Barbara Guest

A conversation with Aaron Kunin

The poet's novel

Laynie Browne: Recently a show at the Morgan Library in New York City celebrated the 1913 publication of the first of the seven volumes of Swan’s Way. Here one could see some of Proust’s original handwritten manuscripts and notebooks, some of which have never left Paris. In one notebook, considering his book in progress he writes:  “Should it be a novel, a philosophical essay, am I a novelist?”

In your novel The Mandarin, the question is potently raised in various ways, who is a novelist? What is a novel? I wonder if you could comment on this.

Feature: Barbara Guest

In Jacket 36

Barbara Guest, Sermoneta, Italy, 1968
Barbara Guest, Sermoneta, Italy, 1968

[»»] Matthew Cooperman: Envy and Architecture: On Barbara Guest’s Realisms
[»»] Rachel Blau DuPlessis: ‘The other window is the lark’: on Barbara Guest
[»»] Ken Edwards: Pageant of creativity
[»»] Catherine Kasper: Barbara Guest’s Career: Defensive Rapture
[»»] Erica Kaufman: On “The Location of Things”

St Mark's Talks (1985): Erica Hunt, Bruce Boone, Peter Inman, Jackson Mac Low, David Antin, Barbara Guest, Lorenzo Thomas, Steve McCaffery, Kathleen Fraser, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Nathaniel Mackey, Ron Silliman, Bob Perelman, Anne Waldman, Nick Piombino

In 1985, Eileen Myles was the new director of the St. Mark's Poetry Project in New York. She asked me to curate a lecture series, the first such program at the church. I modelled the series at the Poetry Project on my earlier series New York Talk, giving it the amusing title, given the sometimes seeming resistance to poetics at the St. Marks at the time, St. Marks Talks. And talk it did.

Barbara Guest

Photo: l to r: Barbara Guest, Hadley Guest
Photo: l to r: Barbara Guest, Hadley Guest

It’s good to see Jacket2 continuing to focus on the poetry of Barbara Guest, a forceful writer of uncompromisingly modern tastes.
I am pleased to say that at a reading for Carl Rakosi in San Francisco some years ago (where Carl read  his short poem “The Laboratory Rat”) I was able to meet Barbara Guest. I mentioned that Allen Ginsberg once lived on the same street as she did, in Berkeley, at the time he wrote “A Supermarket in California”.
“Well, it’s a very long avenue,” she replied sweetly. “I think Allen lived somewhere on the downtown end.”

Hadley Guest and Kathleen Fraser talk about Barbara Guest

Barbara Guest (left) with Hadley Guest (right)

Kathleen Fraser interviewed Hadley Guest about Barbara Guest in Berkeley on July 17, 2007. The complete recording lasts two hours and 31 minutes and is available on PennSound’s Barbara Guest author page.

  1. introduction (0:23): MP3
  2. Hadley Guest reading "The Next Floor" by Barbara Guest (0:51): MP3
  3. Kathleen Fraser on being introduced to Barbara Guest and her work (13:46): MP3
  4. Barbara Guest’s friendship with painters (9:33): MP3
  5. Hadley Guest on growing up around poets and painters (5:15): MP3
  6. the division between uptown and downtown in the New York art world in the 60s (12:31): MP3
  7. Barbara Guest's refusal to be pigeon-holed (2:23): MP3
  8. the cruelty of the downtown scene and Barbara Guest’s erasure (18:31): MP3
  9. Hadley Guest on living with Barbara during the last few years of her life and hearing about her first marriage to John Dudley (7:18): MP3
  10. Trumbull Higgins and social position in relation to money (11:33): MP3
  11. Barbara’s uptown studio and her strong family feelings (16:55): MP3

Complete works

Image by Noah Saterstrom

This playlist includes recordings of authors reading the entirety of a book or chapbook. I find that longer recordings allow me to become immersed in the textures of the work, to register the ambient sonic environment, and to perceive other small shifts and variations within and between pieces. I sometimes listen to one long recording that allows me to settle into a particular mode of listening and then follow it by listening to another recording that suggests another form of attention. I like the feeling of becoming engrossed and hypnotized by a recording and then using another recording to snap myself out of the experience so that I can see the initial recording with more critical distance.

While listening to the following recordings over the last few weeks, I was reminded of Christine Hume’s review/essay “Carla Harryman’s Baby: Listening In, Around, Through, and Out” published in How2.

Typescript of two early poems by Barbara Guest

'Escape' and 'The Inhabitants'

For transcriptions of these poems, please visit “Three Poems by Barbara Guest.”


Page 1

'Back of'

Index, bibliography, catalog, list

Image by Noah Saterstrom
Image by Noah Saterstrom

This post explores the poem as index, bibliography, catalog, or otherwise arranged list. I want to consider the ways each piece overflows, suggesting threads that the listener might follow or complicating the idea of order under the guise of an ordering structure. I want to pay attention to the ways these recordings open up into the works of other writers and artists in addition to reflecting back upon the concerns of their respective authors.

Breathing a fire of risk

Kunitz and Guest in the KWH 1960 symposium

The 1960s Symposium at the Kelly Writers House happened last December and featured a varied list of speakers. Each one addressed the 1960s moment in American literary history, which could best be summed up by the books published around that time. It seemed like a fabulous event and I could certainly comment on every last minute of it. Below are just some of my thoughts on two parts: Al Filreis’s introduction and Erica Kaufman’s discussion of Barbara Guest’s book, The Location of Things.

On Barbara Guest, 'The Location of Things'

Barbara Guest’s remarkable first book, The Location of Things (Tibor de Nagy Gallery, 1960), establishes that it is possible to reclaim gendered space, and this possibility is manifest in language itself.

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