Emphasis Held in Reserve

Barbara Guest - "An Emphasis Falls on Reality" & "Quoting Theodor Adorno." A dozen years separate these two tracks, the first recorded in Buffalo in April of 1992, the second in Berkeley in April of 2004. If the aesthetic position remains more or less unaltered, the voice articulating that position undergoes an audible metamorphosis as time and illness reshape it to their finite ends, slowing, deepening, and abrading it. The whole of the 2004 set recorded by Allan Graham is thus at once very difficult, and very moving, to hear. On the earlier track, recorded when Guest was 71, the voice still serves willingly the decision-making mind, nearly to the point of mannerism: the lines are read at a moderate pace, the intonations strive to deliver not just the denotative content (itself quite complex and floating), but a generic marker ("what you are hearing is poetry") as well. The thinking Guest does in "Emphasis" takes on the form of the willows mentioned two-thirds through: "willows are not real trees / they entangle us in looseness." Similarly, this poem is not an aesthetic treatise, rather it entangles us in lines of thought that pertain also to aesthetics. To be entangled thus in questions of structuration and mimesis, of landscape and architecture, of silhouettes and simulacra, silence and song (the barcarole), linguistic marks and metaphors, is different than finding oneself accommodated in the well-appointed house and grounds philosophy leases—on terms—to art. Art is "just" an emphasis that falls on reality, as stress falls on a syllable, or the gaze falls upon, and transforms, the seen thing. Neither being nor nothingness, a juvenile dichotomy after all, but existence in its emphatic form, becoming apparent. No need for O'Hara's exclamation points to drive the idea home. The tone of Guest's voice—emphasis held in reserve—will do.

Barbara Guest audio archive on PennSound. Her author page at EPC. Articles about Guest on Jacket. The NYT's belated obituary is here (registration required).

[Originally posted 7 March 2006] XML feed here. • Elsewhere on Third Factory: index, ensemble, nb, links.

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The Lipstick of Noise is a product of the Third Factory • Inspired by the music blogs • And by Paul Blackburn's reel-to-reel deck. Intending to make good use of PENNSound and other sources of digital audio files of poetry • Comments welcomeXML.