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Words

The simple contact with a wooden spoon and the word
recovered itself, began to spread as grass, forced
as it lay sprawling to consider the monument where
patience looked at grief, where warfare ceased
eyes curled outside themes to search the paper
now gleaming and potent, wise and resilient, word
entered its continent eager to find another as
capable as a thorn. The nearest possession would
house them both, they being then two might glide
into this house and presently create a rather larger
mansion filled with spoons and condiments, gracious
as a newly laid table where related objects might gather
to enjoy the interplay of gravity upon facetious hints,
the chocolate dish presuming an endowment, the ladle
of galactic rhythm primed as a relish dish, curved
knives, finger bowls, morsel carriages words might
choose and savor before swallowing so much was the
sumptuousness and substance of a rented house where words
placed dressing gowns as rosemary entered their scent
percipient as elder branches in the night where words
gathered, warped, then straightened, marking new wands.

–Barbara Guest

The previous post below features a passage by Barbara Guest from her book, Forces of Imagination.


In search of the “flashes of identity between subject and object”……the world that exists outside language

The following provocation closely aligns with my own views. This passage is by a forceful voice, Barbara Guest, from a book of her writings, Forces of Imagination:

There is no substitute for imagination. Words deprived of their stability—that is if not fed by the imagination—rush around attempting to attach themselves to a surface. They have no stabilized vocation; they become furtive, ready to sell themselves. Wordsworth, not immune to appropriating landscape, wrote:

“Language, if it do not uphold, and feed, and leave in quiet, like the power of gravitation or the air we breathe, is a counter-spirit, unremittingly and noiselessly at work to derange, to subvert, to lay waster, to vitiate, and to dissolve.”

It is the counter-spirit we must beware of, even in the presence of despairing academic anxiety that—overwhelmed by the creative spirit, angered by imagination that disrupts its formulaic view of life—would like to convert imagination into a conservative toy.

In such an atmosphere of controlled tedium it is always refreshing to turn to a poet such as Jules Laforgue, who is 1883 wrote:

“In the flashes of identity between subject and object lie the nature of genius. And any attempt to codify such flashes is but an academic pastime.”

From the “flashes of identity”—marvelous phrase—and above academic anxiety rises an elite structure, elite not because it is marble, but because it is rock in which Art survives in every era sustained by desire and necessity.

Finally, in case we become discouraged or overwhelmed or even disappointed in our era, in the state of our art, I would like to remind us of the remark Valéry made in 1933, a year that was to initiate the close of an era: “Profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the Beautiful.”

About Barbara Guest: Poet, critic, expert on the poetry of H.D., was awarded the Frost Medal for Lifetime Achievement by the Poetry Society of America in 1996. She died in 2006.

Michael Palmer’s moving description of her work: “To speak with Barbara Guest about poetry was always to be in the presence of a fiercely uncompromised vision of the art and its obligations. Her insights continually astonished me. They were beholden to no one. And the work itself, of a lyric intelligence entirely her own. For whatever reasons, and I can sadly imagine many, it has not received its full due, but it will. The music insists.”