Winter 2005-6

REVIEW - by Justin Kibbe


David St. John’s The Face (HarperCollins 2004) lights up the film noir of one person’s vitality with isolated incidents, images, and ideas as they attempt to “Assemble & dissemble” their life together. It draws deserved attention to moments more precisely than if everything was equally bright. Its power comes from an affective use of speech, and from a crafted emotional release. It does not come from sleeping with the dictionary.

As in David St. John’s other books of poetry, the language is comfortable. We know these speech patterns and these words. For once, we do not need the OED. It’s ability to invoke catharsis in the reader is grounded in a movement that has never had enough of a following to be called a movement: Simplism. Simplism is grounded in language as speech, and the removal of emotion to create background, an overall feeling from the writing and its inhabitants. The writing shows equal attention to the living rhythms and the progressive emotions of a painful existence. This existence is founded in a happiness that depends upon a fleeting faith in one’s self and the desire to be loved by another.

The book is dark, yet colorful. It’s mystery involves the modern waste land of Hollywood, and is detailed with eating sushi, buying a coat formerly owned by Dennis Hopper, and feeding a pet goat. Both memory and imagination are simultaneously suspects and evidence. They are the drive for and away from love, the guilt that cannot be proved innocent.

The Face is David St. John’s first book length poem. It contains three sections of fifteen poems each with roman numerals as titles. It’s tone is conversational; it’s a gripping story. I wont give it away, but the main character, whose name we never learn, either will or won't have a movie made of his life, and it either will or wont turn out well. As the reader, we are continually in his mind, in his movie, in his past, and in his hope of believing in love again. It calls forth from us both sympathy and laughter at the function of memory; “Well, if I ever see/ The face of memory, then I’ll know I’ve seen the face of God”, at how language constructs our conception of self; “Whisper, fister. Call out the cold from the body. Call up/ The silence from the bones, unclench that final personal pronoun”, and at our expectations of love (real, failed, and imaginary); “‘You self absorbed prick!’ & I swear/ . . . As she raises her steak knife to her shoulder & buries it in the back of his/ Left hand . . ./ they must be in love/ I mean, really really in love- ” Yet every thing is a mask, a very smart mask that constantly rebuilds itself as soon as it is removed and makes us work progressively harder to learn the next new thing about our self. It is always difficult to know who to believe, what to trust, and when to descend into our assembling “night of tangerines.”

We could just as easily be hearing this story told in person or over a cell phone, which occasionally loses service as all phones and personalities do, but the severity of what we are being told still compels us to pick up the cell phone, dial, and reassure this person at the end of the book when he says/commands “I believe . . . (believe . . .)/ You are calling me. . . .”




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