Passage – for John Coltrane

Barbara Guest, ‘Passage – for John Coltrane’
in The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest
edited by Hadley Haden Guest
(Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2008)
First published: 1973

     after all
are syllables just
and you put them
     in their place
a painter using his stroke
    so the spot
where the article
     an umbrella
     a knife
we could find
     in its most intricate
slashed as it was color
     called ‘being’
     or even ‘it’


C’est juste
     your umbrella colorings
dense as telephone
     humming down the line


Guest’s poem is a love letter to Coltrane in the form of a soft, impressionistic tissue of associations, a sort of exploded ballad (complete with envoi). It follows the modernist convention of comparing mediums (music and poetry) by invoking a third category—in this case, art. What binds the sudden paratactic leaps in the poem is the sense of being poised between or before clusters of activity or transformation—the polyphonies densely packed down the telephone wire, the slashings of colour, the cascade of syllables. The poem cuts its own delicate passage through the noise.

by Sam Buchan-Watts