By Barbara Guest 1920–2006 Barbara Guest

for John Coltrane

      after all
are syllables just
and you put them
     in their place
a painter using his stroke
     so the spot
where the article
     an umbrella
     a knife
we could find
     in its most intricate
slashed as it was with color
     called “being”
     or even “it”


For the moment just
     when the syllables
     out of their webs float

We were just
     beginning to hear
like a crane hoisted into
     the fine thin air
that had a little ache (or soft crackle)

     golden staffed edge of
     quick Mercury
     the scale runner


     C’est juste
     your umbrella colorings
dense as telephone
     humming down the line

Red plumaged birds
     not so natural
     complicated wings

Sweet difficult passages
                              on your throats
there just there
                              caterpillar edging
                              to moth
                              in the chrome attic

Barbara Guest, “Passage” from The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest. Copyright © 2008 by Barbara Guest and reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (Wesleyan University Press, 2008)

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Poet Barbara Guest 1920–2006

SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School

Subjects Activities, Travels & Journeys, Nature, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics

 Barbara  Guest


Barbara Guest rose to prominence in the late 1950s as a member of an informal group of writers known as the New York school of poets whose membership included Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, and James Schuyler. Their innovative approach to poetry was influenced by modern art, especially surrealism and abstract expressionism. Guest drew on her own background in art (she worked for Art News magazine in the 1950s) to create poetry . . .

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SUBJECT Activities, Travels & Journeys, Nature, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics

SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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