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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Observations On Reading The Poetry Of Albert Stewart Once Again

This past week I reread Albert Stewart's "A Man Of Circumstance & Selected Yellow Mountain Poems 1946-1996" and reaffirmed many realizations about Al Stewart as a man and a poet.  I might have also come to one or two new, or at least revised, conclusions.  The long poem "A Man Of Circumstance" is most probably about Albert Stewart's father.  But it is also somewhat a compilation of qualities and observations about many of the positive male role models to whom Al was exposed during his early life.  It is also a compelling representation of Al Stewart's broad based knowledge of the area, the land, and the people around him.  His use of Appalachian metaphors and aphorisms in the poem show him to have been as much a common man in the mountains as he was a poet and educator.  Albert Stewart never forgot that he was a member of the community and culture which had produced him. 

The poem "The New Mule" is a wonderful story about how a man and a mule could change each other and form a relationship over the course of several years making lateral trips along the furrows of a hillside farm.  It is truly a work of art.  The mule progresses, over the course of 23 linguistically spare lines, from an uncontrollable, wild beast to moving "a careful inch in the furrow to my asking".  The man progresses from "goddamning voice" to being able to will "myself to patience".  It is a wonderful poem by a man who understood animals, land, and people and was able to express that knowledge in a minimal expenditure of words.  It is a wonderful poem about slow, positive change in a place where change was generally unwelcome.

Albert Stewart's poetry is a the poetry of an educator, environmentalist, farmer, neighbor, and friend.  It is a rare, wonderful kind of work which has received far too little recognition on the greater world wide stage.  Just like Al, it has had a tendency to stay on Yellow Mountain.  But those of us who knew Al as a friend and mentor keep taking it with us into the wider world and showing it to people who never had the good fortune to know him or his poetry.

Albert Stewart

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