Dabney Stuart

b. 1937
Dabney StuartPatrick Hinely

Of the Southern poets in the second half of the twentieth century, Dabney Stuart has established himself as one of the best and most consistent poets of his generation. Though his work has grown stylistically from formal verse to associative non-metrical free verse, what has remained relatively consistent are his themes and subject matter. Stuart explains to Fleur Adcock and Tod Marshall in Contemporary Poets that his themes include "family relationships, particularly those involving parents and children, levels of consciousness mirrored in language, the unforeseen and ubiquitous past, shifting perspective, cultural icons, isolation, dreams, the hidden self," as well as those of "son/father and father/son, the aloof self-regard of women, the illusion of solidarity and perspective, death and punning" which he identified in Poets in the South. R. S. Gwynn, writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, notes that Stuart works these themes beyond the literal by using post-Freudian psychology to elevate "parents, lovers, and children to the level of archetypes," and thus it is that Stuart has "chosen autobiography, rather than any external system of values, for the mythos that underlies his work."

The Diving Bell established Stuart's reputation as a skillful and intelligent traditionalist, while in A Particular Place the poet moved into more open forms and a more contemplative tone to craft poems about the Shenandoah Valley or the Charles River, places where "the music and the river / Lapping the stones / Become one sound." The Other Hand presented, with an honest tone and from an occasionally surreal position, the social tensions of American culture in the early 1970s, when Stuart "could hear history groping / Like a blind man in a strange room." Round and Round offered readers a series of personae—Poet, Slut, Fool—and character sketches of sideshow performers, including a hermaphrodite and a snake charmer, often employing song-related stanza patterns which Gwynn believes "constitutes a major tour de force." Common Ground, "a turning point" in Stuart's career, according to Adcock and Marshall, presents variations on father and son relationships, and redefines the poet's relationship with his past.

Don't Look Back, which earned Stuart a Pulitzer Prize nomination, found the poet exploring his own middle age as well as his relationships with his ex-wives and his children. In the acrostic poem, "Discovering My Daughter," Stuart describes re-establishing a relationship with his long-estranged daughter after many years, noting how "We've come the longer way / Under such pressure, from one person to / Another. Our trip proves again the world is / Round, a singular island where people may come / Together." A second Pulitzer nomination came for Narcissus Dreaming as, according to Gwynn, Stuart "for the most part moved[d] away from autobiography toward encounter with others," as in the title poem where a fisherman catches "his reflection off the water / as if it were a laid-out suit / of clothes lifted / by its center" and puts it on, finding it "a perfectly imperfect fit."

Light Years: New and Selected Poems was praised by a Publishers Weekly reviewer for its "closely textured, resonant voice" and "seemingly effortless beauty." Long Gone offered poems of love, memory, and the search for lost innocence; also included are poems reflecting Stuart's travels to New Zealand as well as poems showing the poet's "concern with the power of language to create both reality and fantasy," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer.

The short story collections, Sweet Lucy Wine and The Way to Cobbs Creek, indicate Stuart's interest in crafting fiction. The former collection centers eight of its ten pieces around a young boy, Mark Random, who lives in a small Southern town, so that the collection can nearly be read as a novel. The latter volume includes stories which show Mark Random as a father himself, exploring his relationship with both his own children and his own father. The Publishers Weekly critic praises Stuart's foray into fiction, calling him a "gifted writer." As such, Dabney Stuart stands as an example of both a contemporary Southern short story writer and poet of merit.

Career

College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA, instructor in English, 1961-65; Washington and Lee University, Lexington, VA, instructor, 1965-66, assistant professor, 1966-69, associate professor, 1969-74, professor of English, 1974-91, S. Blount Masson professor of English, 1991—. Visiting assistant professor of English, Middlebury College, 1968-69; McGuffey Professor of Creative Writing, Ohio University, spring, 1975; lecturer in creative writing, University of Virginia, fall, 1981. Resident poet, Trinity College, Hartford, CT, spring, 1978. Visiting poet, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1981, 1982-83. Has given poetry readings at numerous colleges and universities throughout the United States.

