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)

Echoes

Barbara Guest, 1920 - 2006

Once more riding down to Venice on borrowed horses,
 

the air free of misdemeanor, at rest in the inns of our fathers.

Once again whiteness like the white chandelier.

Echoes of other poems...

 

From The Red Gaze. Copyright © 2005 by Barbara Guest. Courtesy of Wesleyan University Press

From The Red Gaze. Copyright © 2005 by Barbara Guest. Courtesy 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
There is no fear 
in taking the first step 
or the second 
or the third

                having a position
                between several Popes

In fact the top 
can be reached 
without disaster

                precocious

The code 
consists in noticing 
the particular shade 
of the staircase
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.