Sharmagne Leland-St. John

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Sharmagne Leland-St. John
Poet Sharmagne Leland-St.John
Poet Sharmagne Leland-St.John
NationalityUnited States/Lineal Descendant of The Confederated Colville Tribe of Nespelem, Washington
SpouseRichard Sylbert (1991-2002)
ChildrenDaisy Alexandra Sylbert-Torres

Sharmagne Leland-St. John is a 21st-century poet. Leland-St. John is best known for the poem "I Said Coffee," for which she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2007. With its “deadpan puncturing of the male ego and its assumption of sexual implication where there is none,”[1] this piece has become one of her most frequently published and requested poems. She has received a total of 14 Pushcart Prize nominations and won the 2013 International Book Award honoring Excellence in Mainstream and Independent Publishing for best Poetry Anthology.


Early years[edit]

Her father Jerome was an actor at the time of her birth, but gave up acting to become an animal trapper in the jungles of Tegucigalpa in Honduras. During her childhood he would disappear for months at a time, collecting exotic animals with which to supply zoos and private estates. He also had a pheasant farm and quail ranch in Mexico City, tried his hand at ranching in Las Vegas, and eventually settled down in Tarzana in California's San Fernando Valley.

Leland-St. John's mother, child actress Roseanne Gahan, worked with Cecil B. DeMille. Roseanne's father Arvé, (virtuoso violinist John Harvey Gahan), was a child prodigy in Canada. He began playing at age 3; at the age of 5 he played a command performance for the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). Gahan married Josephine Morong Runnels, the granddaughter of Chief Que Que Tas [2] of the Sanpoil (tribe) in the Pacific Northwest.

Leland-St. John was the second child born to Jerome and Roseanne. Due to Jerome's infidelity, the marriage was rocky from the start. When Leland-St. John was 3 years old, her father left the family, sued for custody, won, and then placed both children in a Catholic convent.

Roseanne's childhood nanny offered to take both girls and raise them while Jerome traveled around the world. He agreed and the girls were placed in a home in downtown Los Angeles with a guardian and the governess. Leland-St. John became an avid reader who devoured dozens of books. She has often been quoted as saying, “Reading is one of the deepest joys I have ever known.” At age 10 she contracted polio and spent the next two years bedridden. During this time she began to write poetry and experiment with writing what would now be termed "flash fiction."

In 1958 her father returned to the U.S. and brought his daughters to live with him and their stepmother in Tarzana, which promptly caused his wife to leave him. The girls enjoyed life as teenagers with a bachelor father.

Leland-St. John's high school years were uneventful, even though she had left home and had her own apartment while still in school. She enjoyed art and drama, performing in productions such as Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, and a few other high school productions. She showed a flair for writing short stories as early as junior high school.

After graduation from high school, Leland-St. John was accepted to the University of Mexico. By this time her primary interests were archeology and ballet. However, her new stepmother would not allow her to leave the country, so she pursued a career as a model to pay for college expenses.

At a party in the mid-1960s she met Peter Yarrow from the folk singing group Peter Paul and Mary and they began dating. Through the group's road manager, Tom Law, she was introduced to guitarist Peter Walker with whom she began performing in concert and writing song lyrics. Under the name "Peter and the Countess," they performed the music behind former Harvard professor Dr. Timothy Leary’s “Celebrations,” a series of psychedelic slide shows. They also performed in venues such as The Fillmore East and West, The Psychedelic Super Market in Boston, The Ark in San Francisco, The Ash Grove in Los Angeles, and worked the high school concert route with their band the original Orient Express, which included band members Bruce Langhorne and Lowell George.

