There are places people go to when they use their minds, places like poems that furnish them with the material they need to escape the bounds of mortality. Stuart M. Buck’s poems are either long or short in this collection, they use humour of an incisive brand to pare away the scales that lie over your eyes and once they have been removed you can perhaps see the poet laughing beside you like a statue of Bhudda you can think about buying online when the mood takes you to browse.
A Welshman, Buck gives you something to think about, something that will not only break the tedium of web surfing, but that provides open windows through which to view a world of contradictions. The role of sex, for example, is paradoxical. In ‘dear richard’ the narrator talks to a neighbour or a friend – someone he knows well enough to look after his house while he’s out of town – and tells him caustically that he’s “fucking your wife” but in ‘midnight in prague’ a different narrator imagines, as he’s walking around the eastern European city, that a woman is following him (“her scent a whisper, her taste. her taste. I burn for it.”) But then he thinks about infinity, as if the thought of the possibility of a strange woman following him around a strange city makes his imagination take flight and soar.
Humour works to temper such transcendent impulses, as happens in ‘rejection letter to the crow that just flew into my bedroom window’ which needs little to accompany it as the main gist of the poem is cemented in the title. Yet even while commiserating with a bird that came to an unpleasant end, the narrator celebrates the creature’s “innocence” and recognises “the delirium of flight” as something that he wants and, perhaps, dreams of. Is this the same thing the poet uses to anchor the unreality of sex and desire? In the longer poem his avatar muses, “i feel sad. these buildings deserve more than to be fucked, impregnated by moneymakers and endless tourist traps.” He wants more.
The problem of physicality the poem about the crow also contains is not resolved here but in other places the poet gains altitude and seems to leave the earth – or is this an illusion? In ‘tom waits and an infinite softness’ a trope the poet sometimes uses – global warming – arises at the outset but it’s immediately subsumed in the minute progress of imagination’s random ephemera that graze the consciousness of the narrator as she daydreams – it might be a bad trip she’s experiencing – but then, “suddenly i knew things i never knew before and i was in love and i had lost and i was in every moment of every life”. The dry evidence of a shared life on a lonely planet – the awareness of impending disaster – mutates without any interruption into contemplation of the divine.
This is the measure of this poet’s achievement. It’s there in the Prague meditation as well, in the way, at the end of that poem, he is tangling with things that cannot have a voice because they are too fragile even for words, things as hard to even think of, like infinity, which sits smiling beyond imagination. But still the poet tries to express what it looks, feels, and tastes like. “to feel infinity is, i believe, to place your thumbs over the eyes of a ghost. to feel the soft, giving eyeballs below. to have the power to end the sight of another, but instead to feel the flitting, papery wings of their dreams.”
At the other end of this spectrum is a hard-nosed and blank humour, almost humourlessness, as in ‘cat’ (which opens the collection): “on my way to kill myself i met / a very friendly cat” and as the narrator turns, deviating his progress along the street – the cat is probably one of those sociable felines that sits on walls in the sun waiting for passersby to stop and stroke them – he thinks about the universe. As you would if you were, for some outrageous instant, thinking of putting an end to your life. And what does the man think? He thinks, “we are all decomposing slowly / so that is of some comfort”. This is dead, stone cold but then you get the feeling that this flash of awareness has helped the narrator to get through another tortured moment. Perhaps there is a God and on this day the eternal deity just happened to take the form of a roadside moggy?