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.
March 21, 2009
Susan Gevirtz: May 9, 2007, Barbara Guest’s livingroom, Berkeley, CA. Recorded with the help of Ramsay Breslin.
The three Gevirtz/Guest tracks divide into two main sections.
Section 1: Guests’ peripatetic childhood moving back and forth between Florida and West Virginia. Brief profiles of her mother and father. Influences of the Depression. Beverly Hills High in 1930’s. College at UCLA and UC Berkeley. World War II years, social work and other jobs. First marriage to John Dudley and moves from LA to Kansas City and Manhattan. Barbara in Los Angeles, 1940s. Discussions of “Handbook of Surfing,” and “Turkey Villas” from THE BLUE STAIRS. Guest’s conflicted views regarding psychoanalysis and doctors given her Christian Science background. Hollywood and THE CONFETTI TREES. UC Berkeley: the Beats, Josephine Miles, Kenneth Rexroth and the SF Renaissance poets. Poets who influenced Guest’s poetry. Her view of historical time in poetry and the character of her modernism. Hadley Guest reading “Blurred Edge” from MINIATURES.
Section 2: The third voice is Patricia Dienstfrey’s, co-founder of Kelsey Street Press. Guest’s apartment overlooking Kandinsky’s studio in the Flatiron District. Her respect for artists who came to the U.S. from European and Eastern European during World War II. Her four siblings.Part 1 of 3 Part 2 of 3 Part 3 of 3
March 20, 2009
Kathleen Fraser: July 17, 2007, Barbara Guest’s livingroom, Berkeley, CA
Single track. Guest’s years in New York City. Fraser’s first meeting with Guest in the context of the New York School poets and painters. Guests’s friendship with Frank O’Hara and other New York School poets and painters. Coming to modernist poetry. Influence of European refugees on American post-war culture. Guest’s apartment interiors, spaces and painting-filled walls. Politics and money and their influences on New York social life and poetic styles. Updown and downtown controversies in the NYC poetry scene during the fifties, sixties and seventies. Background on the writing of HD: HERSELF DEFINED, a biography, and SEEKING AIR, a novel. Guest’s feminism defined.
March 19, 2009
Rena Rosenwasser: October 23, 2007, Barbara Guest’s livingroom, Berkeley, CA
The main focus of this track is on Guest’s collaborations with visual artists throughout her writing career.
Guest’s visits to Berkeley in the eighties for readings and to stay for periods of time in friends’ homes. How “writing against personal difficulties” stimulated her middle and later poems. Combinations of adventurous spirit, risk-taking, insecurity, fear, opportunity, spontaneity as part of her process and an aspect of her modernism. Guest’s close friendship with artist, June Felter. The importance of the writing of “Chalk” in an empty Albany, CA classroom. Rosenwasser’s first meeting with Guest and their visits in NYC in the eighties. New York School views of life and art as not separate from social engagement of artists, writers, dancers, musicians in studios, museums, bars, parties and private conversations. Reasons for Guest’s move to the Bay Area in 1994. Guest’s immediate impact on the poetry Bay Area poetry scene among innovative feminist writers, students, and others. Discussion of some of her Bay Area poet friends. Guest’s many awards in later life, including the highly prestigious Robert Frost Medal for Distinguished Lifetime of Work in Poetry from the Poetry Society of America, 1999.
DEFENSIVE RAPTURE, Sun & Moon, 1993
QUILL, SOLITARY, APPARITION, Post-Apollo, 1996
THE CONFETTI TREES, Sun & Moon, 1999
Poem paintings with Mary Abbott in NYC and Ilse Getz in Paris
MUSICALITY: With artist June Felter, Kelsey Street Press, 1988
THE NUDE: With artist Warren Brandt, International Editions, 1989
THE ALTOS: With artist Richard Tuttle, Hank Hine Press, 1992
OFTEN: A play, in collaboration with poet Kevin Killian, performed at Small Press Traffic, 1990’s
STRIPPED TALES: With artist Anne Dunn, Kelsey Street Press, 1995
SYMBIOSIS: With artists Laurie Reid, Kelsey Street Press, 2000
DURER IN THE WINDOW: With artist Richard Tuttle and editor Africa Wayne, Roof Books, 2003
March 18, 2009
Patricia Dienstfrey: May 23, 2008, Barbara Guest’s livingroom, Berkeley, CA.
This interview focuses on Hadley Haden Guest’s memories of family life, growing up in a household with her mother, her stepfather, Trumble Higgins, and her half brother, Jonathan.
Track 1: Hadley’s early childhood memories of her father, Stephen Guest, and her stepfather, Trumble Higgins in New York City.
Track 2: Barbara Guest’s and Trumble Higgin’s differing perspectives on politics and class. Barbara Guest’s activism during the Vietnam War. Years in residence in Washington, D.C. during the Kennedy Administration. Entertaining at home. Styles of argument and discussion in the family context. Hadley’s years at boarding school and Bennington College. Barbara Guest’s style of criticism and her advise to Hadley starting out as a writer of children’s books.