Be our Guest


Poet Barbara Guest’s play "The Office” uses three scenes and six actors to satirize an office environment. As the office workers are quietly killed off over the course of the 20-minute play, the characters express themselves through increasingly disturbing quips—"Memo. A skeletal staff will remain."

One of the workers attempts to compose a note to a dead coworker’s wife. “Dear Madam: the death of your late deaf husband—deaf to no one but me. Now dead to all.” A surreal work, “The Office” was staged at the Experimental Station on Thursday, at the release party for the latest issue of Chicago Review. The play was originally produced in New York in 1961 but remained unpublished until the quarterly Review printed it in this month's triple issue. With a page-count of three magazines and taking three-quarters of a year to publish, the special issue is devoted to the work of Guest, who died in 2006. "The Office" closed out the night at Experimental Station, following readings by three poets whose work also appears in the issue: Dan Beachy-Quick, Ed Roberson, and Eleni Sikelianos.

The Barbara Guest edition of Chicago Review, a 62-year-old literary magazine edited by U of C graduate students, collects three of her plays and several unpublished poems along with critical and personal responses to her work by scholars and writers she influenced, including Charles Altieri and Andrea Brady. The editors hope, they write in an editor’s note, to "confirm Guest's importance to the history of postwar American poetry and demonstrate her continuing influence." Guest is one of the only women associated with the New York School of formalist, painterly poetics. She is also considered highly influential for the language poets, and her later work focuses more on the power of the word and less on Imagism.

“The Office” concludes with a conversation between the last remaining office worker, now "the boss," and a woman who heretofore had remained mute. When the woman notes, “You’re the boss,” the man replies, "Me? I've never had a glass of champagne. / I've never eaten an oyster. / I've never made a beautiful voyage…. / I’ve never seen you before.” For Guest’s work, the “never seen” can now be read, repeatedly, in Chicago Review.

Rose Schapiro, '09

Photos: From Barbara Guest's "The Office": A strange game of tic-tac-toe; workers consult their papers.

Photos courtesy Robert Baird. See more here.

July 21, 2008