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The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2017

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Barbara Guest, The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest

(Wesleyan University Press, 2008)

This volume, a 600-page-long feast, beautifully showcases why Barbara Guest (1920 – 2006) remains a Guest, singularly and generously—her geist still edging up to and through you, like, right now. 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.; and yet reviewing her oeuvre today, this life-long work of incandescent mobile nexus, one would, as I do, feel struck also by a certain conceptual intimacy as well as compositional intricacy of the timbre of her, say, alto-lyrical voice that is almost post-Internet for its psycho-topological capacity to hold open tight such a space of liminal-vectorial alterity (al-to) that could also sound “all-too” lyrical at least to some ears, as we hear her saying:

I am closer to you
Than land and I am in a stranger ocean
Than I wished

in “Parachutes, My Love, Could Carry Us Higher.”

“You,” the metonym for one another or-and the other freed up there, “alyric” in Charles Bernstein’s coding, become(s) the inter-subject that literalizes the liquid margins, the plasticity of “lyric negation” as Robert Kaufman says about Guest’s “enactment” of Adorno’s critical aesthetics, in which I also hear inactment—a possibility of. In the age of lyrical crisis or critical lyricism, this infra-poetics of intersubjective alterity, its poethical sensibility, remains an inspirational mortar, a motor for differential self-engendering. Guest, of the New York School, will edge you in, so to speak, without closing you in or on you; the hosting guest follows and takes us somewhere higher through the border, lighter even, as she brushes a breath into time, again now, with that stroke of gentle genius. If Frank O’Hara, in comparison, engages the second-person directly, and John Ashbery, more neutro-gesturally through the collective impersonalization of the first, Guest, attuned to both of you, keeps you somewhere between, like a 0.5/1.5/2.5(th) person, as she, each of her pieces, becomes the “shuffling mind” with a mini-propeller, an ear, for a soft ensouled flight somelsewhere you didn’t know you could see, as “the Sky Sinks Slowly Inside the Past”: Of You, My Guest.


Kyoo Lee


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2017

All Issues