Cloud View Poets: An Anthology

Master Classes With David St. John

by Lynne Thompson

Cloud View Poets: An Anthology is a unique publication—a book, which results from a series of master classes taught by Los Angeles poet David St. John. In the ongoing dialogue—sometimes laudatory, often-times damning—about the proliferation of MFA programs across the country, the growth of private workshops and master classes has been a step-child in the conversation. Nevertheless, since the late 20th century, a renewed interest in both the reading and writing of poetry has resulted in an increase in what was once quaintly referred to as literary salons. And, as with the recent increase in the number of MFA programs, some of these gatherings are, predictably, better than others.

One of the best of these is hosted by Susan Terris and CB Follett, co-editors of the literary journal Runes, A Review of Poetry. (Ms. Follett is also the editor and publisher of Arctos Press.) These sessions are held twelve or more times a year (fifteen poets per session) at Ms. Follett's home which sits high on a hilltop in Sausalito, California. The Cloud View Master Poetry Classes, as they've come to be called, are led with finesse and generosity by master literary magician, David St. John, author of The Face, Prism, and Red Leaves of Night, among others.

The poet-participants (whose "day jobs" as parents and property managers and the like would have made Whitman proud) discuss a broad selection of classic and contemporary poetry. In addition, they critique each other's writing. Most recently, the fruit of their labors has been collected in this handsomely-designed anthology.

The anthology features one poem from each of the 90 participants, including St. John, and runs the gamut of current poetic styles. Some of the poems have also been published in the country's best-known literary journals, among them the North American Review, Ploughshares and The Comstock Review. This recognition is immediately understandable upon reading the anthology, which is a feast for the ear and eye.

Reflect, for example, upon William Landis' richly imagistic opening lines ("consider the suchness of a basin/this spill fountain holding its breath"). Or mull over the comic propulsion of Rose Black's ("I wrapped Aunt Norma in Saran Wrap"). These are just two examples of the sure-footed manner in which these poets approach and execute their work. The compilation is a poignant reminder of our times and personal geographies as in Gillian Wegener's On Hearing the Missing Writer's Been Found or Joel T. Katz' Why We're in Bakersfield. Finally, it is just a damn compelling read that draws the reader ever in and more in the same way Molly Fisk reminds us of "the way the body wants to pull its own weight". And it is solid evidence that first-rate, well-crafted work is being written outside, as well as inside, "the academy." If you are looking for evidence of this fact, I cannot commend Cloud View Poets more highly.

Cloud View Poets: An Anthology—Master Classes With David St. John, Arctos Press, P.O. Box 401, Sausalito, CA 94966-0401

Lynne Thompson

Lynne Thompson's work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Indiana Review, Louisiana Literature and elsewhere. She is a human resources manager at UCLA.