside a hut sharing a bowl of noodles (the symbol of well-being and longevity in Japanese culture). “Noodles” and “hair” are both also competing to reinforce the idea of the flexibility of interpretation, the elastic quality of the imagination, the instability of meaning or ironically, ‘aimless noodling’ (to respond to Daniel Hoffman’s accusation against the challenging New York School poems35.) Once the reader has caught that the hut is used by lovers to “copulate,” he understands that stories and myths (that of the mysterious poisonous Japanese woman) wish to “copulate in that medium”. In other words, legends and painting collaborate to create the ‘plastic’ poem that is “going to engage itself with reality” (Forces of imagination, 2003, p. 28):

36

21The end of the poem tends to dispel that idea of prolonged life since bodies are further converted into corpses. The magical “scent” (282) disappears, as well as the trees and the beloved: only “insect voices / filtering through the woodcut” (282) can be heard. There is only “naphtha on her skin” (282) left, another enigmatic sign to be deciphered by the avid reader. Besides the older usage of the word naphthalene, what does the use of “naphtha” imply? Does it allude to the medium of oil painting medium (to make the figures move through indigo and dark blue), a fuel for lanterns (“a lantern/ among the grass”, 282)? Did some crude oil burn her corpse for a purification rite? Is it some reference to a substance used to make plastics, thus taking us back to the plasticity of the text? Does the poem mean that when the lover is long dead, the environment changes and the memory of the person disappears?

4. The paradox of the absent event

  • 37 Barbara Guest (1999), “Rocks on a Platter: Notes on Literature,” The Collected Poems of Barbara Gue (...)
  • 38 Barbara Guest (1999), “Valorous vine,”, If so Tell me, The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (2008), (...)
  • 39 Alain Badiou (1988), L’Être et l’événement, Paris, Seuil, p. 214.
  • 40 Barbara Guest (1999), Rocks on a Platter, p. 435.
  • 41 Barbara Guest (2003), “Wounded Joy”, Forces of Imagination, p. 100-101.

22Guest does not fear “the sweet reproach of invisibility”37 that the reader could make. It is the process of leaving it out, “a dynamic process due to the motivation towards meaning that such a proliferation of articulation gaps will produce” (Watkin 2001, p. 195), which is given pride of place. Guest argues in Forces of Imagination that “the poem begins in silence,”(20) thus “it may be that absence is the plot of the poem.”38 The reader through Guest’s lively and suggestive imagination is seeking Mallarmé’s “absent flower from all bouquets” (Forces of Imagination, 2003, p. 57). Alain Badiou focuses on the Mallarmean paradox of a place where an event occurs and can be apprehended in a situation from which it is itself absent39. Blanks are thus more powerful than clear delineation. The method is to dig into verse, draw blanks, create spatial freedom between words, moving ‘frail sentences’ and lines by the ‘seismic sway of existence’40, play with sounds so that symbolical and metaphorical exchanges may be fruitful, infinite and endlessly on the move. Changing meanings are discovered in the act of reading obscurities or “musicalities”. Whiteness and silences correspond to the delicacy of the feminine body, the evanescent Italian girl, poetry or the beginning of it, “an elsewhere, a hiddenness, a secondary form of speech [...], this little echo that haunts the poem.”41

  • 42 Barbara Guest (1995), “Stripped Tales,” The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (2008), p. 313-328. “W (...)
  • 43 Barbara Guest (1973), “Drawing a Blank”, Moscow Mansions, The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (200 (...)
  • 44 Barbara Guest (1973), “Drawing a Blank”, p. 126.

23Barbara Guest acknowledges she created her “Stripped Tales” in collaboration with Ann Dunn with “the process of thinning down the story.”42 With her playful omissions, Guest gives way to abstract expressionism since the reader has to reconstruct or guess what is left out. The active reader has to fill in the blanks with another word or idea that was not necessarily wanted by the poet. “Drawing a Blank”43 seems to hold within its title, the promise of that strategy explained to the reader. In this poem, Guest makes the difference between pointless and meaningful silences. When the images that used to be graceful, loose, free and plastic, do not occur in the poem, the poet disapproves of blank moments. But, on the contrary, some other blank moments are the springboard for further revelations, such as a way to find “on the island a shell with a sound” (127). Guest acknowledges44 that:

  • 45 Barbara Guest (1999), “Disappearance,” The Confetti Trees, The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (20 (...)

