Barbara Guest’s Epistemic Image

Ella O’Keefe

Thursday April 28, 1pm-3pm

Presentation Room: Lvl.5, Rm.510

Presentation: 15mins

This will be a short paper examining some of the work of the contemporary American poet Barbara Guest, drawing on some examples of some of her later poems. Guest’s poetry is highly concerned with aesthetics and the visual realm and Guest like her many of her New York school peers wrote about visual arts in her poetry and collaborated with artists throughout her career. This paper draws on Guest’s early American modernist and Imagist influences before considering how Guest has advanced the operation of image in her own poetry. The images in her poems are complex and dispersed, they open across multiple registers and are highly conscious of the image formation process.

Guest’s epistemic image is one concerned with showing how looking itself occurs and articulating a connection between thought and the visual realm. This suggests an understanding of a poem as a relational participant within a conscious construction of image, being enacted within many simultaneous system of thought and experience. The epistemic image encourages a mode of thinking that is highly conscious of mobility and attentive looking.

Guest’s multi-modal image suggests new possibilities for image-making within and expanded and open-ended compositional field. While at first glance Guest is not a cybernetic of process-oriented poet, the function of image in her work suggests there is a dialogue to be had with some of these approaches.

Ella O’Keefe completed an honours thesis in writing and cultural studies at UTS on the poetry of Barbara Guest in 2009. She has produced radio for The Night Air on Radio National and is a current contributer to Final Draft the books and writing program on 2SER FM.


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A two day forum of creative research, experimentation and practice held from April 28-30 at the University of Technology, Sydney, and Serial Space Gallery, Chippendale.

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