No poet, no poems get me so hot to write as well as Barbara Guest and hers and for that I will be forever in her debt. As a self-proclaimed color monger I feel a pretty intense kinship with Ms. Guest. I've been aware of a desire of mine to eat colors for a few years now and was blown away to find a line from her poem "La Noche Entra en Calor" in the collection Fair Realism that described the very sensation that I've experienced: "he feels color scratching his tongue". For the full context of this line I highly recommend reading the whole dang poem, it's real good. Of the NY School poets, she best captured a viewer's experience of color in visual art and was then able to reproduce that experience in her readers via her poems. Reading or listening to Guest's work is a full body, full contact experience because she hits every sense, or rather gently places her finger here, here, here lighting up nerves as she goes. She's able to bring out the textural and tactile elements of words. One can almost feel them vibrate together, creating colors and sounds all their own.
So, it was a pleasure to hear her work read aloud at St. Mark's Poetry Project on Saturday. Granted, I love the recordings of Guest reading her own work, found on Penn Sound, especially those from The Location of Things. Her voice mesmerizes with its semi-aristocratic pronunciation that is both precise and sensual. I'd love to get her voice down pat and do a reading as her, same goes for James Schuyler who's voice is actually a bit easier to mimic. In any case, as much as I love Guest reading Guest, I enjoyed hearing her poems interpreted by other poets and hearing some pieces that were entirely new to me. Marjorie Welish injected a spooky and ethereal quality that was oddly fitting though not readily apparent in the work. Anne Lauterbach's reading was an equally personal take that seemed to emphasize the musical cadence of Guest's poetics. Charles Bernstein read from an essay on Guest and made the point that Guest "used no hooks", no cop-outs, no immediate crowd pleasers. I call that integrity. Unfortunately, I missed the first half of the reading (dang L train!) thus missing Mei Mei Berssenbrugge, John Ashbery, Rena Rosenwasser (SPD board member) and several others that I would have loved to see. Everyone read beautifully and paid due tribute.
This was my first exposure to St. Mark's and I must say, well, well done, like char-broiled guys. The reading was held in the main hall lending the reading a bit of a funereal air. I noticed a slightly cleaner area where a large cross must have hung on the altar wall before St. Mark's was converted to the poetic devotions. I have to say it felt a bit like church for poets and I personally enjoy the connotations that that association might incur, at least this time around.
Oh and the refreshments were delicious!