The poems in Dabney Stuart’s Common Ground center on a family—the bonds that unite it and the forces that break it apart. Taking as their subject friendship, air travel, men’s room graffiti, conversation, the American West, the circus, and other polite topics, these poems nonetheless return again and again, often hauntingly, to the family, to childhood, to fathers and sons, to divorce.
In “Turnings,” a father paces the halls of his home, long after his children and wife are asleep:
In the years of his growing loss he would walk
Through the rooms of the house after midnight,
The ice tinkling in a glass of bourbon
Accompanying him. Each door he passed
Through seemed to yawn him in, the quiet bodies
Of his sons unrecognizable in their dark beds.
When he looked down at his wife’s body in another room
The night itself seemed to yawn,
so he went out into it,
Stood at the edge of the wide yard he’d tended for ten years,
Discovered the next largest darkness of all.
You are eating me alive, woman, he said softly,
The poems in this volume are affecting, honest attempts of the poet to find common ground with his reader; to express emotion, yearning, and confusion in a way that is readily accessible and true.
Dabney Stuart, professor of English at Washington and Lee University, is the editor of Shenandoah. He is the author of eight books of poetry, including Common Ground, Don’t Look Back, and Narcissus Dreaming, as well as a book of criticism on Nabokov. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, Ploughshares, the Southern Review, the Virginia Quarterly Review, and other publications. Stuart has received two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship.
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