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The Face: A Novella in Verse

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  • Posted November 5, 2009

    My Review of "The Face"

    The thing I enjoyed most about the The Face was that it required some light cross-referencing. It made me feel like the collection itself was wearing a mask of sorts and the only way to appreciate the book in its whole glory was to enlighten myself and chip away at its outer layer of references. In this way, I shed light on the dark spots or "blackness" that is so prevalent throughout the book.
    "Blackness," assemblage, and disassemblage are all motifs throughout the book and are cleverly and tactfully interwoven by St. John through his work. As the speaker in many of the poems assembles meaning, he disassembles unknowing, or blackness. As the speaker disassembles confusion and blackness, he assembles meaning and understanding. I found the fluidity of motif-mixing to be remarkable, something for me to strive toward as a poet. As a reader, I was thankful for St. John's subtlety in revisiting his motifs because I never felt as if I were being hit over the head with them.
    The first section focuses mainly on introducing the speaker and discussing the things that he does not understand or that he is contemplating at the moment-Infanta's movie, dreams, the drawings of Raphael. The first thing I do when I open a new collection of poems is to peruse the book to see where and if any of the poems were previously published. I would have never guessed that "V" was a poem inspired by or about 9-11, but it appeared in a collection of September 11th poems. When I read it, I read it as a poem about a dark day and trying to make sense of that day. Knowing that it was about September 11th gives new meaning to lines like "Where were you, do you remember?" and ".were you dreaming of our bodies falling through black rain." had new meaning the second time around. Like the poems that revisit the motifs of this collection, this poem is subtle; it doesn't preach or mourn in the overtly depressing, overly patriotic way that lots of 9-11 material does.
    In the first section, I felt as if I were in a suburb (because poems like "II" references Main Street) and sometimes, I felt I had a connection to a large metropolis (Infanta feels like she is calling from a big city). In section two, I am transported to Europe, namely Italy. When St. John writes about the movie based on his life, I believe that the reader should take this as tongue-in-cheek, fictionalized in a slightly surreal way. But I feel like the speaker is actually visiting Europe, and part of me wants to know why. In part one, it seems as if the speaker is having a hard time making sense of his community and his life, so why go to Italy and try to disassemble the mysteries of a city that is centuries older than all of America as we know it?
    The final section of the book differs from the first two in that the speaker seems to possess more understanding of things that are occurring in his life. There seems to be less pondering and less questioning and more explanation and description. In "XXXI," the first poem in the section, I get the sense that the speaker gains a better understanding of himself by seeing Cybèle portray him in the film. In "XXXV," the poem with Frederick Seidel and "Sharon Stone," the lines that stuck out to me were, "You see, when you step into the movie of your own / Poems, anyone can enter." It was as if the speaker/poet gained an understanding of himself and the way his writing functions.

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