24Thus blank moments can contain a warmth required from the artist. When the poet draws a blank, he is like drawing a blanket over his poem to allow it to rest, retreat or withdraw, before gathering sufficient energy to create meaningful unexpected events. In “Disappearance,”45 the reader attends the vanishing process that progressively and dramatically affects a cinematographer’s representation skills and life. The pretence of the movie maker is that he would find the right words to catch and represent on the screen bits of blue smoke falling from the ceiling. But the words extracted from language shrink and the cameraman’s fingers that are supposed to write the words get thinner and thinner unable to string sentences together. Words are then observed as if through a microscope, losing their clarity. The artist is unable to give voice to his characters as “words are tumbling from thrones under a green light” (422). The cameraman can no longer grasp reality and render it into words and onto the screen so easily. Instead of looking for fame in Deauville he would have to “SEEK” words and attach them to a meaning. He first took the linguistic representation of reality at face value. While he is trying to make more room for his search for words, he now understands he is also doomed to disappear.

5. “What is now happening?” or Staging the undecidability of events through co-performance

  • 46 « Entre l’événement annulé par la réalité de son appartenance visible à la situation, et l ‘événeme (...)
  • 47 Barbara Guest (1989), “Wild Gardens overlooked by Night Lights”, Fair Realism, The Collected Poems (...)

25The prose poem focuses on the difficulty of representation and the inadequacy of language to represent reality. Interestingly enough, Alain Badiou understands the event as something impossible to fix and represent, the essence of the event being its “undecidability”. The only figure that can represent the event as a concept is the staging of its undecidability.46 In Guest’s poems, invisibility and the freedom of words are key. Creation is an enacting process rather than a quest for representation, Guest remaining faithful to the New York School Poetic tradition in that matter. “Wild Gardens overlooked by Night lights”47 points at the failure of direct poetic representation followed by the failure of symmetrical artistic representation as a substitute. Mediation through screens fails too in parallel with the “Disappearance” the cameraman acknowledges. Instead, the reader further attends the difficult process of a poem in the making that vainly offers the blurred edges of reality. The writing process is seen as risky, the poet hovering between the wildness of the imagination and the deserted poem. This risk is inherent to the nature of imagination since

  • 48 Barbara Guest (2003), Forces of Imagination, p. 106.

“the forces of the imagination from which strength is drawn have a disruptive and capricious power. If the imagination is indulged too freely, it may run wild and destroy or be destructive to the artist… If not used, imagination may shrivel up. Baudelaire continually reminds us that the magic of art is inseparable from its risks”48

26The initial objective of the poem is to grasp the reality of wild gardens that are not seen by artificial night lights. To render the truth of those “overlooked” objects (buildings, wild gardens and parking lot trucks) that seem to request the artist’s intervention, the poet strives to find a fictive self and competent witness who might use “the light of fiction” (210) to perform the task. An accurate written representation of reality seen by the subject being impossible, the promised writing process fails, hence the persona’s painterly attempt. The persona decides to devote himself to the plastic process or the chromatic gesture, hoping that “the light of surface” (210) might apprehend and fix reality. However, “color flees into the delicate skies” and “a line of green displaces these relatives/ black also intervenes at correct distances” (209). Thus color is a tool that overflows its borders, like a metaphor that tells more than expected. Color is uncontrollable in parallel with unstable excessive feelings: “black describes the feeling, is recognized as remorse, sadness” (209). The seizure of reality upon a screen functions the same way, reality cannot be fixed there. Thus, the poem recognizes the value of instability, the search for “chiaroscuro” (210) using contrasts of light to achieve a sense of volume, or “its graduating need for movement” (209) and liveliness. Because ‘illumination exacts its shades,” (210) the poem lets us hear “songs from the haunted distance presenting themselves in silk” (210). It finally reaches a sense of “vision.” When it gains its independence and life, “upon that modern wondering space flash lights from the wild gardens” (210). The realm of the poem is in the end that of imagination, which Guest equals with Mallarmean “clair-obscur.” As she states in “A Reason for poetics,” “the poem is quite willing to forget its begetter and take off in its own direction”(153). The result is a poem shaped into “vision whose illumination exacts its shade,” “chiaoroscuro” or “clair-obscur.”

  • 49 Barbara Guest (1989), “Wild Gardens overlooked by night lights”, Complete Poems (2008), p. 210.

27Instead of fixity, the poem reaches “flexibility” (210) to become an enacting process performed by the artist and the reader both “mobile like a spirit”49:

  • 50 Barbara Guest (2003), “Mysteriously defining the Mysterious: Byzantine Proposals of Poetry”, Forces (...)
  • 51 Barbara Guest (2003), “The Beautiful voyage”, Forces of Imagination, p. 81.

28Both reader and writer are “wandering” about the poem and “floating over this dwelling,” (210) the poem’s spatial reality they (we) are invited to inhabit. The process can thus help the reader to detect “the poet’s halo that we see arching within the poem”50 and at the same time encounter “the dark identity of the poem,”51 something else, an event:

  • 52 Barbara Guest (2003), “Mysteriously defining the mysterious”, p. 84.

“The thing, is the poetic process which lends its effect (the silk of the curtains) to the poem. Process and effect, each go about in disguise. They must be uncovered.” […] “This effect lends a labyrinthine element to the statement of the poem”52

  • 53 Barbara Guest (2003), “Wounded Joy”, Forces of Imagination, p. 100.

