Quill, Solitary Apparition

By Barbara Guest


The Post-Apollo Press
Original Language(s)
Additional Credits
Cover art & book design by Simone Fattal
Edition, Year
First Edition, 1996
In Print

Winner of the Contemporary Arts Council America Award for Literature, 1996

Of Quill, Solitary Apparition, Barbara Guest has said: “This poem was one of the most difficult poems I’ve ever written, because I was venturing into another territory, and also emotionally it’s in a different territory. And it was very stringent. I was able to say exactly what I wanted to say, but I was confined.” Guest considered Quill one of her most important works, professing that “even in a loose-limbed vertical structure risk is encountered; to concentrate on that risk where the image recedes, lugging its solitary and watered shadow…” Brain Teare asserts that in Quill, “her trademark Mallarmean late style emerges, austere, witty, and rife with intimations of mysticism.” In these open, abstract lyrics, we witness a preeminent poet of the New York School writing at the height of her powers.

Barbara Guest
Barbara Guest (1920-2006), was born 1920 in North Carolina, and spent her childhood in Florida and California. She studied at The University of California at Berkeley, before settling in New York City. For several years, she wrote reviews ... Read More

There was an intensity in writing Quill. I felt that the nominative quality of the poem required that I continue within its frame, within its aisle of thought. I felt a kind of suffocation sometimes in that poem. I felt two extremes. I felt a great freedom, and then a kind of suffocation.

— Barbara Guest, in conversation with Catherine Wagner, How2


Praise for Quill, Solitary Apparition

Barbara Guest’s poetry and her novel, Seeking Air, have been fundamental to my work and life for twenty years. Of late, her work increases in acceleration. Quill, Solitary Apparition is of perfect weight. The whole is on a blade. I feel the poetry moves beyond me and fills in where I will go.

— Mei-mei Berssenbrugge

Guest’s fastidious “withdrawal from the conceptual line” move her verse away from gravity and density and fevers of the object toward rippling coolness, dissonance and absence, air and water, “the azure delicately blotted”; an ethereal “miscellany of clouds” heralds elusive figurings of “the river’s synonymous curve” as bewitching post-romantic shadows close in, and “the night lamp is out on the versandah.”

— Tom Clark

Where is this world so similar to our own and yet parallel to it, detached, with passion, urgently contemplative? Perception is here purified by a flame which at last we dare call poetry. There’s high energy (in this parting from modernity and its medieval trappings) made of elements which become words transcending themselves into the solitude of pure light.

— Etel Adnan

The poems in Quill, Solitary Apparition seek the “new freedom” of the past through references to the medieval as a field of ethical and aesthetic associations on which beauty, both potential and lost, can be reinscribed.

— Andrea Brady, Chicago Review

In Quill lyricism of theme remains held in absolute suspension, linguistically speaking, by virtue of syntactically dispersed composition. Extreme disjunctive spatiality is Guest’s instrumentality for withdrawing from lyricism even as semantic ambiguity enhances the music.

— Marjorie Welish, Jacket

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