THE DIVING BELL by Dabney Stuart


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It's fortunate that Stuart isn't yet thirty, for the great failing in his first collection of poems is quite simply lack of interesting or vital experience. The title comes from Mann: ""He searched the past for a pattern into which he might slip as into a diving bell, and being thus at once disguised and protected might rush upon his present problem."" The real problem, of course, is that Stuart's ""problems"" are so commonplace he could just as well have made them up. Is anyone really entranced with cautious, correct reveries of boyhood, manhood and marriage, of dull chums and sweet, frustrated Southern ladies, of funerals and summer camp, or of one's ""tenth-grade English teacher"" introducing Macbeth? Stuart attempts to irradiate the everyday with a faint confessional tone, a neat prosody and clear images; his plot is all too familiar: a particular situation leading to some generalized remark, some unexceptional observation submerged in a modest philosophical or psychological aura. Lowell's Life Studies and Snodgrass' Heart's Needle are persistent influences; but he never manages the former's jagged subtlety or the pathos of the latter. ""Two for My Daughter,"" while almost a blueprint of Snodgrass' daughter- poems, still does not render its model's charming rightness and authentic suffering. Stuart backs away from the revelatory, any risk-talking emotion, armored usually in mere well-wrought craftsmanship. His most poignant subject--failed domesticity and divorce--is allowed to dissipate itself in a kind of circumspect irony and hard-and-soft quatrains. ""The Two Lindens"" is a fine set-piece; nevertheless, Stuart's best bet is to break away from set-pieces altogether and junk his diving bell...

Publisher: Knopf