Barbara Guest

by Barbara Pinson

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Barbara Guest adamantly believed that poems should be elusive, mysterious, and obscure, yet at the same time concise and clear. She felt that poems should touch the reader in a self-identifying way, yet leave room for metaphorical ellipses of thought—words and thoughts left unsaid. Guest’s use of white space and a pervading sense of erased thoughts and actions blurred the lines between subject, object, and intent, leaving the reader with both a sense of identity and mystery—life without boundaries. Guest also relied heavily on visual arts, infusing her works repeatedly with painterly aspects and nuance.


Symbiosis, a poem fusing the written word and a painting, is a successful collaboration between Guest and artist Laurie Reid. Poet and artist join together to create a visually and emotionally harmonious yet elusive use of space, color, and texture. Within the poem is an unusual sense of time and space, created by Guest’s reliance on actual white, or blank, space on the page. The artist and poet seem to use and feed each other in the process of creating the sense of imagery so often present in Guest’s work. Many elements make up this imagery: separations and rejoinings of artist and writer; references to syntax, image, and literati to conjure up the work of a poet; and objects such as wood, paper, and wild berries that might be included in a still life by painters. Reid and Guest create a “symbiosis” of talent by expressing both their differences and their similarities.

Miniatures, and Other Poems

Miniatures, and Other Poems again fuses the gifts of poets and writers with cultural elements from the visual arts, music, theater, and dance. It contains poems that seem both sparse and all-encompassing. Incorporated within the poetry is concise syntax used to carry the reader to infinite conclusions. The collection is divided into three sections: “Miniatures,” “Pathos,” and “Blurred Edged.” The poems in “Miniatures” include references to writers such as Anton Chekhov and John Keats, historical periods of visual art such as Romanticism, musical artists such as Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner, and a host of other artistic elements. Guest incorporates her own voice into this varied palette of artistic genres, with her usual and perfected sense of blurred time and space, imagination and reality.

The Red Gaze

The Red Gaze was published shortly before Guest’s death. The seemingly obvious interpretation of The Red Gaze is to look, or gaze, on subjects of bright color, or to look through a brightly colored personal lens. Following Guest’s belief that poetry should reflect art forms, especially painting, the poetry in this collection details those nuances usually found in paintings: color, texture, dimensions (real or distorted), light and dark, depth, and the intuitive reaction by the reader (or viewer) of the works.

The opening poem, “Nostalgia,” is an elliptical tale that is initially suggestive of modern America failing to free itself from the traditions of ancestral Europe. The poem almost imperceptibly fades into the futility of focusing on the past and shifts its forward “gaze” into the modern world. The European traditions become so far distant that they disintegrate, a process that Guest symbolizes visually with fragmented lines within the poem. “Nostalgia” for the old ways, then, looks more and more like a rejection of those same ways and traditions. Ambiguity and its opposite, certainty, both play significant roles in this poem.

In the title poem, “The Red Gaze,” color is the predominant impression. The poem’s few lines also contain an evolution of sorts. The reader can easily see the painterly illusions within the poem, which takes a simple tree and...

(This entire section contains 767 words.)

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its leaves through vibrancy and strength to starkness and death—although as might be expected of Guest, there is a hopeful hint of serenity and rebirth at the end of the poem. The very last line, though seemingly succinctly heralding the end of the poem, actually suggests a new beginning. This poem, therefore, could serve as a synopsis for Guest’s artistic theories and style: fading in and out of hope and despair, looking on not only the solidity of material objects but also the suggestion of what has come before and may again return.

In “Hans Hoffman,” the famous painter and teacher conducts a class in nature. Though the colors are vivid and warm, they soon mesh into dark and cold, returning again to the vibrant color of red to which Hans is so attached. Again in this poem, Guest invokes patterns of nature, color, perception, and nuances that reflect the world of art and her painterly poetic style.


Guest, Barbara