Friday, December 26, 2008

Hotel Comfort

Hotel Comfort

Minutes each hour took ostrich leaps on the roof of the Hotel Comfort in Strasbourg.
These Surrealist moments cherished each roof a long time.
In the thickened weather of Surrealism the cathedral
is across the street.

Wise lettuces exaggerate their claim near the windows of the Hotel Comfort.
And you have sent your letter of explanation for the pleasure obtained
in the wooden jar. Speech-maker, you have sent notes of pleasure
in the glass jars.

Tasting of weather and cinnamon.

This is the final poem of the “New Poems” section of The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, edited by Hadley Haden Guest (Wesleyan UP, 2008). It may be considered the last collectible poem she wrote. Born in 1920, she died in 2006. In reading this work, consider how you are impacted by the knowledge it's her last. The lastness and firstness of things, birth & death, emergence & disappearance, are always ceremonial in poetry, as are descent, ascent, and return. W.C. Williams was a poet of firstness, spring, and material presence--oh, look, things are opening. Eliot was a poet of lastness, the dour reminder that life is fatal. What about the middle, that world of process philosophy beloved by post-modernism and English Composition instructors? It's also the domain of the everyday. All poems begin and end, even when intent on simultaneity. In other words, the poem of immediate perception immediately gives a beginning and end to any experience, simply because it's a poem. The most fascinating of the cermonies is lastness, with its echo and afternote. Poets like Rumi and Rilke like to strike their heaviest notes of lastness on the stage of ultimate openness--infinity, eternity, the cosmos; Frank O'Hara stands transfixed in the door of the Five Spot, hearing Billie Holiday's cracked voice emerging from its flower.

But this isn't what interested me most about "Hotel Comfort."

That poem and several of her last works, such as the Hans Hoffman poems and "Lunch at Helen Frankenthaler's," are written in complete, normative sentences. Following a long exploration of Mallarme's blank spaces and fragments, she makes a stylistic return to confidence, wonder, and wholeness: "Helen! We're having lunch!" and "Return / in your snow boots, / here's the thermos / I've poured with so many words, and the sandwiches / prepared with watercress." Also, for last poems, these works are very warm and worldly, "tasting of weather and cinammon." The poet's face is turned back toward life.

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