Poet comes north to PSU

David St. John
Wednesday, Feb. 27
8 p.m.
SMC Browsing Lounge (Room 238)

The poetry of David St. John suggests a quest to fulfill desire, and more importantly, that desires fulfilled can add significance to life. St. John, a Los Angeles-based poet and professor at University of Southern California will visit Portland next week to read at Smith Center on Wednesday evening. He has been publishing since 1976 and has received fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation and his work has appeared everywhere from Harper’s to the Paris Review. St. John enjoys an international reputation as a groundbreaking writer and is one of the best-known poets living on the West Coast.

His collection “Study for the World’s Body” (1994) brings together work from his earliest books, “Hush” and “The Shore,” with newer pieces. It is impressive to track his growth from whimsical and ironic West Coast poet to the far more complicated, dark and intense works that end this book. His writing is flowing and his structures are gorgeous. As the reader moves through the book, passion turns to questions as raw desire turns to a quest for meaning. In a 1990 interview with The Cortland Review the writer passed along that one of his principal interests in writing is to explore how people, especially men and women, interact. but also pointed out he would like his poetry to “open a sense of possibility within people.”

St. John went on to speculate about the role of poetry in our culture and why it continues to last and find new audiences when it is so often declared a dying art form. He compared poetry to religion and suggested they are poking at the same questions. “I think the answer to that is that all of those questions of the spirit and the soul which used to be addressed by religion are now going wanting. And instinctively and intuitively (we’re) turning to poetry, which is reverential and devotional and celebratory of the world and filled with faith in human beings and the world in which they live.” His writing is a quest for beauty, but suggests that beauty would be meaningless without a spiritual connection to worldly desires.

David St. John will be co-presented by the Portland-based Mountain Writers Center and PSU’s Literary Arts Council as part of the Winter 2002 Readings Series.

Council head Ann Stevenson has been enthused by the consistently solid attendance at the readings and the increased integration of visiting writers and PSU classrooms, something she would like to see much more of in the future. The series continues Tuesday, March 5 at 7:30 p.m. featuring PSU writer Philip Jenks, who recently published his first book, “On the Cave You Live In,” and concludes with San Francisco writer and lecturer Kim Addonizio on Wednesday, March 13. All events are at the SMC Browsing Lounge and are free to students, staff and faculty.