29In this aspect, reading Guest’s poetry is like reading the New York School poets and John Ashbery in particular, since Guest’s reader needs interactive skills and a playful spirit to be able to wander and meander through the maze, an action that allows the poem “to reach further than the page so that we are aware of another aspect of the art.”53 Guest’s poems rely on a threefold collaborative process between poem, poet and reader:

  • 54 Barbara Guest (2003), “Invisible Architecture”, p. 18-19.

“reaching out to develop the poem there are interruptions, some apparently for no reason – something else is happening, the poet has no control – the poem begins to quiver, to hesitate, to become insubstantial, the desire of poetry to elevate itself, to become stronger… The poem is fragile. It needs to reach through the armed vehicle of the poem, to loosen the armed hand.” 54 (my emphasis)

  • 55 Sara Lundquist (2002), “Implacable Poet, Purple birds, the work of Barbara Guest”, American Poets i (...)
  • 56 Sara Lundquist (2002), “Implacable Poet, Purple birds, the work of Barbara Guest”, p. 194.
  • 57 Barbara Guest (1989), “An Emphasis Falls on Reality”, Fair Realism, The Collected Poems of Barbara (...)

30Thus Guest plays a game with the reader who, like the poem, has to take the risk of process and may enjoy more incomprehensibility than the revelation generated by the expected beauty of lyricism. Indeed, according to Sara Lundquist, her poems “are springing to life in the act of reading, which itself becomes an act of making”55. Further on, Lundquist explains that these are “action” poems because the blank page is treated like space in which to act and “that event (as opposed to artifact) can and must be the reader’s location and experience as well”56. Since occurring events remain indescribable, the experience becomes a mystery. The potential reward is “an experience called illumination.” (“A reason for poetics” (2003), p. 21) Readers are invited to encounter poems as motion pieces, the poem being a palpable in-process structure. In “Rocks on a Platter,” she insists upon the way words are interrelated and interact with the reader. Within the poem, “illuminations (are) apt to appear from variable directions.”57

  • 58 Barbara Guest (1968), “Saving Tallow”, The Blue Stairs, The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, p. 71 (...)
  • 59 Barbara Guest (2003), “Poetry The True Fiction”, Forces of Imagination, p. 26.
  • 60 In “Why I am not a painter,” a poem about oranges and sardines, O’Hara explains this process of imp (...)

31The way images are piled up and down, imitates the move of one wave in one direction: the poem is consecutively creating a semantic disturbance in another direction. The hurricane in Saving Tallow”58, has generated waves of meaning and visual waves on the surface of the poem. The effect is that of travelling changes as the poem moves like waves. The poem is lit from different angles. This constant movement within the poem helps to “stimulate an imaginative speculation on the nature of reality”59 or “extrapolate” from the things offered in the style of O’ Hara.60 Different meanings are generated within the poem. To get a (it) sound, reader and poet have to vary the position of the flute. If the reader wants to play with Guest, he also has to vary his angles, that is, hold the flute or poem horizontally, vertically and sideways. To be sound, the poem should be looked at from various angles in order to generate a series of questions:

  • 61 Barbara Guest (2003), “A Reason for poetics,” p. 20.

What is now happening? What does the poem itself, consider to be its probabilities ? The poem needs to take care not to flounder or become rigid, or to come to such a halt the reader hangs over a sudden cliff”61 (my emphasis)

32Saving Tallow” is one of Guest ‘s numerous poems on the natural elements as it precisely describes the successive transformations of light sources after the passage of a hurricane. Poet and reader are encouraged to extrapolate from the words “transverses” and “organs” as if they were invited to play the transverse flute, holding it sideways or horizontally, creating different pitches and sounds. “The transverses on the arrow light” lost during the storm are finally “louvered”, redirected, improved towards something diffuse, mysterious and unknown: the imaginary landscapes drawn in the poem by “capable hands” (72). The tallow is what remains from the candlelight to guide the survivors into the darkness of the night. The transverses that are crossing the shattered room and the fragmented poem from side to side have different origins. Transverse curves can intersect at different points on the poem’s surface. There are geometrical “mathematical forms,” (71) the vertical and horizontal curves of the poem intersecting, tangential comet-like cities now “drowned/ dragged from the sea,” (71) transverse waves that pile up images up and down the poem. “Transverses” might also hint at the “obliquity of a painting,” (71) or the obliquity of a poem, since meaning can emerge from sounds, alliterations or vibrations. “Couplings of such sonority”‘ are also produced by blowing in transverse instruments or “organs.”

