Born in Fresno, California, he was educated at California State University, Fresno, where he studied with poet Philip Levine, and at the University of Iowa, receiving an M.F.A. in 1974. He is the author of nine books of poetry, including Study for the World's Body: New and Selected Poems (1994), No Heaven (1985), and Hush (1976), as well as a volume of essays, interviews and reviews entitled Where the Angels Come Toward Us. His most recent work is The Face: A Novella in Verse (2004).
His awards include the Discover/The Nation prize, the James D. Phelan Prize, the Rome Prize fellowship in literature, and the O.B. Hardison, Jr. Poetry Prize (2001), a career award for teaching and poetic achievement. He has also received several National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships (1976, 1984, 1994) a Guggenheim Fellowship (1994), and a grant from the Ingram Merrill Foundation. His work has been published in many literary magazines, including The New Yorker, Paris Review, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Antaeus, Harper's, and The New Republic, and has been widely anthologized.
St. John has taught creative writing at Oberlin College and Johns Hopkins University. He currently teaches in the English Department at University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where he serves as Director of The Ph. D. Program in Literature and Creative Writing.