poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

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.

Francesco and Clare

David St. John, 1949
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, held close to the life...
Poverty, the pure life, the one
Life for Franziskus and Klara,
Stalwarts given
To the joys of God in heaven
And on earth, Mother, praising Brother Sun
And sister Moon; twin saints, unified
In their beauty as one, Francisco and Clara,
A beauty said of God's will and word, bestowed
And polished by poverty, François
With Claire, the chosen poverty, the true
Poverty that would not be their lives...
And they took their favorite names, Clare and Francesco,
Walking the streets of stone the true saints
Walked, watching as the larks swirled
Above the serene towers, the larks
Francesco once described as the color
Of goodness, that is, of the earth, of the dead...
Larks who'd not seek for themselves any extravagant
Plumage, humble and simple, God's birds
Twirling and twisting up the pillowing air...
And Francesco said to Clare, Oh little plant I love,

My eyes are almost blind with Brother Sun...tell me,

Who hides inside God's time...?
And Clare, rock of all Poor Clares, stood
In the warm piazza overlooking the valley, weary,
Her shoulder bag sagging from the weight
Of her maps and books, and said across the rain-slick
Asphalt of the parking lot, to the poor bird climbing
The wheel of sky it always had loved best,
Dear lark, dear saint, all my kisses on your nest!

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
  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,
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