33Yet, the reader is never completely left in the dark and polysemy opens an area of “probabilities.” “Saving Tallow” neither flounders nor stiffens since the events seem drawn by a guiding principle, that of the light produced by the remaining tallow:

34The poem is structured around three chronological moves delivered anachronistically. First, the reader is faced with the resulting passage of the hurricane, the result of a destructive process. The tallow that is saved to light the room focuses on the drowned surrounding (“the room’s deep water” with body parts only visible, such as “a procession of shoulders” and “yellow knees.”) Seen through the “thin fair candle,” things and people are drowned but the burning candle fuels the persona’s and the reader’s imagination as the candle then looks like marine objects, “Candle! Lone palm tree lonely diver covered with sea lice” (71). The lonely diver is revealed as being potentially the candle, the poet, the reader and the dolphin or final revelation.

35Then the poem gets back to the past tense (“there was once”) to revive the moments when people were still living together, playing cards, speaking, moving. But those “Luis”, “Domingo”, “children”, “grown-ups”, “African cat”, “callers” are all gone, as if the list paid tribute to their memory. They were seen in daylight or candlelight. Water at the time was only that of the non destructive and controlled garden hose. The end of the poem resorts to a mixing of tenses, there is only tallow to light up the room and the light produced by imagination, “transverses on the arrow light”. Once again, persons are metonymically reduced but miraculously, their body parts are attributed to contiguous things and transformed into new visions: “the nose of a window /louvered as coral rock/ where a person walked /was sleepy /must be awakened” (72). The wave produced by the destructive hurricane has created new aspirations, new creatures. The saved candle is thus blown out as the persona is getting prepared to dive with the dolphin:

  • 62 Barbara Guest (1999), “Rocks on a Platter,” p. 448.
  • 63 Barbara Guest (2003), “A Reason for poetics,” p. 21.

36The marine creatures are now part of a leaf-like “invisible architecture” that improves (by the “closed eyes of foliage”) the appearance of the room drowned in water. The eyes of the poet or reader do not need the light of the candle anymore, an awakening and reviving imagination provides them with green visions laid on the leafy page. “The transverses on the arrow light” show directions to follow. Guest paves the way for the reader to see “he Dolphin God swim on the page”62. With this final image, “the reader is converted to the poem (invisible magic also passes between poet and reader)”63. The symbiotic light activated by the poet’s imagination and the “mental lamp of the reader” leads to the revelation.

  • 64 Barbara Guest (2003), “Invisible Architecture”, p. 18.

37It is what happens between poet, poem and reader that is achieved, a movement that liberates the unstable poem or motion picture to find its specific voice. An invisible architecture can “interrupt the progress of the poem” and make the reader focus on “something else that is happening”.64

6. “A dance without a dancer” (Silverberg)

  • 65 Mark Hillringhouse (1992), “Barbara Guest : An Interview,” American Poetry Review 21.4 (July/August (...)

38Another means that Guest finds to maintain the idea of movement in her aesthetics and create events in her poems is to search for a process that goes on like music. This preoccupation seems to be common to Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery and Barbara Guest. O’Hara uses musicality as a process and the musical tonalities of language to draw the reader towards the fake representation of the subject (a method underlined by Watkin, 160). John Ashbery “places readers within a semantic moving climate” with the same motifs repeated and phrased like music (Watkin, 199). Similarly, Barbara Guest compares the writing process to music: “poetry is music, we say it. There’s no question. The self is music, just another notation.”65 Guest hopes to make readers hear and listen to music, notes, the rustling of silk, a voice (someone, something) or an inner mysterious sound hidden within her poems. “Musicality” is, as promised, a case in point. In the middle of the poem, a vacillating light offers “a favorite view” (204) with gradations that “flick and flutter.” A few lines further, Guest introduces “Gieseking’s troll marks” (204) and “Niebelung thunder” (205):

39Famous musical pieces might be hidden by the forest as nature has always been the primary source of artistic inspiration: “in forest guise the “theme” shy of Niebelung thunder requests the artist” (205). The artist is requested to celebrate natural thunderstorms and commemorate piano sonatas through the use of similar music leitmotifs. It is the artist’s mission to reveal to the reader’s gaze what is hidden behind natural “gauze” (204). We enter the world of the German pianist, the subtle shadings of his pianist piano tone and the fluttering butterflies Gieseking used to collect. Natural phenomena (cyclone or discs mentioned at the beginning of the poem) find here another interpretation path, that of the Ring of the Nibelung, a cycle of four epic operas by Wagner transposed in tonal shifts (the transition from ‘ing’ to ‘ung’). Dissonance and consonance (the alliterations in ‘g’ and ‘k’) are added to the use of chromatism (or the importance of the color blue). Nibel is also the fog while Nibelung refers to the fog dwarves in Gieseking’s lyric march of the trolls. The design is only a “try,” a work in progress or a sketch that strives to transform “erroneous dew” into moulds that would represent fog and commemorate Wagner’s epic operas and Gieseking’s lyric piece.

