New American Poets
New American Poets: Eric Baus
This is where I live but these are not my clothes. That is not my voice, a woman says.
She appears as herself. The same someone else.
Think of something quieter. Child-flower, bed-flower, the long pause her name created.
If a singer neglects her title long enough to lose her tone, the first of many eyes emerge.
This is the sign of a perfect listener. The look a woman not answering has.
All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Reading and listening to Barbara Guest's poetry never fails to make me want to write. Her poem "An Emphasis Falls on Reality" is new to me each time I read it because I experience it as a complex and constantly shifting environment. Suggested landscapes come and go. Images appear, transform, and pass through abstract language into further transformations: "Cloud fields change into furniture/furniture metamorphizes into fields/an emphasis falls on reality." The gestural quality of the language makes me feel as if my attention is always being directed, re-redirected and enlarged, as if I am moving into an endlessly evolving song: " 'It snowed toward morning,' a barcarole/the words stretched severely". The most striking lines of the poem, for me, are: "so silence is pictorial/when silence is real." I have a recording of Guest reading the poem and whenever I hear these lines they always stop me. The particular quality of her voice saying the words opens something up for me that I can't quite explain in expository prose. Guest's poem makes me wonder about the ways the absence of sound can be represented in language. It suggests the paradox of using speech and image as a means to create rich, "real" silences.
* * *
An Emphasis Falls on Reality
by Barbara Guest
Cloud fields change into furniture
furniture metamorphizes into fields
an emphasis falls on reality.
"It snowed toward morning," a barcarole
the words stretched severely
silhouettes they arrived in trenchant cut
the face of lilies….
I was envious of fair realism.
I desired sunrise to revise itself
as apparition, majestic in evocativeness,
two fountains traced nearby on a lawn….
you recall treatments
of "being" and "nothingness"
to appear from variable directions—
they are orderly as motors
floating on the waterway,
so silence is pictorial
when silence is real.
The wall is more real than shadow
or that letter composed of calligraphy
each vowel replaces a wall
a costume taken from space
donated by walls….
These metaphors may be apprehended after
they have brought their dogs and cats
born on roads near willows,
willows are not real trees
they entangle us in looseness,
the natural world spins in green.
A column chosen from distance
mounts into the sky while the font
they will destroy the disturbed font
as it enters modernity and is rare….
The necessary idealizing of your reality
is part of the search, the journey
where two figures embrace
This house was drawn for them
it looks like a real house
perhaps they will move in today
into ephemeral dusk and
move out of that into night
selective night with trees,
The darkened copies of all trees.
"An Emphasis Falls on Reality" by Barbara Guest from The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest. Copyright 2008 by The Estate of Barbara Guest and reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.