Barbara Guest

Barbara Guest

Photograph by Gloria Graham during the video taping of "Add-Verse", 2003
Born (1920-09-06)6 September 1920
Wilmington, North Carolina, United States
Died 15 February 2006(2006-02-15) (aged 85)
Berkeley, California, United States
Occupation Poet
Genre Poetry, prose
Literary movement New York School
Notable works "Herself Defined", "Fair Realism", "Forces of Imagination"
Notable awards Robert Frost Medal (1999)

Barbara Guest née Barbara Ann Pinson (September 6, 1920 February 15, 2006) was an American poet and prose stylist. Guest first gained recognition as a member of the first generation New York School of poetry.[1] Guest wrote more than 15 books of poetry spanning sixty years of writing. In 1999, she was awarded the Frost Medal for Lifetime Achievement by the Poetry Society of America. Guest also wrote art criticism, essays, and plays. Her collages appeared on the covers of several of her books of poetry. She was also well known for her biography of the poet H.D., Herself Defined: The Poet H.D. and Her World (1984).

Born in Wilmington, North Carolina and raised in California, Guest attended UCLA,[2] and then earned a B.A. in General Curriculum-Humanities in 1943 at UC Berkeley. She worked as an editorial associate at ARTnews magazine from 1951-1959.


Barbara Guest wrote more than 15 books of poetry spanning sixty years of writing. "Her poems begin in the midst of action," wrote Peter Gizzi in his introduction to a collection of her work, "but their angle of perception is oblique."[3] Her poems are known for their abstract quality, vivid language, and intellectualism. She believed that the subject of the poem finds itself through the writing of the poem and through the poet's imagination. "Disturbing the conventional relations of subjects and objects, of reality and imagination, is one of Guest's signature gestures," noted Gizzi.[4]

Among her most well-known poems are "Parachutes, My Love, Could Carry Us Higher," (MP3) "Wild Gardens Overlooked by Night Lights, (MP3)" "Roses," and "Photographs."


The subject matter finds itself...You find the subject as you proceed with (writing) the poem.
Barbara Guest, Interview on LINEBreak with Charles Bernstein. 1995
Poetry is where the concrete object is bathed in a new atmosphere lifted out of itself to become a fiction. The poet is not there only to share a poetic communication but to stimulate an imaginative speculation on the nature of reality.
Barbara Guest, Lecture titled "How I Got Out of Poetry and into Prose." 1992.
The poet wishes to align the contents of the poem with the vision which directs it. When this occurs, we say of a poem that it has wings. It is possible that words may occur in a fixed space and sequences so that they are called words of a poem. We say this poem is made of words. It is true many poems are constructed solely of words. These are the words that sit on paper without vision. We have all read these poems and we know after we have read them, we feel curiously bereft. Our expectations of enoblement by the poem have been disappointed by the lackluster condition of the poem. We decide that this poem is not very inspired. And what do we mean by this? We desired inspiration that the poem contained within it, the spirit of poetry. We have learned that words are only utensils. They are inorganic unless there is a spirit within the poem, to elevate it, to give it wings so that the poem may soar above the page and enter our consciousness where we may, if we wish, give it a long life.
Barbara Guest, Lecture titled "How I Got Out of Poetry and into Prose." 1992.
(Imagination) is something fluid which can twist itself into a poem.
Barbara Guest, Interview on LINEBreak with Charles Bernstein. 1995

Selected bibliography

“To speak with Barbara Guest about poetry was always to be in the presence of a fiercely uncompromised vision of the art and its obligations. Her insights continually astonished me. They were beholden to no one. And the work itself, of a lyric intelligence entirely her own. For whatever reasons, and I can sadly imagine many, it has not received its full due, but it will. The music insists.”
Michael Palmer[5]

Collaborative books

Note: the source for this section is from "Introducing Barbara Guest" by Charles Bernstein, appended in a footnote to the transcript by John Tranter [6]

External links


  1. "Jacket author notes: Barbara Guest". 2003-10-16. Retrieved 2011-08-05.
  2. Guest, Hadley Haden (2008). The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press. p. xviii. ISBN 978-0-8195-6860-1.
  3. Guest, p. xvii
  4. Guest, p. xviii
  5. Haven, Cynthia (1920-09-06). " "When I Say The Word Home, I Almost Whisper It"". Retrieved 2011-08-05.
  6. "Jacket # 10 - Charles Bernstein Introduces Barbara Guest". 1999-04-23. Retrieved 2011-08-06.
  7. first exhibited at the Whitney Museum, New York City, in the Spring of 2000
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