Fine verse about falling in love, falling back out, and coming of age.
How many reams of poetry have been written on the theme of unrequited desire? What would William Shakespeare be without his dark lady? Dante without Beatrice? William Butler Yeats without Maud Gonne? The story’s much the same in Stott’s deft collection, which tells of stunted yearning and unfulfilled, unreturned love. Yet the roles here are filled by new players. The lover is Eliza, a young poet lusting after a Baptist deacon who was once her professor. The older man is married, but he accepts his student’s advances—innocently at first, then less so. Their decades-spanning relationship is initially chaste—then less so—but when the flame gets too hot, the professor flees, retreating to his spouse with his tail between his legs. It’s a tale as old as time but no less moving for its age. Stott breathes new life into the “lunacy of love” with the help of her poignant, unpretentious verse. Thus there’s Eliza pining in the classroom: “It is impossible, perhaps, / to love a man / for the richness of his hands: / for things they’ve scribbled across a board.” Then there’s his regard, turning to her, “Last night, you circled me with your arms / gone brown from years of loving the sun. / What’s gotten into me, if not / a carnival of love.” Finally, seemingly inevitably, there’s his betrayal: “now your talk’s grown holy: / ‘sacred matrimony.’ / Sound of locusts; your strict voice / crying in our wilderness…. / Sermon overdone.” Stott’s poetic form throughout this finely told tale is like a fisherman’s net: structured but flexible. The mortar that holds the bricks of her verse together is the Western canon—from Dante to Danae and from Khayyam to the Quran. Her default stanza is short—a couplet or triplet—but evocative even in its concision. Her language is precise but unaffected—a difficult balancing act that she pulls off with seeming ease.
Sweet, crisp poetry about loving a man one shouldn’t.