40The self takes part in the musical composition in the same way as other landscape elements: trees, musicians, words, thunder, troll marks are all musical notations. The poem is liberated from the controlling self. The shyness of the work or that of the artist highlights the process of evanescence that he/ it is subjected to.The composition is also said to be “shy”, as much as the artist, the lithographer or the poet. Nature always gets the last word and the upper hand over the human world: “the example of cyclonic creativity equally devastates” (205). But it is the poet’s role to pursue this creative mission, striving to draw “A Favorite View” of overlapping clouds with the help of the designer’s collaboration. “Two strangers who join hands in a movie/ without sound/ one leaps on the other’s lap/ a cloud” (205). Both poet and drawer leap on each other’s lap, the imperfect chiasmus “leaps, ‘s lap” points at their close work that nevertheless slightly differs. The composition is compared to a lively but silent movie that aims at rendering the harmonic subtlety of nature, “a Purcell muslin intimidating in” (205). The reference to the famous English composer along with the delicate cotton fabric (itself mimicked by the delicate silky sounds in ‘in’ and ‘l’) provides a relevant echo to what the inspired poet is after: the delicate silk Guest mentions in her theory, the rustling of silk or the moment when an inner mysterious sound or flash of light (“lighting held to a border of trees”) enters the poem.

  • 66 Barbara Guest (2003), “Wounded Joy”, Forces of Imagination, p. 100.

41Mark Silverberg explains that reading a poem by Guest amounts to seeing “a dance without a dancer” (204). The Guestian poem is mostly concerned with “its musical vibrations” (204), in other words, there is always an invisible haunting presence that transcends objectivity and subjectivity. The artist and his work are shy and patient because they know perfectly that the revelation is at hand but uncontrollable. Any mysterious or magical element that seems to be adequately captured can suddenly disappear: “when she hitches up her notebook and sits under the Steinway the blue trees vanish./ ‘the Willies’” (205). When the poet decides to write the revelatory image she thinks she has seized, it vanishes. “The blue trees” might also allude to the adequate mysterious colours (blueness) any artist or painter is after but also to Gershwin’s genius with “Rhapsody in blue” and the jazzy rhythms poetry might fail to imitate. The evanescence of the revelation gives her the willies or the creeps or might refer to the literal willow trees. In this somewhat humorous expression, one might also discover the “Willis,”, i.e., the ghosts of suicidal brides that appear in ballets such as “Giselle.” What the reader has to understand by the possible meanings given is that meaning cannot be fixed, it is evanescent too, precious and unique to each reading process that liberates “musicalities,” “a pearl snatched from a shell,” “orchards in most of their depth,” “a chain of miniature birds,” (206), “something [that] appears to be in the back of everything that is said, a little ghost?”66.

  • 67 Charles Bernstein (1999), “Introducing Barbara Guest”, Frost Medal, Poetry Society of America at th (...)

42We opened this paper with Bernstein’s understanding of the event in the Guest poem as process, let us now close the debate with what Bernstein thinks about Guest’s capacity to enact in us through her written performances: “this work seeks neither recognition nor acknowledgement but that a fair realism may awake in us as we read, inspired not by the author but by the whirls and words and worlds that she enacts.”67 Indeed, what she succeeds in enacting in the reader’s world often verges on epiphany. By making him participate in the making of the poem, the enfolding of ideas and the movements of nature, Guest’s poetry hopes to transform the reader’s consciousness.

  • 68 Barbara Guest (1962), “The Voice Tree”, The Open Skies, The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, p.39.

43Instead of delivering a fixed reality, the Mallarmean American poet offers words and worlds in iridescent colours and subtle vibrations, an elsewhere, “an apparitional aesthetic” (Silverberg, 205). The world around us is defined by its potential accompanying processes. The reader has a major role to play to process the world in the text which stimulates his imagination. After reading or processing “The Voice Tree”68, the reader will never look at trees the same way, but imagine stories, myths, events, or accidents the trees could have gone through. “The Voice Tree” is apprehended not as a simple birch tree but grasped by events that are branching out into it: it is a ‘tree of iodine and blue” because of the returning migratory ocean birds perched on its branches, a tree that is shouting in cold winter and leaping in rejuvenating spring.

  • 69 Barbara Guest (2003), “The Shadow of Surrealism,” in Forces of Imagination, p. 51.
  • 70 Barbara Guest (1969), “The Türler Losses”, The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (2008), p. 171.

