Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 16.1 (Barbara Guest)

Guest, Barbara
Quill, Solitary APPARITION


I think I bought this at the Strand. If memory serves, I bought it in the fall of 1996. I was still in New York, and I was taking workshops simultaneously with Eileen Myles and Elaine Equi at the New School. Twice a week I'd make the walk from my apartment on the corner of 4th and B to the New School, which was on, I think, 12th or 13th, near fifth avenue. It took 30 minutes or so to get there, but I loved walking around the city and eagerly anticipated walking to class each week.

In Elaine's class we were using Paul Hoover's Postmodern American Poetry anthology as a textbook. Each week, someone would bring in a one poem by a poet they liked in the anthology and read it aloud to the class. We'd then talk a little bit about the poem before launching into a discussion of student work, which took up the bulk of the class. Elaine often made mention of two poets whose work she admired: Rae Armantrout and Barbara Guest.

Both were in the anthology, but I could never find their books on the shelves at the bookstores, even St. Mark's. All of Armantrout's books up to that time were available to me at the Segue foundation, where I volunteered as an archivist. I remember reading a very funny poem she wrote, which was published in a volume by Burning Deck with a bright yellow cover, that satirized the famous William Stafford poem about the deer. It ended with a line something like, "And then, thinking for all of us, I threw it (a bird carcass, paren. mine) over the marriage counselor's fence."

One day wandering around the Strand I recall happily finding a copy of this Quill, Solitary APPARITION, which was new at the time. I brought it with me to class and I remember Elaine talking about having to adjust to this new kind of writing by Barbara Guest, in which she wanders off the left margin quite a lot and leaves a lot of empty space on the page for the reader to fill in. I think that may have been the first time I had actually thought about what the empty spaces on a page might mean, including the extra space between the words "solitary" and "APPARITION" in the title of the book.

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