Carla Hall


Barbara Guest / Laurie Reid
Kelsey St. Press, 2000
$17 / 36 pages / ISBN 0-932716-52-0
$200 / (Limited signed edition with an original drawing)
ISBN 0-932716-54-7

Symbiosis is another of Barbara Guest's dynamic and breathtaking collaborations with an artist. This particular piece expresses the combustion of differences merging—the symbiosis of the written word and the painting, the poet and the artist—and the weaving process that joins these two forms together. "This is the point where the strophes meet, / one line interweaves with another, / room of liberal fountains, / a different speech and metabolism, / near an ancient site of accord / and priority."

What happens when two artists meet and engage in their creating, not in reflection, but in the present moment, inspiring each other, working with many levels both seen and unseen? How does the invisible of two energies resemble a poem, a painting, a "Poem-Painting?" What does this intertwining do to narrative, telling, making? Guest doesn't provide answers to these questions. Rather she suspends them for us right inside the "perpendicular" of two bodies so that perhaps we can see the questions: how malleable they are, how delicate creation is.

Entering Symbiosis, the reader is immediately aware that she is in a new space—one that pushes, mixes, destroys boundaries between different mediums of art. The space is non-traditional, but it is almost useless to compare it to anything, any kind of other form or style. Symbiosis is that space which blends and sifts and joins and separates now—not any place, any where, any time, any else. It is its own construction, its own language. One continuous song, Symbiosis is minutely attentive to its own process.

The reader may be drawn at first to the earthen printed poetry strung out throughout the unnumbered pages. Or she might be attracted to the long "bronze green" lines watercolor brushed on an unfolding canvas. She may catch herself "reading" the space differently. She may see herself in the mirror of reading, creating, writing. The space she has entered:

          Is symbiosis aflame stroked

  each line power wound up in volume,
when spoken to, fear in place of the woven,

              often, it says, in place of the line.
Thinned down, staggering looks up to the drawing;

       bodies all the way up the hill.

As she begins to read, there is a momentum of conjoining spirits. "The spirit / sails along, / amid live speech. / 'Ripening beyond sheer height,' calls itself." The plurality is resounding, beckoning—two art forms corresponding and giving in to one another. The realization of this relationship is not purely literal, nor visual, but most amazingly a deliverance of two singings that interrupt and feed each other, existing and changing in the same space. One becomes attentive to a new concept of time that becomes through light, a time that speaks to iridescence, one that inhabits fear and the struggle of creating. Guest writes:

                      Needing, needing, needing

over the surface perpendicular

is not something to chat about filled
by iridescence.

                       They talk about
loosened bones. Could be a shuttle

                        if it worked in direct light.

The reader senses that each word, each gesture of green, each line hinges on the former and the forward as telling becomes aware of its telling—its property of taking on many shades, warpings, blotches. The reader senses the clinging to each syllable and paper fiber, to each bone of a body, to be at last "no weight, no thing to litter, / free as unusual."

This is the point: the reader is the writer, the painter at this moment of interaction. Although there is a disturbance when letting go of one's ownership of her art when collaborating, a violation perhaps of self or ego, the explosion travels toward calm and flow, a nirvana of sorts, a transcendence. "Positioning the strophes / ended in calm, / after the strophes are positioned."

Mesmerized and meditating with the intersection of lines, the reader begins to see many selves as well as the world's many affectations that enter a piece of art, making it independent of one's self. There is interdependence. Just as Symbiosis articulates the creating, it also tiles the images of keen living: how the outside is the poem, and also how the writer is the outside is the poem. Guest brings in other scenes, images. Referencing and relevancy is put into "mid air,... a suggestion" put into view:

Gas lights and lost

                 the cares of thought, an oil lamp, Maupassant

                           put it there. He stands at the window.


          She places her hands on her hair.


         The schooner off its route,

                                           adios to the bird of prey,
                        flies in another direction,     the nineteenth

                          wears a plaid cap.

and again:

Knitting or singing a song, hair let down

from the blue—ranging and tumbling the blue

magnolia nestled, the wild berry, also.

The reader flits to others, the outside, as though skipping stones, images being loosened yet carefully chosen. Whether they make sense is no longer important. The unthinking of correspondence is. Attention to sound and color and repetition. Randomness, "Rhythm / and festivity." A world that hangs and overlaps as thoughts do, or dreams, or being closer to fear. These outside images perhaps represent the subject of the poem, the writer writing the poem, her presence and intention, her looking at the world, and giving herself up to it. Her awakening to reading/writing. "...Coming from outside / studying to be someone else, / why not? And write her own script, / write it then she did / first learn about pretense the make-up and lounge dress, / authority and the syllabus."

Symbiosis refers to referring. Collaboration reveals clearly the multi-clarity of "overlapping" with another artist. How intimacy with oneself and one's work might be admitting to fluctuation, the unfixed, the seamless. "This is a strange way to tell a story being / where one does not wish, in the midst of a storm..."

If one chooses to resist one's work, to push up against it, to notice its organism inside/outside of its subject, one may become the suppressed as well as have the potential to revolutionize.

She can read the image in the overlapping

    even from outside,

                  those parts that overlap

                                         lip and facial movement,

    color of the image as it changes—

                  pushed her leg through the rippling

                                                  image changes.

Reading Symbiosis is a transformational experience. It dances with and questions the elements: color, syllable, paper, wood, image, bone. It is the elements interrupting and consoling one another. If not touched by the desire of the piece, one can sway in its "fluidity" and elegance. "A sign of being gentle, / the scene is more mature...A sign of being gentle, plain orange."

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