44Barbara Guest’s poems find their own direction(s) too, unmoored by the freedom of suggestions, the unbounded space they inhabit and invite us to discover. Among the discoveries are the uses of various processes and events borrowed from art, the plasticity of words that extend the imagination’s elasticity, abstract expressionist “art performing in the canvas”69, the use of painterly or musical means to create collaborations and “imposing composition[s] of cloud” (204). Natural transformations are not neglected in the overall process: light, color and musical notes are prompting the flow of ideas in parallel with the movements observed in nature. Her organic but mysterious poetry is “etching the way,”70 creating a restlessness the reader has to act upon. During this uncertain course of action, he hopes to see a light or at least a shadow if he proceeds to the end of the road and back again. The difficult and endless reading performance or “action reading” goes hand in hand with “action writing”. Finally, among the natural processes that Guest espouses in her poetry (iridescence, osmosis, symbiosis, ) there is the idea of the evanescence and the magical quality of life.

  • 71 Peter Gizzi (2008), Fair Realist, Introduction to The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, xvii.

45Guest’s poetry is the living ground for a manifold collaborative development between reader, poet, poem, nature and other arts: “her poems begin in the midst of action but their angle of perception is oblique. In this way, the poem, like the world, exists phenomenally; it is grasped as it is coming into being”.71 Each reading process enfolds “invisible magic” that passes from one field to another, one life processor to another. There is a plethora of events, more movement and life in Guest’s poetry than in what we observe around. All these entities take the risk of process: like her poetry, our transient life is always in the making, it is a never-ending chain of unexpected and unpredictable events, something else that is always happening.

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Bibliography

Badiou, Alain (1988), L’Être et l’événement, Paris, Seuil.

Bernstein, Charles (April 23 1999), “Introducing Barbara Guest”, Frost Medal, Poetry Society of America at the Celeste Bartos Forum of the New York Public Library, http://jacketmagazine.com/10/bern-on-gues.html, (accessed October 1999).

Cage, John (1979), “Preface to Lecture on the Weather”, Empty Words, Writings 73-78, Middleton, CT , Wesleyan University Press, p. 3-5.

Guest, Barbara ( 1978), Seeking Air, a Novel, Santa Barbara, Black Sparrow Press.

— (2000), “Symbiosis”, Poet Barbara Guest, Artist Laurie Reid, first edition, Series produced by Rena Rosenwasser, Kesley St. Press.

— (2003), Forces of Imagination, Writing on Writing, Berkeley, Kesley ST. Press.

— (2008), The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, edited by Hadley Haden Guest, Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press.

Guest, Barbara & June Felter (1988), “Musicality”, produced by Rena Rosenwasser, Kesley St. Press. 

Hillringhouse, Mark (1992), “Barbara Guest : An Interview”, American Poetry Review 21.4 (July/August), p. 23-30.

Hoffman, Daniel (1968), The Harvard Guide to Contemporary American Writing.

Lehman, David (1999), The Last Avant-garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets, New York, Anchor Books.

Lundquist, Sara (2002), “Implacable Poet, Purple birds, the work of Barbara Guest”, American Poets in the 21st century, Where Lyric meets language, Claudia Rankine and Juliana Spahr, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown Connecticut, p. 191-217.

O’Hara, Frank (1995), The Collected poems of Frank O’Hara, ed. Donald D. Allen, Berkeley, University of California press [originally Knopf, 1971].

— (2003), Why I am Not a Painter and other Poems, ed Mark Ford, Manchester, UK: Carcanet Press Ltd.

Parent, Sabrina (2011), Poétiques de l’événement, Paris, Classiques Garnier.

Rankine Claudia & Juliana Spahr, American Poets in the 21st century, Where Lyric meets language, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown Connecticut, 2002, p. 178-221.

Romano, Claude (1998), L’événement et le monde, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France.

Rosenblatt, Louise M. (nov 1964), College English, 126, “The poem as event”, Vol 26, N°2, p. 123-128.

— (1978). The Reader, The Text, The Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1978.

— (1995) Literature as Exploration, New York, D. Appleton-Century; New York, MLA, 1938.

Silverberg, Mark (2010), The New York School Poets and the Neo-avant-garde, Between Radical Art and RadicalCchic, England, Ashgate.

Watkin, William (2001), In the Process of Poetry, the New York School and the Avant-garde, Lewisburg, Bucknell University Press.

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Notes

1 Charles Bernstein (April 23, 1999), “Introducing Barbara Guest”, Frost Medal, Poetry Society of America at the Celeste Bartos Forum of the New York Public Library, http://jacketmagazine.com/10/bern-on-gues.html, (accessed October 1999).

2 Barbara Guest (2003), “Radical Poetics and Conservative Poetry”, in Forces of Imagination, p. 12.

3 David Lehman (1999), The Last Avant-garde: The making of the New York School of Poets, New York, Anchor Books, p. 3.

4 Barbara Guest (2003), “The Shadow of Surrealism,” in Forces of Imagination, p. 16.

5 Barbara Guest (2003), “A Reason for Poetics”, in Forces of Imagination, p. 21.

6 Barbara Guest (2008), “Parachutes, My Love, Could Carry Us Higher”, The Location of Things, The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, edited by Hadley Haden Guest, Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, p. 14. Hereafter cited by page number.

