Thursday, April 14, 2016


When I received and read a copy of Pinyon Publishing’s recent release of a volume of poetry, Only The One Sky by Dabney Stuart, I kept thinking about another book of poems entitled Call and Response, an exchange in poetic form written by Louisiana poets Darrell Bourque and Jack Bedell. Both books represent a kind of counterpoint and harmony that flows between two poets to create a spiritual synthesis, embracing past and present in a medley of poems. In the case of Only the One Sky, Stuart has a conversation that focuses on joy and loss with an ancient poet from the Tang Dynasty of eighth century China.

Stuart names his connection “the old poet,” and transcends the boundaries of time, reaching back to antiquity for his subject, Wang Wei, who once wrote to his friend P’ei Ti about walking “hand in hand, composing poems as we went…down twisting paths to the banks of clear streams.” Although the poets have diverging personalities and sensibilities, they share communications that complement each other and in their listening and speaking, the reader is treated to meditations on nature, breath, family, Stuart’s musings about “the filtering years, ineffable ways/that have gentled us to this life: magic,/ grief and error, the lifting of veils./ Gratitude. Elation./ A butterfly, an unfolding shadow.”

In the old poet’s poem “Something Like That,” Stuart likens his feelings about longing to a passage from a Conrad novel, lamenting “I have no idea what I long for. /The old poet shifted on his dinghy seat./Only that I long for it./I don’t long for it because it’s impossible/ to attain, but because it’s impossible/for me not to long for it, whatever it is…”  I was reminded of the Sehnsucht of Simone Weil’s passage in Waiting for God: “When we possess a beautiful thing, we still desire something. We do not in the least know what it is. We want to get behind the beauty, but it…like a mirror sends back our own desire for goodness. It is a…mystery that is painfully tantalizing.” In Stuart’s passage there is a sense of the poet remembering fleeting joys, yet he is aware that we seem to be separated from that which is desired, as Corbin Carnell points out in Bright Shadow of Reality, “a ceaseless longing which always points beyond…” Stuart masterfully uses the “old poet” to personify this quest for the secret that remains hidden to us.

Stuart captures the images of wandering and nature in an exquisite poem, “Not the Same,” as the old poet ruminates about his life by the river. “It is always, the same and not the same./The cluster of willows at the near bend/turns yellow in autumn. Its bare branches/flow in the small breezes. He dreams of them./ Sometimes he wakes, uncertain in the darkness,/lies quietly on his cot, listening/for the silence to break, an owl leaving,/the river bearing itself, the willows shushing.”

Using a more contemporary voice, Stuart roots us in his home place with “Porch Screen,” providing the reader and his old poet friend a glimpse of domesticity: “Once your hair fell across your face, tilted aside./My finger to your chin, a brushing kiss…/Someone to talk with, to share the rabbit stew,/the porch screen flaring with late afternoon sun.” The poet crosses the divide in time between the old poet and the younger one with dialogue featuring affection that connects both poets in the shared blessing of an evening meal.

In Only The One Sky Stuart speaks to poets, living and dead, who have transported readers into a spiritual dimension, creating his own inscriptions about a journey filled with the sight of  radiance everywhere, the sacrament of poets’ connections, and the “atmosphere of infinite suggestion.”* 

Dabney Stuart has been a 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 won the Library of Virginia Poetry Prize. His work is in the audio and video archives at the Library of Congress.

Only The One Sky is available from Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, Colorado 81403 and from

*A.C. Bradley. Oxford Lectures on Poetry.

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