Monday, February 28, 2005

Reviews

Here are two newish to new reviews of my book, the first from Main Street Rag, and the second from Prairie Schooner:

THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY
AND THE RUIN OF THE WORLD

by Paul Guest
New Issues (2003) 94 pages
ISBN: 1-930974-27-2, Poetry

Paul Guest’s lyricism ranges from mystical to self deprecation and sarcasm, and his The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World traverses a great distance. The collection is able to reference, among others, Godzilla, the poet’s disability, science, and much more. The mysticism doesn’t really come off as subject matter, but rather how the poet treats his subject matter.

In “Invocation to Destructive Muses,” Guest writes, Our poet writes for hours in the myth of quiet: / interruptions pile up like debris. Earthquakes happen. / They are canceled. Tsunamis lap under doors. / Sponged up. Beach Boys die. The poet feels bad / but not too bad. This is from a poem where the first seven words are, Be it Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Yet, of all the imagery of violent destruction, the persona of the poet starts peeking through, and Guest’s particular talent is taking things that wouldn’t ordinarily fit together, and making them work naturally.

Other entries into Guest’s first book are bluntly personal. “For a Long time I Have Wanted to Write a Handi-Capable Poem” best illustrates Guest’s refusal to fall into a self-pity trap. He doesn’t wave his disability in front of the reader, he just assumes his wheel chair is part of who he is. With that in mind, he chafes at disability political correctness: ... if I were the militant type, and I’m not, I might join / my brothers and sisters in disabledom and chain myself / in solidarity / to the Slurpee machine at the 7-Eleven, but they’re idiots, / and I’d rather have a super-size grape Slurpee any day. / God, I’ve fallen into a cranky orbit. The poem also describes failed attempts to pick up women in bars as well as speaking at a conference entitled “Transitioning the Adolescent Disabled into Adulthood.”

Lines like these do well to balance the collection against its richly textured imagery. More importantly, lines like these, and the rest of the book, work hard to present a solidly original voice.

Rich Ristow


The body is the fodder and foil in Paul Guest's first collection, The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World. As the title suggests, poetry is an ambitious undertaking. Readers will not be disappointed with Guest's efforts. Muscular, stark, cool, original and biting, virtually every poem boasts a surprising thrust, a feast of description coupled with a quirky inverted logic. Open to any page and you'll find lines written with the intelligence and crafted ease of the young Frank O'Hara:

   Walking to get medicine
for a pet, I am tempted

to speak of the flesh
a last time and fall silent

upon the subject,
as if sleep could claim

my mouth for its own
and close what I'd say

like a wound.

Guest reminds us, again and again, of the pleasures of a well-placed line break, and as with Rosal's work, music in the lines accounts for ongoing sonic pleasures. Each syllable offers something fresh to savor and read aloud.

Geography is not a physical region for Guest, but rather the orbit he paints in your head, the one that presumably exists in his. Bold enough to use "heart" and "stars" in a number of poems, he gets away with it by offering a convincing conduit between the two, a taut landscape as elastic as a rubber band. A reliable narrator, he gains the reader's trust early on. Therefore, you trust him on the subject of "the looming cruelty of stars," which are "the topography of false starts" where "a whole constellation is lousy with desire."

Guest's subjects are both familiar (heaven, hell and the heart that stops, love, pain) and the unusual (comic book characters, machinery). He packs them densely in discursive lines and stanzas. Because of the structure of his lines, (they rappel down the page), it's hard to do justice to any of them in brief examples, but here are just four lines from "In Case of Rapture,":

   Something burning will go on
like a sadness and leave a dark soot
like a thumbprint on a throat.
Love's constant graffiti will be effaced.

Autobiography does play a role in Guest's poems, as in Lockwood's and Rosal's. In a few poems he uses his paralysis from a childhood accident as subject matter. Read as a collection, this information adds a level of poignancy to poems already thumping with energy and pathos. For example, from the opening lines of "Pinocchio": "Once I was wood and my heart was a knot./From a block my brain was slowly cut--/legs, arms, knees and nose, my all of me/peeked out at the prompt of father's blade."

Guest's poems have a sharp edge of dark humor. They bristle with the life of the mind, an echo of the role the mind plays in the work of Wallace Stevens, as he mines that field himself.

The Resurrection of the Body pitches headlong into Guest's signature tone with these lines from the first poem in the collection, "Melancholia":

   Almost I rushed from home to tell you this:
that melancholia, the word, when broken
down to its roots, its ancient Greek particulars,
means black hole. How perfect. How yes,
I've been reading the dictionary again.

In a world where "pain grew like love," Guest gives us an unflinching view of the human condition rich with surprising contradictions. This is a sophisticated, erudite collection, all the more stunning because it is his first.


Elaine Sexton

9 comments:

Ali Davis said...

EVOLUTIONARY POEM is lovely.

Paul said...

Thanks, Alison.

jeannine said...

Well deserved praise, Mr. Guest. Congratulations and may you sell an extra thousand copies of the book!

Peter said...

Hey Paul: Kudos for the reviews! I have your book on my faves list at Amazon.

shanna said...

bravo! congrats--these are both very nice.

Paul said...

Thanks, you guys. :)

Jennifer said...

"Guest’s particular talent is taking things that wouldn’t ordinarily fit together, and making them work naturally." - one of my favorite things about your work. Congratters on the great press.

Paul said...

You're too sweet, Jennifer.

Rich Ristow said...

Oh, the vanity! I google myself (out of boredom)and find a review I wrote like a year ago. Well, Mr. Paul Guest, it's good to see you have a blog. I'll bookmarking it and be be back often. I lent my review copy of your book, by the way, to a fellow MFAer at UNCW, when I was there in 2004. I never did get it back.