7 Barbara Guest (2003), “A Reason for Poetics”, p. 21.

8 “Stripped Tales” illustrated by Ann Dunn’s drawings, The Location of Things reinforced by Robert Goodnough’s collage, teamwork with the lithographers Grace Hartigan for “Archaics” and Sheila Isham for “I Ching” are some striking examples of her partnership with other artists. An exhaustive list is provided by Mark Silverberg (2010), The New York School Poets and the Neo-avant- garde, Between radical art and radical chic, England, Ashgate. Appendix, New York collaborations, Barbara Guest, p. 219-222. With Ann Slacik, 1999, Strings, St. Denis, France. Painted manuscript book. “Strings” appears in If so, Tell me, The Collected Poems, p. 380. With Warren Brandt, 1986, The Nude, New York, International Art Editions, “The Nude,” Fair Realism, p. 238-243. With Ann Dunn, Stripped Tales, 1995, Berkerley, Kelsey St. Press, “Stripped Tales,” p. 315-328. With Robert Goodnough, 1960, The Location of Things, New York,Tibor de Nagy, The Location of Things, The Collected Poems, p. 3-57. With Grace Hartigan, 1960, Archaics, Universal Limited Art Editions, published in Poems (1962). With Sheila Isham, 1969, I Ching: Poems and Lithographs, Paris, Mourlot Art Editions. Text alone in The Collected Poems, p. 95-96.

9 Barbara Guest (2000), “Symbiosis”, Poet Barbara Guest, Artist Laurie Reid, first edition, Series produced by Rena Rosenwasser, Kesley St. Press. Pages are not numbered. “Symbiosis” is also published in Barbara Guest (2008), The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, p. 449-460.

10 Barbara Guest (2003), “The Shadow of Surrealism,” p. 16.

11 Barbara Guest (2003), “The Shadow of Surrealism,” p. 17.

12 Louise Rosenblatt (1938), Literature as Exploration, New York, D. Appleton-Century; New York, MLA 1995 (fifth edition), p. 24.

13 Barbara Guest (2003), « A Reason for poetics,”, p. 20.

14 William Watkin (2001), In the Process of Poetry, the New York School and the Avant-garde, Lewisburg, Bucknell University Press, p. 99. Hereafter cited by page number.

15 Barbara Guest (1990), Denver quarterly 24.4, p. 15 (qtd. in Watkin 2001, p. 100).

16 Louise M. Rosenblatt (nov 1964), College English, 126, “The poem as event”, Vol 26, N°2, p. 123-128.

17 Rosenblatt, Louise (1978), The Reader, The Text, The Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, p. 12.

18 Sara Lundquist (2002), “Implacable Poet, Purple birds, the work of Barbara Guest”, American Poets in the 21st century, Where Lyric meets language, Claudia Rankine & Juliana Spahr, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown Connecticut, p. 205.

19 Claude Romano (1998), L’événement et le monde, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, p. 94.

20 Barbara Guest & June Felter (1988), “Musicality”, produced by Rena Rosenwasser, Kesley St. Press. The book is not numbered. “Musicality” is also published in Barbara Guest (2008), The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, p. 201-206.

21 John Cage (1979), “Preface to Lecture on the Weather”, Empty Words, Writings 73-78, Middleton, CT, Wesleyan University Press, p. 3-5. These were unpublished individual performances.

22 Barbara Guest (2003), “Invisible Architecture,” Forces of Imagination, p. 18.

23 Barbara Guest (2003), “Forces of Imagination”, Forces of Imagination, p. 106.

24 Sara Lundquist (2002), “Implacable Poet, Purple birds, the work of Barbara Guest”, American Poets in the 21st century, Where Lyric meets language, Claudia Rankine and Juliana spahr, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown Connecticut, p. 209.

25 Barbara Guest & June Felter (1988), “Musicality”, p. 203.

26 Sabrina Parent (2011), Poétiques de l’événement, Paris, Classiques Garnier, p. 13.

27 Sabrina Parent (2011), p. 124, my translation.

28 Barbara Guest (2003), Forces of Imagination, p. 84.

29 Barbara Guest (2003), “The Beautiful Voyage,” Forces of Imagination, p. 78. 

30 Barbara Guest & June Felter (1988), “Musicality”, p. 204-205.

31 Frank O’Hara (1995), The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara, ed. Donald D. Allen, Berkeley, University of California press, [originally Knopf, 1971] p. 499.

32 Barbara Guest (1999), “Rocks on a Platter,” The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (2008), p. 433.

33 Barbara Guest (2003), Forces of Imagination, p. 52, p. 103, p. 107.

34 Barbara Guest (1993), “Restlessness,” The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, p. 280-281.

35 Daniel Hoffman (1968), The Harvard Guide to Contemporary American Writing, “New York Poets,” p. 209 (qtd. in Silverberg, p. 114-115).

