Face: A Novella in Verse

Overview

A haunting and inventive book length sequence of poems from the distinguished author of Study for the World's Body.

The Face is both fiercely lyrical and intimately conversational. Coming to terms with the failure of a great love, the speaker descends into his own dark night of the soul. Here are poems that explore the drama of the shattered self in a variety of voices, calling on memory to speak and imagination to make beauty from the shards. Slowly, the speaker reassembles his...

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The Face: A Novella in Verse

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Overview

A haunting and inventive book length sequence of poems from the distinguished author of Study for the World's Body.

The Face is both fiercely lyrical and intimately conversational. Coming to terms with the failure of a great love, the speaker descends into his own dark night of the soul. Here are poems that explore the drama of the shattered self in a variety of voices, calling on memory to speak and imagination to make beauty from the shards. Slowly, the speaker reassembles his life and again finds faith in himself and the world. These poems reveal a swirling cinematic poetry of visionary scope; meditative and confessional in some moments, ironic and playful in others.

Deeply passionate and raw in its candour, The Face may be for this generation of poets what Lowell's Life Studies and Ashbery's Self–Portrait in a Convex Mirror were.

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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times Book Review
“A shattered, ironic, yet seductive and haunting sequence of poems … [of] languorous beauty.”
Harvard Review
“St. John has written an extremely beautiful book that brings us to the edge of beauty and beauty’s possibility.”
Harvard Review
“St. John has written an extremely beautiful book that brings us to the edge of beauty and beauty’s possibility.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review
“A shattered, ironic, yet seductive and haunting sequence of poems … [of] languorous beauty.”
Publishers Weekly
St. John's ninth collection is roughly plotted around a midlife crisis: "Each day, in the mirror, that face smeared a bit more brutally/ Across the glass." In order to push the narcissism to its limits, St. John confronts his speaker with a forthcoming biopic of his own life, complete with poor scripting by an ex-, "Infanta," and a young cinematographer "with a pierced dick." Fuguing around writing process-oriented repetitions of "assembling" and "dissembling," the speaker utters an Eliotic cri de coeur ("I have invented a whole philosophy of shatterings"), complains about the script ("That tapestry of travesty") and alternately fantasizes about and feels revulsion for the "hot" young woman cast to play him, with "a certain angel-butch Joan-of-Arcish kind of thing." September 11, as a key recent event in the speaker's life, is presented as a set piece with "flakes of flint falling/ Through long fingers of flame. Black leaves. Feuilles de noire." Faulty cell phone communication, straight talk on cultural decline ("remind us why anyone gives a shit, OK?") and a lengthy diversionary prose poem listing varieties of masks follow, until, at the premiere of the movie of his life, the speaker "hurls," crawls outside and sees a vision of his own face assemble in the sky. Despite some entertainingly arch moments (on literary couples: "all that flesh made word") and anecdotes of self-abnegation, most readers will have put it together and walked out long before that. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Though dubbed a novella, St. John's eighth volume of poetry is less a narrative than a phantasmagoric dream diary or extended dramatic monolog. The speaker is a Hollywood jet-setter who's lost his (or perhaps her) sense of identity and strives to recapture it through a series of fevered meditations on past loves and exotic travels, waxing metaphorical on "the fluent confetti of the soul...a self/ Assembled like the mosaic of a mask, the whole of that self assembled of light." The narrator repeatedly bemoans his fractured persona ("The Cubist me I'll carry out into the world"), yearning to "unclench that final personal pronoun." St. John's expansive, barely lineated prose brims with color, motion, and a cinematographer's sense of mise-en-sc ne, but the cloying self-centeredness of the speaker ("The real, the vital & gloriously broken me") and the vagueness of his melodramatic torment fail to earn sympathy. This work functions well enough as a satire of the movie world's self-importance in a media-obsessed age, but that seems too broad a target for St. John's eloquence and verve. While angst abounds, it ricochets in a hermetic chamber all its own. For comprehensive collections only.-Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060593674
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/5/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 80
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.22 (d)

Meet the Author

Prizewinning poet David St. John is the author of ten collections of poetry, including Study for the World's Body: New and Selected Poems, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, as well as Where the Angels Come Toward Us, a volume of essays, interviews, and reviews. He is the co-editor, with Cole Swenson, of American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry. He teaches at the University of Southern California and lives in Venice Beach.

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First Chapter

The Face
A Novella in Verse

I.

I used to live there, but that was
Before yesterday. Yesterday is so boring, don't you think?
Even my black trench coat thinks so, & it's very sophisticated,
Having once belonged to Dennis Hopper before I found it
On the used rack at Animal House. Ron the owner says, fingering
The shiny ink of the lapels, "Dennis Hopper." "Cool," I say.
So into the bright day I walk out like the night. "Face it,"
Toni says when she sees me later
At the sushi counter at Hama, "Dennis Hopper you're not." "OK," I say --
"But the spicy tuna's terrific today." Which is why today
Is better than yesterday, don't you think? I said that to myself, not
To Toni or Ron or anybody. I said to myself, Yesterday is still so boring;
When I used to live there it was boring & even before yesterday
It was boring -- I mean, even before I knew it was boring,
Before yesterday -- & if I still
Lived there I would probably think it was boring. But today ...
Today, here with you standing right in front of me like
The body of a shadow or like a shadow naked as a body,
Like a woman dressed in a body naked
As a shadow, like a shadow undressing before a mirror, like yesterday,
Like a mirror with a shadow & a trench coat ... Well, here, today, as
We both undo the loose belts of
Our shadows, our trench coats, our bodies, here with you ...
It's really never boring. Not today, no, & not even before
yesterday.

The Face
A Novella in Verse
. Copyright © by David St. John. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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