Blog hiatus is officially over! Bring on a restful break! Find Guest review below.
Barbara Guest’s Forces of Imagination:

In Rocks on a Platter  (Wesleyan University Press), Barbara Guest “attempt(s) to write about the making of a poem and, in so doing, establishes a literary approach other than the essay form.” Rocks   is a longish poem that reads as notes for further writing, as if Guest’s marginalia jumped from the page and into the lyric of her poem. The book is as much about writing as it is about reading (ultimately honed as generative material for further thought). In her newest collection of “writing on writing,” Forces of Imagination  (Kelsey St. Press), Guest again redefines how we might think about a criticism that relies on the language of poetry to do the work of discursive prose. While Forces of Imagination  feels more like “proper” criticism (that is, much of the work is written in the form of lectures or talks, as opposed to the three or four word stanzaic bursts in Rocks ), both Rocks on a Platter  and Forces of Imagination  are twinned on a similar arc, evincing Guest’s dedication to a writing that is the record of a thinking mind.

I hesitate to provide a biographical sketch of Guest as I assume her name (and the writing attached to it) is wholly ubiquitous in American letters. I find it hard to believe that a reader of poetry in the 21st century could be unfamiliar with Guest or the sound of her elegant, exacting lines. She is versed in a variety of genres, so it is not surprising that fragments, aphorisms, lectures, stanzas, and straight discursive prose are married in Forces of Imagination  to set forth Guest’s thesis: “To lean on it! To trust it! Imagination is the single most important element in poetry” (103). And while her focus erupts in a variety of directions, she never loses sight of her assertion that “Imagination is the spirit inside the poem, a nostalgia for the infinite, louder than silk” (85).

What is most striking in Guest’s critical prose is the confidence and ease of her voice as she works through the imagination, with neither pedantic hubris nor the neo-baroque wordplay of today’s flashy critic. Rather, her writing plots thinking in a concise trajectory, building upon imagination as sublime catharsis through repetition, grand appositive, point and counterpoint. The volume sets its tone as Guest cycles through a variety of philosophers, writers, and visual artists including Samuel Johnson, Mallarmé, Walter Benjamin, Picasso, Pasternak, Verlaine, Kant, and Hegel; interestingly, her focus on these writers only serves to frame her own art as poet, novelist, biographer, and critic. Forces  vacillates between a Poundish “How to” technical manual, a relentless self-analysis of practice and aesthetic, and the sort of long-poem-on-reading that is Rocks on a Platter . Guest writes:

How splendid when a poem is both prospective and introspective, obeying tensions within itself until a classic plasticity is reached.

I have little regard for poems of mine which have become votives of obsolete reactions. These poems appear to have no conscience, and worse, are passionless.

There is nothing fearsome about the chrome attic. There are more mad poets out on the lawn. And very few wear cloud trousers. (Guest 22-23)

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Guest’s new critical work is its succinct breadth. Guest by no means writes the sort of epic critical work one might find in Kenner or Benjamin or Deleuze. Instead, Guest’s thoughts are inscribed in a transitory state—precise and fleeting. They argue with nothing but themselves, and are delivered in the same urbane/elegant/wispy language that one finds in Guest’s poetry. This criticism is confident in its stance, perhaps because Guest’s long and fruitful career is evidence enough that the work ought to be read and heard, without tedious critical defense.

In short, Guest’s Forces of Imagination  is a criticism rooted in the best kind of scholarship—the scholarship of practice. Guest can speak with authority, as she has successfully applied her thesis for decades. This allows her writing “rest” (as Zukofsky might have it): “presented with sincerity, the mind even tends to supply, in further suggestion, which does not attain rested totality, the totality not always found in sincerity and necessary only for perfect rest, complete appreciation” (Prepositions  13). In Guest, the writing is in a state of “restful contemplation” (Kant)—a careful melody, buttressed by a life’s work.


If you would like to finish my papers, I could update my blog...


Thanks to Malcolm for his help in formatting le Joyce. Now you don't have to imagine the poem's form!
Received two beautiful packages in the mail the other day. The first, from Canadian publisher Nate Dorward, full of goods! The newest issue of the Gig (#15, featuring Phillip Jenks, C.S. Giscombe, etc.) along with some back-issues, and the new chapbooks by Trevor Joyce.

I mentioned Trevor's work awhile back, and I stand by my gushiness! He is a really interesting poet, and while much of my interest is in the way he uses form, he also has a stunning sense of sound. The chapbooks "undone say" and "take over" sport nearly identical covers (so clearly they are meant to be read in arc, though, where to start??!), and, as stated on the ack. page, ("undone say" and "take over") "are an interim showing of the writings that follow after _with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold_" (still one of the greates titles ever!). "take over" is a series of "workings" (as Joyce dubs them: "The texts contained here are described as "worked" from the original languages in order to dispel any temptation to read them as "translations" in the generally accepted sense"). In this little edition, Joyce "works" Irish and Chinese texts, and the results are simply stunning. Here's "Danta Gradha 18":

She is my love
     was most my misery
preferred for wasting me
     to her could cure

She is my fair
     would fast enfeeble me
not whisper for my going oh!
     or mind my grave

She is my dear
     nature's accessory
wouldn't reach a hand to hold my head
     lay me for gold

She is my why
     drops not a hint to me
heeds no true word
     spares no regard

Great is my grief
     too long this lingering
who most suspects me
     is all my love

Both chaps and the new gig can be had from Mr Dorward here: ndorward@sprint.ca The Joyce chaps are limited to 150, so jump on it!

The second package is from one of our greatest younger poets (and perhaps our best looking??!), Rodney Koeneke. Oh man, Koeneke is where it's at! His new _Rouge State_ (Pavement Saw) is full of the sort of poetry that I love to read and could NEVER pull off! Koeneke is deft at saying just the right thing ALL OF THE TIME; these are fast/ funny/witty/ and SMART--a nice combo. Here's #21 in its entirety:

Sweethearts of what rodeo? Which ambergris?
In the crenellated head of whose narwhal?
Cocktail trays afloat in swimming pools
tell tales of light and simple fats
that crave the all-devouring, mother-minded sea.

Black waters to which river? What bodacious waves?
Some macho Artaud on a longboard
anxious to ride the last glassy one in
for shore. Whose head? On what ottoman?
Mom looking menopasual
and stiching up sonnets for the boudoir drawers.

Which Volvo? Captain of how much
destiny? I'll take the one with handlebars
that depilates the fuzz from grandma's sneer
makes films as scratchy as Sasquatch
sods lawns in the lure of whose clover?
What whisper? Which horse?

Michael Gizzi sez of _Rouge State_:
In Rouge State, Rodney Koeneke puts the blush back on the demotic. His idiomatic montage is a careening screed dictated from a state of alert, all puns intended to turn the hose back on a culture run literally amuck, and whose marquee reads: Raw, Red, Rouge, Incarnadien. Welcome to these states!

The only criticism is it's too damn short!

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