Thursday, March 27, 2014


I was first introduced to Dabney Stuart's work through Gary Entsminger, publisher of Pinyon Publishing, an independent press in Montrose, Colorado, and was impressed by Stuart's metaphysical musings in Greenbrier Forest, which I reviewed in 2012. His new book, Time's Body, a collection of new and selected poems, 1994-2014, is the work of a mature voice, resonating with both eloquence and humor. It is a voice filled with formal seriousness and unhurried playfulness, not wholly committed to the canons of intellectualism or confessionalism—the voice of an aging troubadour who quotes Andre' Viette in the preliminary pages of the book: "Nothing's going to grow if it's not there."

Everything is here in this multi-layered collection—from spare poems in the Chinese tradition to longer ruminations about characters like William Shakespeare and about controvertible black holes in the universe. The book's stark cover, a photograph of an annular solar eclipse by Stan Honda, could imply a certain darkness within the pages, but contrarily, Time's Body is dazzling with sensual dramas, encounters with the natural world, and lyrics about lightness and energy.

As a former clarinetist, I'm partial to woodwinds, and the poem that exemplified that sense of control needed to play music or write enduring poetry is that of "Solo," one of Stuart's newer poems. The description of an oboe player's effect on the listener is masterful, a beautiful solo in itself...

"Her music, /sinuous as swallow flight, /emptied the mind, too. /Nothing became/the way it floated, its local air, swallowed by nothing./She followed a trail of notes,/but her listeners/went off into myriad lost/meanders, keeping/almost no time. They knew/nothing, did not think/about form and void, /or anything/on the face of the earth/or moving upon its waters. /Instead they took heart/from this wind blowing them away." 

You can almost see the black notes rising in this acknowledgement of the musician playing a wind instrument and giving lift to the listener. 

In "Yucca Mountain," readers hear the echoes of a metaphysician as Stuart describes the mountain over Ghost Dance Fault and the ghosts that haunt the fault, "vibrations... crazing the music to which their bodies ribboned." Unfettered by sentimentalism, Stuart speaks of giving his father away to open mesas and leaving echoes behind, assuring the reader that 

"...if you go there/you can breathe them. Our heels click a joy/together. Our motions give a pattern/to their air anyone can join, /invisible leaves from a notebook flying, /ghosting our dance, feathering its voices."

This is a buoyant aria linking myth and the poet's memory in a spiritual refrain.

Stuart contributes a bit of sensual whimsicality in "Staying in Touch," a poem about falling in love with the same woman living "in the blind/hole at the center/of my left eye," who gives him the "big ecstasy" of lovemaking. It is told with the wryness of a poet who recognizes the body's limitations and describes the aftermath of coming together as "...beached walruses /drifting..."  

Time's Body is a collection of poems that helps readers accept the temporal state of the human condition, to see both the here and now while probing the light beyond. It is somber, meditative, and forthright about the terrors and the consolations of life in "time's body."

Dabney Stuart has published eighteen previous volumes of poetry, is a former resident at the Rockefeller Center in Bellagio, Italy, has held a Virginia Artists Fellowship, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2006, he was awarded the Library of Virginia Poetry Prize. His work is housed in the audio and video archives at the Library of Congress. He lives with wife Sandra in Lexington, Virginia.

Time's Body is available from Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, Colorado 81403.  

No comments: