Brenda Hillman: February 25, 2008, Barbara Guest’s living room, Berkeley, CA
This interview fills in gaps in chronology from earlier interviews and focuses on Guest’s creative process, as well as her later work. The third voice is Patricia Dienstfrey, co-founder of Kelsey Street Press. The interview is divided into four sections, with summaries below. Many thanks to Brenda Hillman for helping Kelsey Street Press recover this lost track. The other interviews in this series can be found here.
Section 1: Guest’s creative process and how she responded when her work was described as obscure. The influence of modern art and literature. The return to Berkeley later in her life (working with Kelsey Street Press in 1988, and moving to Berkeley in 1994). A visit with artist June Felter in Berkeley in 1987. Guest’s breakthrough in writing “Chalk” on the chalkboard at the Windrush School. The struggle for avant-garde writing to be accepted by academia.
Section 2: Filling in the chronology from earlier interviews. Guest’s younger siblings David, Pat, Nancy, and Jimmy. Moving in with her aunt in California at age 11 at her grandmother’s urging. Her father’s work as a probation officer. The family history as pioneers. Social work in Los Angeles. Guest’s job as a typist for Henry Miller. Her relationship with Miller’s roommate John Dudley. Moving to Kansas and then to New York. Discovering the art and literary scene in NY. Discussion of Guest’s suspicion of academia, and how scholarship on avant-garde writing has changed over the past 50 years. The importance of freedom. Guest’s sense that the NY School writers had drifted apart by the 1980s. In the 1960s, the demand that writing be political, rather than personal. How Guest opposed any such mandate on writing. The imagination as transformative. Discussion of realism with reference to Fair Realism and Wallace Stevens. Religious upbringing and faith later in life. Spirituality, art, and Kandinsky.
Section 3: Discussion of Rocks on a Platter: Notes on Literature. Adorno. Discussion about lyric poetry. Aesthetic changes between Rocks on a Platter and Miniatures and Other Poems. Guest’s anxiety that Wesleyan might not accept Miniatures and feeling held back creatively by that anxiety. Her prolific writing and the sense of always needing to push aesthetic boundaries. The intensity of her creative process. Her notebooks. Discussion about The Red Gaze and her process in writing it. “Imagined Room,” “The Brown Vest,” and “The Next Floor.” Sense of her poetry being grounded in life despite its strangeness. Her love of color and the influence of painters. Her collages.
Section 4: Collaborations with Kevin Killian. Hadley Haden Guest’s relationship with her mother. Guest’s appreciation of beauty and art. Hadley Haden Guest’s education and youth; her relationship with her stepfather; her father, his family history, his relationship with H.D. Conclusion.
March 23, 2009
In the effort to preserve valuable information about Barbara Guest’s life for future biographers and lovers of her work, Kelsey Street Press has done a series of interviews with Barbara’s daughter, Hadley Haden Guest. The interviews took place between Fall, 2007 and Spring, 2008, at Barbara’s home in Berkeley, which she shared with Hadley for more than a decade at the end of her life.
The interviews include: Susan Gevirtz, on Barbara’s early years; Kathleen Fraser, on her years in New York City; Brenda Hillman, on certain late poems and the creative process; Rena Rosenwasser on collaborations with visual artists; and Patricia Dienstfrey on Hadley’s recollections of Barbara in the context of family life. If you cite or quote this series on your website or in your work, which you are invited to do, we ask that you acknowledge Kelsey Street Press. These recordings are unedited. Address: 2824 Kelsey Street, Berkeley, CA, 94705.