Academic journal article Chicago Review

Afterword

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Afterword

Article excerpt

The poems published here, from the Barbara Guest archive at the Beinecke Library at Yale, never appeared in a collection. They were written fairly early in Guest's long career, probably in the early 1960s. (Guest's first book was published in 1960, her last in 2005.) At least two--"Days" and "Savon Pompeia"--formed part of a manuscript that Guest sent to Denise Levertov, then poetry editor for Norton, in 1963 or '64. In a letter dated 24 June 1964, Levertov rejected the manuscript:

  I like a lot of the poems very much--Days, A Reason, On a Chinese
  Vase, Taking a Bath While Snow is Falling, 4 Moroccan Studies, Savon
  Pompeia, Walking Buddha, Florida, and--slightly less, perhaps--A Way
  of Being; and as a matter of fact I like the book as a whole much more
  than I expected to (to answer your uncertainty about what I feel
  towards your poetry in general, I have always liked individual poems
  but felt that there were many others vitiated by 1) the typical chic
  flipness of the NY School and 2) the fact that (as it seemed to me)
  although you were often quite wonderfully in touch with your
  unconscious which presented you with many images of dazzling beauty
  and strangeness, you either did not have, or did not exercise, an
  interpretive intelligence to link them to one another, to relate them
  to experience. Often a poem of yours has seemed to me like an
  unrelated series of poem-seeds, none of them developed). This book was
  to me an agreeable surprise because though there are poems that I
  think are like that, it is not true of the majority of them and when
  I read straight through it I heard an undertone of feeling, a
  connective thread.

Levertov went on to say that she would back the book at Norton but that it would not appear for some years if accepted, and that Guest should try other publishers (including Wesleyan, where Levertov was on the board) and send again to Norton if she had no success. Guest never published with Norton. Wesleyan started publishing her work more than thirty years later. (1)

The nature of Guest's "interpretive intelligence" puzzled many of her contemporaries. Her associative leaps resemble those of her friends Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, and James Schuyler, but her poems avoid the speechlike connective tissue that marks much of their work. And although her poetry is utterly specific and local, it rarely begins or ends in autobiography or anecdote. …

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