When he was twelve Paul broke the third and fourth vertebrae in his neck in a bicycle accident, bruising his spinal cord and paralyzing him from the neck down. He is a quadriplegic. He graduated from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and from Southern Illinois University with an M.F.A. in 1999. He is an assistant professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Honors and awards
- 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry
- 2010 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers series
- 2007 Whiting Writers' Award
- 2006 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry
- 2002 New Issues Press Poetry Prize
Full-Length Poetry Collections
- My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge. Ecco. 2006. ISBN 0-06-168516-X.
- Notes For My Body Double. University of Nebraska Press. 2007. ISBN 978-0-8032-6035-1.
- Exit Interview: Poems. New Michigan Press. 2006. ISBN 978-0-9762092-7-0.
- The Resurrection of the body and the Ruin of the World. New Issues, Western Michigan University. 2003. ISBN 978-1-930974-27-2.
- One More Theory About Happiness. Ecco. 2010.
To read Paul Guest's poetry is to expect the unexpected, to release oneself to dazzle, to performance, to the hurtle of his images, and the kind of strong emotional shifts that make one marvel at how the poem is able to contain such vast range. It is this quality, this synthesis of images, narratives, humor, and great pain, that calls into question any singular thread a reader might draw from My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge.
A Paul Guest poem likes to pull out fast in the first line, then zigzag from one eye-opening image to another: A high-speed, innervating trip all the way. The voice is edgy, hip: "In my neoprene monster skin, in my faux city/stormy with hellfire, in my broken/down dollhouse, in my tiny bed/that sleeps my toe, in my souvenir/sombrero, in that noontime shade/badly needed, in my die-cast/Corvette, cherry red, sun bright, comet/fast, in that shrunken hour/I cannot hold on to, in that dwindled dawn. ..."
Poetry about the extraordinary suffering of its author presents its readers with a special conundrum. On the one hand we don’t want to pretend that the suffering is incidental to the art; one of the more easily dispensable things that T.S. Eliot ever wrote was that “the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates.” But to err in the other direction—to read the suffering instead of the art—well, that’s what Oprah’s for.
Guest’s book takes a little love. He says “painful, pained thing[s]” and gets away with it. His poems are pleasurable, sloppy messes of images, thoughts, retractions, culpabilities, injuries, and salves. There is sex. There is the heaving, the suffering of love. There are familial complications. There is food and a moon and bruised gin. Porn. Pockets. Modern contraptions. Many pocked dreams. The excessive awkwardness of being alive. There is even a “tiny bed/ that sleeps [a] toe.” An “index” it certainly is.
- http://www.dsq-sds.org/article/view/951/1119Paul Guest. My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge. New York: Ecco Press, 2008.
- "Paul Guest’s My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge", digital emunction, April 7, 2009, Robert P. Baird
- "My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge by Paul Guest", Bookslut, March 2009
- "Author's blog"
- "Author's Twitter feed"
- "Character and Voice: Picks for National Poetry Month"
- "Paul Guest", Fishouse
- "An interview with poet Paul Guest", Poetry Foundation
- One More Theory About Happiness review, Creative Loafing Atlanta
- Mary Karr, ed. (October 26, 2008). "User's Guide to Physical Debilitation; The Lives of the Optimists". The Washington Post.
- "The Intrusion of Ovid"; "LOVE IN THE SINGULAR"; "SMALL WONDER"; "THE ADVENT OF ZERO"; "PLUTO’S LOSS"; "CONSOLATION FOR VIRGIL"; "NOTES FOR MY BODY DOUBLE"; "Ode", The Adirondack Review
- "Apologia", Octopus, Issue 7
- "At Night, In November, Trying Not To Think Of Asphodel," "Austria," Bordering On The Tragic," "Oblivion: Letter Home, "Oblivion: Letter Home"
- "DONALD DUCK'S LAMENT", Diagram 3.5
- "Landscape With Décolletage", Slate, May 7, 2002
- "Plenitude", Crazyhorse, Number 67
- "On the Persistence of the Letter as a Form"