Paul Guest

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Paul Guest (born in Chattanooga, Tennessee) is an American poet and memoirist.

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.[1] He is a quadriplegic. He graduated from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and from Southern Illinois University with an M.F.A. in 1999.[2][3] He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

His poems appear in Harper's, The Paris Review, Tin House, The Kenyon Review, The Missouri Review, Slate and elsewhere.

Honors and awards[edit]

Published works[edit]

Full-Length Poetry Collections

  • Because Everything Is Terrible. Diode Editions. 2018. ISBN 978-1939728234.
  • My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge. Ecco. 2008. 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.

a Memoir


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.[5]

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. ..."[6]

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.[7]

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.[8]


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-08-21. Retrieved 2009-08-23.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ "Verse Daily: Paul Guest". Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  3. ^ "Bulletin Board: MFA Carbondale: MFA Graduate Paul Guest Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship!!". Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 2011-04-07. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-09-20. Retrieved 2011-05-12.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ Guest. My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge. New York: Ecco Press, 2008.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Paul Guest’s My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge", digital emunction, April 7, 2009, Robert P. Baird[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge by Paul Guest". Bookslut. Retrieved 2016-04-13.

External links[edit]

Online Poems