36 Barbara Guest (1993), “Restlessness », The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (2008), p. 281-282.

37 Barbara Guest (1999), “Rocks on a Platter: Notes on Literature,” The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (2008), p. 429.

38 Barbara Guest (1999), “Valorous vine,”, If so Tell me, The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (2008), p. 369.

39 Alain Badiou (1988), L’Être et l’événement, Paris, Seuil, p. 214.

40 Barbara Guest (1999), Rocks on a Platter, p. 435.

41 Barbara Guest (2003), “Wounded Joy”, Forces of Imagination, p. 100-101.

42 Barbara Guest (1995), “Stripped Tales,” The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (2008), p. 313-328. “Why They are Called Tales,” Forces of Imagination, p. 33.

43 Barbara Guest (1973), “Drawing a Blank”, Moscow Mansions, The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (2008), p. 126.

44 Barbara Guest (1973), “Drawing a Blank”, p. 126.

45 Barbara Guest (1999), “Disappearance,” The Confetti Trees, The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (2008), p. 422.

46 « Entre l’événement annulé par la réalité de son appartenance visible à la situation, et l ‘événement annulé par sa totale invisibilité, la seule figure représentable du concept de l’événement est la mise en scène de son indécidabilité, ‘l’indécidabilité événementielle’ » Alain Badiou (198, L’Être et l’événement, Paris, Seuil, p. 215-216.

47 Barbara Guest (1989), “Wild Gardens overlooked by Night Lights”, Fair Realism, The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, p. 209-210.

48 Barbara Guest (2003), Forces of Imagination, p. 106.

49 Barbara Guest (1989), “Wild Gardens overlooked by night lights”, Complete Poems (2008), p. 210.

50 Barbara Guest (2003), “Mysteriously defining the Mysterious: Byzantine Proposals of Poetry”, Forces of Imagination, p. 85.

51 Barbara Guest (2003), “The Beautiful voyage”, Forces of Imagination, p. 81.

52 Barbara Guest (2003), “Mysteriously defining the mysterious”, p. 84.

53 Barbara Guest (2003), “Wounded Joy”, Forces of Imagination, p. 100.

54 Barbara Guest (2003), “Invisible Architecture”, p. 18-19.

55 Sara Lundquist (2002), “Implacable Poet, Purple birds, the work of Barbara Guest”, American Poets in the 21st century, Where Lyric meets language, Claudia Rankine and Juliana Spahr, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown Connecticut, p. 194.

56 Sara Lundquist (2002), “Implacable Poet, Purple birds, the work of Barbara Guest”, p. 194.

57 Barbara Guest (1989), “An Emphasis Falls on Reality”, Fair Realism, The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (2008), p. 221.

58 Barbara Guest (1968), “Saving Tallow”, The Blue Stairs, The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, p. 71-72.

59 Barbara Guest (2003), “Poetry The True Fiction”, Forces of Imagination, p. 26.

60 In “Why I am not a painter,” a poem about oranges and sardines, O’Hara explains this process of improvisation. Frank O’Hara (2003), Why I am Not a Painter and other Poems, ed. Mark Ford, Manchester, UK, Carcanet Press Ltd.

61 Barbara Guest (2003), “A Reason for poetics,” p. 20.

62 Barbara Guest (1999), “Rocks on a Platter,” p. 448.

63 Barbara Guest (2003), “A Reason for poetics,” p. 21.

64 Barbara Guest (2003), “Invisible Architecture”, p. 18.

65 Mark Hillringhouse (1992), “Barbara Guest : An Interview,” American Poetry Review 21.4 (July/August 1992), p. 23-30, p. 26.

66 Barbara Guest (2003), “Wounded Joy”, Forces of Imagination, p. 100.

67 Charles Bernstein (1999), “Introducing Barbara Guest”, Frost Medal, Poetry Society of America at the Celeste Bartos Forum of the New York Public Library, (April 23, 1999), http://jacketmagazine.com/10/bern-on-gues.html (accessed October 1999).

68 Barbara Guest (1962), “The Voice Tree”, The Open Skies, The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, p.39.

69 Barbara Guest (2003), “The Shadow of Surrealism,” in Forces of Imagination, p. 51.

70 Barbara Guest (1969), “The Türler Losses”, The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (2008), p. 171.

71 Peter Gizzi (2008), Fair Realist, Introduction to The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, xvii.

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References

Electronic reference

Claudia Desblaches, « Something else is happening” in Barbara Guest’s poems: the art of creating events », Methodos [Online], 17 | 2017, Online since 23 March 2017, connection on 19 November 2017. URL : http://methodos.revues.org/4686 ; DOI : 10.4000/methodos.4686

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About the author

Claudia Desblaches

Rennes 2 University, France

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
Les contenus de la revue Methodos sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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