Saturday, April 28, 2012

GREENBRIER FOREST



During the 90’s, when I visited my godfather Markham Peacock in Blacksburg, Virginia, he and his friend, Preston Fraser, took us on Sunday jaunts to lunch at the Greenbrier Hotel near the town of White Sulphur Springs in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. This magnificent five-star hotel is located in a valley of the Allegheny Mountains close to the Greenbrier State Forest, an area with rocky ridges and streams, forested with many pines and hemlocks and bisected by Kate Mountain. We did not visit the State Forest of over 5,100 acres, but passed through some of the most beautiful areas in West Virginia, stopping along the way so that Markham and Preston could watch trains cross a trestle nearby. Both men were in their eighties, but watched and listened to the trains with small-boy fascination. When I saw the title, Greenbrier Forest by Dabney Stuart on Pinyon Publishing’s list of recent poetry publications, I was overcome with nostalgia as Markham Peacock was a tall figure in my life, and he loved to make that Sunday drive to Greenbrier County for many years, always scheduling the White Sulphur Springs trip when I went up from Louisiana to Virginia for my annual visit.

I ordered Greenbrier Forest, asking that it be sent by overnight mail, and it arrived yesterday. It’s a lovely book with an attractive green-hued cover displaying Dabney Stuart’s photograph of “Hart’s Run” within the Greenbrier State Forest and complemented by a back cover design of tree leaves scattering in the wind, executed by Susan Elliott who designs all of Pinyon Publishing’s arresting covers.

Dabney Stuart and his wife spend a week in the Greenbrier State Park twice a year, and Dabney has been writing and revising the poems for Greenbrier Forest in that peaceful environment for fifteen years. The poems are untitled and uncategorized “contemplations” that immediately struck me with their similarity to Oriental poetry. I thought about the work of the great Sufi poet, Rumi, whose creativity came from a “mind within a mind,” the inner vision of the world revealing itself to a sharp intellectual perception. An example of that similarity between Dabney and Rumi is a poem on p.7 of Greenbrier Forest: “Fog pockets in the hemlocks./To absorb well what you are/in the midst of leaving,/precious for not being desired./They dry, lift./The needles sharpen.”

I have a very old hemlock in my front yard here at Sewanee, Tennessee, and as I read the poem, I could see the aged tree topped by fog, its needles drying and sharpening as the fog lifted and passed on — and, at a deeper mystical level, I envisioned an aging person accepting who he is in the world without desiring to stay in the place he presently occupies.

Oriental poets claim that poetry is the fruit of spiritual vision, and this is a meet description of the poetry in Dabney’s book – it moves like a transformation of the soul, as Dabney notes, “Words are the spirit’s rove and nestle,/its till. Waking into them roils and tosses,/the solace of rift and abrasion, spark,/our letting go./Into. Through. Little cheers/the spirit leases as it moves,/no matter where.”

Dabney skillfully conveys his response to the forest without detailed, concrete descriptions of trees, birds, streams — writing that “as the morning gathers/names fade toward their sources,/fluent eventual, birds/becoming the sky they filter through,/the soft beat of wings left on the air/a web, a voice.”

I was particularly drawn to the succinct ending of a poem that resonates with a tongue-in-cheek, philosophical metaphor: “Dismay, the little chisel,/and its small-minded acolyte,/bewilderment, chipping,/chipping. A beat/ to tune by, an inclination.”

Coleman Barks has said of Rumi’s poems, “they are not so much about anything as spoken from within something. Call it enlightenment, ecstatic love, spirit, soul, truth, the ocean of ilm (divine luminous wisdom)…names do not matter…” I pondered those words as I read Dabney’s poetry — poems in which the inner eye becomes the tool of perception, as he pays homage to the Spirit with language from the place of “speaking within something.”

Greenbrier Forest can be ordered at www.pinyon-publishing.com/books.html and by mail at Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403.
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