In the late 1960s while working for songwriter Jimmy Webb, Leland-St. John began writing poetry and song lyrics in earnest and has collaborated with Peter Yarrow, Peter Walker, Darby Slick, Jefferson Airplane, Hedges Capers, Hedge and Donna, Wes Farrell and several other well-known composers. Also during this period, according to author Peter Biskind, Leland-St.John was "a sometime actress who lived for a time with director Harry Falk in the Chateau Marmont in LA.[3]

In the 1970s Leland-St. John acted in TV commercials and briefly in features and on TV; however, she found little satisfaction in this arena, and went back to writing and performing music, stand-up, and poetry.


Leland-St. John was married to Richard Sylbert, the Oscar-winning production designer.[4] They had two children: a boy, Nikolai, who lived for only a few hours (her poem “Tiny Warrior” was written about Nikolai), and a daughter, Daisy Alexandra (currently a costumer in the film industry and boutique owner).

In 1980, Richard asked his manager to include her in his contracts and Leland-St. John began working as his assistant and researcher/design consultant. In 2001 she designed her first film Tricks, starring Gail O'Grady and Michael Murphy. It was honored at the RiverRun International Film Festival in North Carolina and the Angel City Film Festival in Hollywood. That same year she co-founded and became Editor-in-Chief and publisher of the online magazine and literary journal Quill and Parchment.[5] She co-directed and co-produced the short film Being With Eddie[6] in 2003. It was honored at the USA Film Festival,[7] and The First Native American Film Festival in Ventura County (2004). Her short film screenplay Butterfly Catcher was filmed by the Native American Film and TV Alliance (NAFATA) in 2004.

During Daisy Alexandra's early school years, Leland-St. John became very active in fundraising which enhanced school libraries in Los Angeles through donations and a recycling program. She worked on creating a library at Pacific Hills School in West Hollywood, funded a playground and created a garden at The Oaks School[8] in Hollywood.

In 1992, Timothy Leary appeared at a library fund raising event at The Oaks. When she asked what he had been up to, he told her he had discovered a new drug, "the Internet!” Leland-St. John began to investigate this new medium and published her first poem on the Internet in 1998.

After an extended illness, husband Richard Sylbert died in March 2002 at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Calabasas, California. Three months after his death Sharmagne produced a memorial tribute to him at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Over 700 people attended.[9]

She co-authored the memoir her husband had begun but left unfinished at the time of his death, "Designing Movies: Portrait of a Hollywood Artist" (2006)).[10]

Leland-St. John spends time traveling between her home in the Hollywood Hills and her fly-fishing lodge in the Pacific Northwest. She tours the world performing her poetry either solo or with her band of poets, Poetry in Motion: The Quill and Parchment Poets, and the poet group known as "Emerging Urban Poets."


  • Unsung Songs (2003) ISBN 978-0-9764244-0-6 Quill and Parchment Press
  • Silver Tears and Time (2006) ISBN 978-0-9764244-1-3 Quill and Parchment Press
  • Contingencies (2008) ISBN 978-0-9764244-2-0 Quill and Parchment Press USA/WynterBlue Publishing Inc Canada
  • Designing Movies: Portrait of a Hollywood Artist (2006)– Greenwood/Praeger ISBN 978-0-275-98690-2
  • La Kalima (2010) ISBN 978-0-9764244-3-7 Quill and Parchment Press USA/WynterBlue Publishing Inc., Canada
  • Empty Shoes: Poems on the Hungry and the Homeless ~ Editor Patrick T. Randolph ISBN 978-1-4495-1779-3 Popcorn Press (Oct. 2009)
  • Many Mountains Moving – ISBN 978-1-886976-23-8
  • Literary House Review ~ (Fall 2008)
  • Emerging Urban Poets (June 2008)
  • The League of Laboring Poets ISSN 1937-6499 (Best of Issue Award)
  • Villanelles (March 2012); edited by Annie Finch and Marie-Elizabeth Mali; ISBN 978-0-307-95786-3; Everyman's Library/Random House UK
  • Cradle Songs (April 2012) Editor: ISBN 978-0-9764244-5-1. Quill and Parchment Press


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