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Forces of Imagination:
Writing On Writing
by Barbara Guest
drawings by Laurie Reid
2003, 111 pages
Spanning three decades, this compilation of essays and talks comprises Barbara Guest's most comprehensive commentary to date on writing and poetics.
Barbara Guest may finally be getting the level of recognition
accorded her differently gendered New York School peers. She, too,
began in 1950s New York, taking cues from modern abstract painters;
she, too, pursued a modernist version of beauty through several decades
of now-influential verse. Guest collects her challenging shorter
essays, talks and even some poems about poetry in the long-awaited
Forces of the Imagination: Writing on Writing. Some
pieces remain provocatively abstract, advising us to "Respect your
private language"; others return to the poet H.D. (whose
biography, Herself Defined, Guest has written), pursue links between
verse and visual art, or trace Guest's own development: "I
grew up under the shadow of Surrealism." For Guest, "The
person inside a literary creation can be both viewer and insider. The
window is open and the bird flies in."
We expect poets to give a first-hand account of what poetry is.
But some poets, when they write criticism, produce a kind of prose that
is itself on the verge of being poetry. Valery, Stevens and Marianne
Moore belong to this "visionary company." And so does Barbara
Guest, whose writing on poetry, collected here, are among the most
inspiring works of their kind. It is a deep pleasure to know that such
writing can still exist.
In this companion to her important poetry, Barbara Guest may be
said to advance a poetics amazed in its dreaminess and lyrical in its
critical register. No wonder the Symbolist poetics from which she takes
her core meaning is as integral to her poetry as it is: it is the way
she thinks! Her aphoristic plasticity is affirmative, affirmative in
performing acts on our behalf.