Bibliography

POEMS

  • The Diving Bell, Knopf (New York City), 1966.
  • A Particular Place, Knopf, 1969.
  • (With others) Corgi Modern Poets in Focus 3, Corgi (London), 1971.
  • The Other Hand, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge), 1974.
  • Friends of Yours, Friends of Mine (poems for children), Rainmaker Press (Richmond, VA), 1974.
  • Round and Round: A Triptych, Louisiana State University Press, 1977.
  • Rockbridge Poems, Iron Mountain Press (Emory, VA), 1981.
  • Common Ground, Louisiana State University Press, 1982.
  • Don't Look Back, Louisiana State University Press, 1987.
  • Narcissus Dreaming, Louisiana State University Press, 1990.
  • Light Years: New and Selected Poems, Louisiana State University Press, 1994.
  • (With Carroll Cloar) Second Sight: Poems for Paintings by Carroll Cloar, University of Missouri Press (Columbia), 1996.
  • Long Gone, Louisiana State University Press, 1996.
  • Settlers: Poems, Louisiana State University Press, 1999.

OTHER

  • Nabokov: The Dimensions of Parody (nonfiction), Louisiana State University Press, 1978.
  • Sweet Lucy Wine: Stories (fiction), Louisiana State University Press, 1992.
  • The Way to Cobbs Creek (fiction), University of Missouri Press, 1997.
  • No Visible Means of Support: Stories, University of Missouri Press, 2001.

Work is represented in about sixty anthologies. Contributor of essays, reviews, and poetry to Poetry, New Yorker, Tar River Poetry, Triquarterly and other periodicals. Shenandoah, poetry editor, 1966-76, editor-in-chief, 1988-95; poetry editor, New Virginia Review, 1983. A collection of Stuart's manuscripts is housed at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Further Reading

BOOKS

  • Abse, Dannie, editor, Corgi Modern Poets in Focus 3, Corgi (London), 1971.
  • Contemporary Poets, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit), 1996.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 105: American Poets Since World War II, Second Series, Gale (Detroit), 1991.
  • Flora, Joseph M. and Robert Bain, editors, Contemporary Southern Writers, Greenwood (Westport, CT), 1991.
  • Rubin, Louis D. and others, editors, The History of Southern Literature, Louisiana State University Press, 1985, pp. 540-543.
  • Williams, Miller, editor, Contemporary Poetry in America, Random House (New York City), 1973.

PERIODICALS

  • Bloomsbury Review, April, 1992, p. 8.
  • Booklist, October 1, 1990, p. 249; February 1, 1992, p. 1011; October 15, 1994, p. 396.
  • Chatahoochee Review, winter, 1991.
  • Chronicles, March, 1989, pp. 28-30.
  • Davidson Review, fall, 1993.
  • Georgia Review, winter, 1990; summer, 1991, p. 383; winter, 1992-93, p. 786.
  • Greensboro News and Record, June 7, 1987.
  • Hollins Critic, June, 1993.
  • Kentucky Poetry Review, Volume 27, number 1, spring, 1991.
  • Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1991, p. 1556.
  • Poetry, July, 1967; July, 1975; August, 1978.
  • Poets in the South, fall, 1984, pp. 35-42.
  • Prairie Schooner, spring, 1993, p. 157.
  • Publishers Weekly, October 19, 1990, p. 53; January 1, 1992, p. 48; October 15, 1994, p. 56.
  • Roanoke Times, March 27, 1983; August 30, 1987.
  • Sewanee Review, October, 1991, p. 101.
  • Shenandoah, autumn, 1966; autumn, 1969, pp. 70-76.
  • Southern Review, autumn, 1976.
  • Studies in Short Fiction, spring, 1992, p. 225.
  • Virginia Quarterly Review, August, 1987.
  • Washington Post Book World, November 7, 1982.

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POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

LIFE SPAN 1937–

Dabney Stuart

Biography

Of the Southern poets in the second half of the twentieth century, Dabney Stuart has established himself as one of the best and most consistent poets of his generation. Though his work has grown stylistically from formal verse to associative non-metrical free verse, what has remained relatively consistent are his themes and subject matter. Stuart explains to Fleur Adcock and Tod Marshall in Contemporary Poets that his themes . . .

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