Book Review: Cloud View Poets
by Jim Natal

Cloud View Poets: Master Classes with David St. John, edited by Morley Clark, Jane Downs, CB Follett, and Susan Terris. Arctos Press, 2005. ISBN: 0-9725384-4-5

David St. John is the most generous of teachers, and that generosity of spirit, craft, and intellect infuses Cloud View Poets, a new anthology of work by students in his Bay Area master classes. What St. John creates in his classes and workshops is a realm of safety—almost Byron’s circles woven twice—inside of which poets can confront “the demands of their lives and their artistic desires.”

Cloud View Poets includes work by 80 poets who have studied with St. John, reading and discussing mostly modern masters and critiquing each other’s work in what one student terms “an MFA [Program] without walls.” The poets represented are from diverse backgrounds (a range of ages, 43 different professions, and many artistic pursuits), but obviously they share a love and respect for each other’s work. And to St. John’s credit, there is not a sameness of writing here, as so often develops with students working with one influential teacher—in this case one with a passionate and encyclopedic knowledge of poetry. The poems included in the collection, all of which are contemporaneous with the workshops, are individual and assured, the voices distinct and clear.

In “Outlines,” Gary Short offers a pouch of seemingly unrelated reflections, memories, and melancholy-tinged vignettes, then pulls the drawstring tight. Molly Fisk beautifully evokes the body-sense of rowing as metaphor in “Rowing, November”: “The way the body wants to pull its own weight/hands curled around the shaft of the oar, drawing it clean.” There’s also the noir-ish “Weed” by Robert Funge, that reels its way from emotional bender to redemption, and Melody Lacina’s “Garden,” a reminiscence—and a dawning understanding–of the implications of her parents’ garden (“She was the reason he planted anything/he didn’t want to eat.”), and the lovely Asian-flavored images of Albert Flynn DeSilver’s affecting “In the Heart of Xangpei.”

These are just samples of the varied poetic delights to be found in “Cloud View Poets.” It would be easy to say that these poets are lucky to be able to work with St. John regularly in such an intimate weekend setting. But more precise would be to say that this collection of talented and committed poets have found each other, coalescing like wisps of the Sausalito clouds that give the group its name into a larger and luminous whole. And this anthology is its manifestation.