holds an important place within the modern conceptualization of poetry as a mapping of consciousness (see modernism). His poetry bridges the gap between linear conceptions of thought found in narrative poetry of the mid-20th century and the elliptical patterns of the mind prominent in postmodern verse. He once remarked, as the "image of the modern mind's discovery of itself" defined "poetic activity in the early part of this century ... I seek the movement or progression of the mind's discovery of itself" (qtd. in Jackson 78). Elizabeth bishop and John ashbery were major influences upon his early poetry. Unlike other poets of his time, St. John moves between these two poles by writing a poetry that dramatizes both Bishop's acute attention to the details of the world and Ashbery's telescopic motions of the mind.
St. John was born and raised Fresno, California. In 1974 he earned an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa and published his first book, Hush, two years later. St. John is the author of five other books of poetry, including Red Leaves of Night (1999), a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and Study for the World's Body (1994), a finalist for the National Book Award. Along with several fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1976, 1984, and 1994) and Guggenheim Foundation (1997), St. John has been awarded the Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2000) and the Prix de Rome (1984).
Fundamental to St. John's search for a poetic expression that enacts "the movement . . . of the mind's discovery of itself" (St. John, quoted in Jackson 78) are a sensual connection to and rendering of the physical world alongside a longing for an ideal metaphysical realm. He often plays these two elements out through characters involved in a drama of relationships, the tensions of the encounter weaving together the interior drama of the self and the public drama of interaction with others. In "A Fan Sketched with Silver Egrets" (1994), St. John uses the intensely physical to move his characters toward a metaphysical realm, beyond language, wherein two people are joined in complete comprehension of one another. The fan, a vessel for the physical touch of the lovers, unfolds as the female lover's "kiss unfolds" and reveals "This scent of animal
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pleasure." At the same time, the fan is also a physical emblem of the possibility of the pair communicating "With no language / Except this single pulse" of the fan, beating in the air of a crowded room.
St. John's cinematographic imagery of moments rendered in conversational tones is spiked with the flourishes of baroque elegance, accentuating the extent to which the world we perceive is the world we create with the motions and the languages of our minds.
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