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About this poet

Born in Fresno, California, on July 24, 1949, David St. John was educated at California State University, Fresno, where he received his B.A. In 1974, he received an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa.

His many books of poetry include: The Face: A Novella in Verse (HarperPerennial, 2005); Prism (2002); In the Pines: Lost Poems (1999) Study for the World's Body: New and Selected Poems (1994), which was nominated for the National Book Award; Terraces of Rain: An Italian Sketchbook (1991); No Heaven (1985); The Shore (1980); and Hush (1976).

He is also the author of a volume essays and interviews, Where the Angels Come Toward Us (White Pine Press, 1995) and has edited numerous collections including The Pushcart Book of Poetry (2006) and American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry (2009) which he co-edited with Cole Swenson.

The poet Robert Hass says of St. John's writing:

It's not just gorgeous, it is go-for-broke gorgeous. It is made out of sentences, sweeping through and across the meticulous verse stanzas, that could have been written, for their velvet and intricate suavity, by Henry James.

His awards include the Discovery The Nation prize, the James D. Phelan Prize, and the prix de Rome fellowship in literature. He has also received several National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and a Guggenheim Fellowship. St. John currently lives in Los Angeles, where he teaches in the English Department at the University of Southern California.

Iris

David St. John, 1949
  Vivian St. John (1881-1974)

There is a train inside this iris:

You think I'm crazy, & like to say boyish
& outrageous things. No, there is

A train inside this iris.

It's a child's finger bearded in black banners.
A single window like a child's nail,

A darkened porthole lit by the white, angular face

Of an old woman, or perhaps the boy beside her in the stuffy,
Hot compartment. Her hair is silver, & sweeps

Back off her forehead, onto her cold and bruised shoulders.

The prairies fail along Chicago. Past the five
Lakes. Into the black woods of her New York; & as I bend

Close above the iris, I see the train

Drive deep into the damp heart of its stem, & the gravel
Of the garden path

Cracks under my feet as I walk this long corridor

Of elms, arched
Like the ceiling of a French railway pier where a boy

With pale curls holding

A fresh iris is waving goodbye to a grandmother, gazing
A long time

Into the flower, as if he were looking some great

Distance, or down an empty garden path & he believes a man 
Is walking toward him, working

Dull shears in one hand; & now believe me: The train

Is gone. The old woman is dead, & the boy. The iris curls,
On its stalk, in the shade

Of those elms: Where something like the icy & bitter fragrance

In the wake of a woman who's just swept past you on her way
Home

& you remain.

From Study for the World's Body, published by HarperCollins, 1994. Copyright © 1991 by David St. John. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

From Study for the World's Body, published by HarperCollins, 1994. Copyright © 1991 by David St. John. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

David St. John

David St. John

Born in Fresno, California, in 1949, David St. John was educated at California

by this poet

poem
              It was in the old days,
When she used to hang out at a place
                        Called Club Zombie,
A black cabaret that the police liked
         To raid now and then. As she
              Stepped through the door, the light
         Would hit her platinum hair,
And believe me, heads
poem
It was there, in that little town
On top of the mountain, they walked,
Francesco and Chiara,
That's who they were, that's what
They told themselves--a joke, their joke
About two saints, failed lovers held apart
From the world of flesh, Francis and Clare,
Out walking the old city, two saints,
Sainted ones, holy,