Barbara Guest was born in North Carolina, and attended the University of California at Berkeley. After college she moved to New York and became associated with the poets John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and Frank O'Hara. Like them, she rejected the then-dominant Confessional school and looked for influences from French poetry. Also like them, she closely associated herself with the art world of New York as a writer for Art News and other arts magazines, and claimed such artists as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning as influences. Her poetry is often very musical and finds ways to draw attention to the language of the poem itself.