Friday, May 21, 2010

Forces of Imagination: Writing on Writing

Guest, Barbara. Forces of Imagination: Writing on Writing. Berkeley, CA: Kelsey St. Press, 2003.

In the preface to Guest's collection, the editors inform readers that Forces of Imagination compiles “talks, published and unpublished essays, poems and short pieces” (7) from the author's career, to mention nothing of the reproductions of paintings by artist and Guest-collaborator Laurie Reid. Through an intermingling of genres over the course of the book, strict classification succumbs to “cross[ing] the border [and] exulting in a new freedom” wherein “forms of poetry...are restlessly releasing themselves” and occupying a “less inhibited...territory” (11). The poet also claims that there is an “invisible architecture” supporting her work that “reaches/ into the poem/ in search of/ an identity” (18); if the poems in this collection defy standard genre-definitions, then one can reasonably assume that their identity, as such, will necessarily be that of a protean subjectivity, at once “both obscure and clear” (100). These fluid genre constraints and identifications are most evident in selections such as “The Voice of the Poem,” “Green Shoots,” and “The Beautiful Voyage,” in which the pieces are interspersed with both poetry and prose, all the while maintaining a discursive, essay-like tone. With regard to subject matter, Guest examines the differences between opposing poetic traditions in “Radical Poetics and Conservative Poetry,” the history of poetic tradition in “H.D. and the Conflict of Imagism,”voice in “Shifting Persona,” and the concept of genre in “Poetry the True Fiction.” While, no doubt, her subject matter is wide-ranging, the recurring focus of the collection is that of the imagination and its function with regard to the poet and the poem. The author believes that “only imagination can return the text to life” (16) and, likewise, “is the spirit inside the poem, a nostalgia for the Infinite” (85); thus, she elevates the concept to messianic levels. Another important aspect of Forces of Imagination is the text's relationship to the aforementioned, Laurie Reid images. Found throughout the book, Reid's paintings are reminiscent of Abstract painters, such as Mondrian, and Abstract-Expressionist, such as Pollock, but to their purpose, one can turn to Guest's essay “The Shadow of Surrealism” for enlightenment. She states: “I grew up under the shadow of Surrealism. In that creative atmosphere of magical rites there was no recognized separation between the arts”; moreover, she goes on to claim that one “could never again look at poetry as a locked kingdom. Poetry extended vertically, as well as horizontally” (51). To this extent, just as Gertrude Stein and Picasso's work “engaged in a similar struggle” with regard to conceptual concerns, so too does Guest and Reid's work. The former attempts, through incorporation of the latter's visual essays, “to find out how the painter worked so that [s]he might apply [her] discoveries to [her] own work” (53). Guest, it could be argued, goes one step further by claiming that the image-essays “are ghosts not words; they are the ephemera that surround and decorate the mind of the poet, a halo rescued from life” (85).

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