The poems show sympathy with Humanity and an awareness of the Death that will come however much we enjoy the Life that precedes it. The language is exact and the rhythms just right for the subjects and thoughts, I used to be an English teacher so you can trust my judgement even though, now-a-days, I am content just to be English. How can I say that I enjoyed reading the collection without sounding patronising? The poems are worth reading and the collection is worth buying.
There are many voices in this short book of poems, many moods and moments. Often, the voice will change – Jane Nightwork, for instance, after a night under the stars having helped a boy to lose his virginity; John Evelyn, recounting the death of his son; the poet himself declamatory in The Poets: ‘This man could give a voice to stones,/cause trees to shriek in a December gale’. And both Schrödinger’s cat and dog, the one equivocal, not quite here or there, the other, happily, the opposite - we hear them too.
Stuart reaches a lyrical eroticism in two Venice poems as well as a more louche sexuality (‘After the orgy was over/they lay, emission impossible’). Other poems in the collection observe from an ambiguous vantage, leaving the reader interestingly insecure about the identity of the narrator. The presiding voice, however, is personal, Stuart himself musing on moments experienced from outside (a weeping woman in Waterstones, a dead workman fallen from the roof) or from within (‘Each morning I become my father, shaving’; ‘You often see the ambulance around here’), both ruminations on mortality.
Though brief, there are wide tonal contrasts in this collection. Further, we are invited to travel in time from the immediate and contemporary to the harsh world of the medieval illuminator, and in space from that intimate mirror again to the soaring lark which, descending from its ladder of air, ‘leaves the song/still hovering there’.
It is not difficult to adopt a contemplative lyricism in brief poems like these, ruminating on life and sharing a thoughtful knowingness with the reader in poetry which, when it comes down to it, is slight and easily forgotten. Make no mistake, though: the poems in this collection go much further than this, and much deeper. Each one rewards re-reading and each one makes at least this reader think on things afresh. They are tightly controlled and often memorably expressed. For these reasons, Stuart’s is a voice worthy of attention.