Surpassing Pleasure by John Slater (our Brother Isaac)
John Slater (our Brother Isaac) 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.
‘There are indeed pleasures surpassing ordinary pleasure in these poems. Whether his topic is the cracking of a safe, drinking in a late-night bar, hauling furniture into a new house, or chanting prayers in the monastery, Slater crafts poems of sharp-eyed wit. His poetry awakens us to those moments when the nitty gritty of everyday life is unexpectedly transformed.’
Surpassing Pleasure is an exemplary fusion of contemplative wisdom, disarming humor and bracing intelligence -- it is a poetry of the polis, of zen gardens and snooker halls, the beehive, the cloister, the koi pond, in a language that performs the swift dance of transience, not unlike Hafiz of Shiraz whose work is also included here, newly translated. John Slater is a poet for the twenty-first century and the footprints on the sky are his.