The publication of Study for the World's Body: New & Selected Poems, a finalist for the National Book Award in 1994, reinforced David St. John's reputation as a poet of wild imagination and formidable accomplishment. Now, with the arrival of The Red Leaves of Night, St. John further demonstrates his extraordinary gifts as a poet of true vision and virtuosity in this seamless meditation on the ecstatic anguish of possession and loss.
Possession and loss, rapture and despair: David St. John's narrator remains unflinchingly aware that the trajectory between these two states is brief. Like a modern Dante's Virgil, he guides us through a mosaic of experiences, each more intense and illuminating than the one before. Once our journey commences, its central purpose soon becomes clear: to limn the vast architecture of erotic desire and communion.
Indeed, it is on the sexual landscape that St. John's most wrenching and primordial dramas are enacted. Sexual communion--with its potential for the dissolution of all spiritual and physical boundaries between two formerly separate beings--provides the leitmotiv of compelling, at times almost unbearable, tension throughout The Red Leaves of Night. And it is in its recognition of, even insistence on, the necessary evanescence of such communion that this collection finds its breathtaking elegiac power.
The Red Leaves of Night is replete with those strengths that have always distinguished David St. John's writing: the adroit and original imagistic fluidity, the penetrating heart and eye. But its publication also represents the emergence of a new St. John--a poet of exceptional authority and confidence, of earned insight; a writer who exists in sharp contrast to those for whom, as his narrator succinctly observes, "pleasure is terror." The Red Leaves of Night we meet that most courageous of modern men: one who grasps the dangers inherent in ecstasy and, even so, cannot turn away.
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David St. John has been honored, over the course of his career, with many of the most significant prizes for poets, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Prix de Rome Fellowship in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and a grant from the Ingram Merrill Foundation. His work has been published in countless literary magazines, including The New Yorker, Paris Reviews, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Antaeus, Harper's, and The New Republic, and has been widely anthologized. He has taught creative writing at Oberlin College and Johns Hopkins University and currently teaches at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Figure You
The Figure You
Remains the speculative whip of my aesthetic
As in the latest chapter I've been writing
Called "The Erotics of the Disembodied Self
Although I suppose the figure
You still suppose yourself to be is nevertheless
& upon reflection nothing more than the presence
Of someone else's moon-stunned body
Held quietly against your own just like the air
Or any other absence by which we learn to mark
The passing of yet another impossibly forgiven
& long-punishable night
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