"Quanta...like spit in the dust of a baseball field" - Cody

April 25, 2003

Barbara Guest

It took me reading The Countess from Minneapolis and reading halfway through Poems: The Location of Things, Archaics, Open Skies before I began to enjoy her poetry. She writes very associatively, but the connections that she makes often leave me feeling like a non-participant. Until I read In Dock:

We are living at an embarkation port
where the gulls
and the soft-shoed buoys
make Atlantic soundings
This air of ours is photographing fish

and the rice and the white antelope pelts
are asleep in the dark orchid hold
where old women have sent their black lids to be parched
and young bronze boys are tying knots in their limbs
while the spume and the salt
send thick-painted pictures to the hatchway

or the ghost ship from Athens
plying its shuttered bark
crying Zeus! Zeus!
as it shatters this pier.

Note: Since I am not an html wiz, I was not able to accurately represent the formatting of her poem as it was originally published. It's close, but not exact. The same goes for the next excerpt.

The metaphors in this poem are vibrant and the images and sensations put me at the dock, wetted by the sea spray, crying Zeus aloud.

For the Electronic Poetry Center page devoted to Barbara Guest, click here.

To find out what another poet, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, has to say about Guest's poetry, click here.

Here's part of another poem that caught my breath. From The Crisis:

After the white-collared boats
the smithies shall return
then we shall hear
the ding dong.

After the laundries, the lavatories of trains
when velvet returns
we shall see the snails
making their own ding dong
when it rains.
when Madame returned
she discovered

a frieze on the wall and she exclaimed
in horror
(it was over)

You have murdered our friend!

Ding dong
from now on.

I love how she plays with sound in the piece: the repetition, the internal rhyme, the hyperbole (is stepping on a snail really murder?). There's also something about the simple but unconventional form of hanging indents that appeals to me. Oooh I forgot the best line from that poem: "a quiet vista of snails." Fun, right?

The next quote is from Green Awnings:

She was sewing a white heron into her gown
Messages came each day from her father, but
she ignored them, preferring to think of the pale
autumn legs of her bird.

She put water in a vase and wished for flowers.

I like the prose-like quality of this poem and the idea of transforming the image of something beautiful into a garment. Could we all wear our words, fashion might mean more than fluffery.
Posted by cbsisco at April 25, 2003 04:45 PM


What? No snail fans here?

Posted by: Cody at May 28, 2003 03:00 PM