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Forces of Imagination: Writing on Writing

Forces of Imagination: Writing on Writing


Barbara Guest


    2003, 111 pages

    ISBN 0-932716-61-X


    Drawings by Laurie Reid.



    Spanning three decades, this compilation of essays and talks comprises Barbara Guest's most comprehensive commentary to date on writing and poetics.



    Barbara Guest is the author of numerous books of poetry, among them The Red Gaze (Wesleyan University Press, 2005); Miniatures and Other Poems (2002), Symbiosis (1999), Defensive Rapture (1994), Fair Realism (1989), Musicality (1988), The Nude (1986), Quilts (1980), and Biography (1980). She is also the author of several plays and a novel, Seeking Air (1978). Her honors include the Robert Frost Medal for Distinguished Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Society of America, the Longwood Award, a San Francisco State award for poetry, the Lawrence Lipton Award for Literature, the Columbia Book Award, and a grant from The National Endowment for the Arts.


    She lived in Berkeley, California. Guest died on February 15, 2006.


    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."

    — Publisher's Weekly


    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.

    — John Ashbery


    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.

    — Marjorie Welish

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