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This energetic first collection moves freely from the world of professional snooker to drunken adolescent escapades. Slater contemplates the art of moving furniture, the marginalia of monastic scribes and daydreams in a Japanese garden. Depicting care or abandon, the poems reflect on that unique carefree care for language that is poetry itself.

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Surpassing Pleasure

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This energetic first collection moves freely from the world of professional snooker to drunken adolescent escapades. Slater contemplates the art of moving furniture, the marginalia of monastic scribes and daydreams in a Japanese garden. Depicting care or abandon, the poems reflect on that unique carefree care for language that is poetry itself.

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Editorial Reviews

Toronto Star - Barbara Carey

Slater strives to make his own path from the secular to the sacred, finding subtle existential lessons in commonplace experiences. - Teresa Scollon

'In the general silence of a Cistercian abbey, one might hope for the numinous to reveal itself-and so it does in John Slater's poems. From the very first poem in this first collection, Slater, a Cistercian monk, promises that "here in the green world between / eternal fields of light" there will be "...ample, empty, time / to acknowledge / all that is passing...", and further, he will "...clean / with an invisible rag / the dusty windshield" that can divide people and cloud vision. His poems limn the odd and beautiful connections that characterize the divine, and summon the quality of attention required to notice it.

'Slater leads with transformation, front-loading the book with poems set in the snooker hall, the abbey, the porch, the bottom of the sea. It doesn't matter where; insight can bloom anywhere, any time. Like the "tiny controlled explosions" of the snotflower decomposing a whale's underwater skeleton (in "Defused"), Slater's poems work on the world, digesting it, turning it into small units of light and sound that point toward God.

'These poems take their time. For the most part, they are one-pagers, carefully crafted and beautifully controlled, whether in free verse or in form. They don't overreach. And, as Slater writes, reverence is "the source for every poem", even when he's writing about stealing cigs.

'The poems move inward as the collection progresses, gradually revealing personal history, first told at some distance, then distilling into poems of loss in the third section. In the sonnet "Rear-view", one glimpses the man behind the poems: moving into a detached and spiritual life, leaving behind a loved one whom he will never quite forget: "...You remain on my mind, / Impossible to hold, or leave behind". This seems to be the emotional center of gravity for the book.

'Except that it is replaced by another emotional center, the final section, which includes both translations of the Persian poet Hafiz and Slater's own work, poems of searching and yearning for the beloved, the divine beloved. In the final poem, "Unlocked", the speaker addresses another, noting "...Loss / held in the mouth / like the clean smoke /of incense; snow under- / foot, our unlocked / cars, and the still / half-built apartments / left open to the cold".

'No resolution here, but the invocation of a new emptiness. The resulting impression is of a man, still searching, hungry, unfinished, on his way somewhere, leaning against the car for a moment before he resumes his journey. One can't help feeling that there will be something more-perhaps something less tidy and composed-to come one day from John Slater.'

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781122977111
  • Publisher: The Porcupine's Quill
  • Publication date: 6/1/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 1
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

John Slater grew up in Unionville, Ontario, and was attracted to poetry at a young age. After three years of literature and philosophy at Trent University in Peterborough, he left school to pursue life as a Cistercian monk, a vocation in which he's continued happily since January of 2000. Immersion in the rhythm of monastic living, its definite structures and open spaces, were formative in the genesis of Surpassing Pleasure. Slater's responsibilities include caring for elderly monks and tending a Japanese garden. His poems and translations have appeared in Canadian Literature, Queen's Quarterly and PN Review. His work, The Tangled Braid: Ninety-Nine Poems by Hafiz of Shiraz, co-translated with Jeffrey Einboden, appeared in the Spring of 2010 from Fons Vitae. Currently he is at work on a degree in theology from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and is particularly interested in the literary/rhetorical features of the work of Bernard of Clairvaux, a major writer in the Cistercian tradition. After the silence of the cloister, life in Washington ('like living in a spy-novel') reminds him often of the saying of Anthony of the Desert: 'A monk outside his monastery is like a fish out of water.' Fortunately, Slater finds, he is somewhat amphibious.

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Read an Excerpt

Bamboo Children

... a sweat of plans ... -- Tim Lilburn

Mist wrapped the pruned like a lunatic hat-rack limbs of the lemon-thread cypress like over-stuffed winter coats, like the gardener's lavish plans ... to set up an amoeba-shaped mulch-
bed: two stray ferns, a clipped azalea, moss-
covered rocks in the pine-shade or transplant a few bamboo clumps from the overgrown yard of the hermitage to the offbeat order of the garden where their olive or aquamarine stalks and light-green foliage

at last would have room to stretch and spread like aerials, plant antennae getting signals from an alien planet,
translations of the gardener's wish: when I'm gone and the landscape's again overgrown knee-high weeds in the unraked gravel,
set the bamboo free

pull up the plastic borders buried two feet deep in the earth,
so its offspring, tunneling underground,
apnea swimmers doing laps on the pale blue pool-
floor -- pop up a hundred feet off and the one-time orderl garden gets a new look: bamboo forest.

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