Settlers is a passionate and innovative commentary on exploration and discovery. As the title suggests, the major themes of this work include beginnings in disparate but related areas—the historical, physical, familial, and psychological. Dabney Stuart embeds these rather large considerations in details ranging from tectonic plates and glaciers to the pterodactyl and the observations of a grasshopper. Family ancestors appear as well as writers from earlier centuries. In the effective “The Tapawera Raspberry,” Stuart deftly combines predation, ritual celebration, competition, and joy in a festival set on the South Island of New Zealand.
Settlers’ theological implications become explicit in the long section entitled “God,” in which Stuart struggles to understand God’s mystifying absence and presence. Simultaneously bewildered, curious, distressed, and delighted, these profoundly reflective poems achieve an understanding of God as “a name for everything timethriving.”
Stuart’s love of language and playfulness as well as his affection for his subjects and their mysteries are part of the fabric of these poems. The affirmation of life in all its rich and various inception shines through every line of this exceptional work.
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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