become something frail: Stuart Buck, Selcouth Station Press
Stuart Buck is possessed of an astonishing imagination coupled with an enviable ability to birth fully-formed poems of unique, musical, and mind-bending originality. become something frail is his second collection of poetry. At first glance, it resembles a school exercise book, with title and name in scrawly lower-case to complete the impression. It has a modesty to it, a sense of youth and concomitant vulnerability, which is matched by the wide-eyed fragility opening its veins and bleeding onto the page. He chooses to stay in lower case throughout, which serves both to deepen the cuts and defy grammatical authority.
There’s a biblical feel to many of the pieces, but more Old Testament than New, although the first poem, ‘the fawn’, which speaks of birth, of something soft falling to the earth at night
the sleep abandoned heard the faint hum –
damp leather crack as it hit the island
also mentions Armaggedon, which is New Testament. Go figure. Either way, this first piece signals a beginning born in conflict, and sets the scene for a life lived upside down.
Moments of conflict, of inner turmoil, are beautifully wrought, as if by the alchemy of poetry, we turn our deepest darkest hours into art. In my experience, this is what brings people to poetry, and it’s why we stay. It is our go-to crutch, after we’ve spent a lifetime of addictions trying all the rest and getting nowhere but back to square one. ‘though we kneel before him like a child’ illustrates this perfectly
like a tantric paste daubed across the night sky
we danced, tracing sine waves like semaphore with
hateful eyes glistening under the dull bloom of the universe
he does not hear our pleas it took a lifetime, father,
for us to raise the white flag and kiss your swollen feet
to shun us so, how beautifulsadistic
This collection puts me in mind of a poetic teenage diary, with snapshots of momentous experiences – sexual awakenings being to the forefront of those. By the fourth poem, we are into “glistening naked in the moonlight” territory, and by the fifth
one man was made of screeching flesh
he made my thick, warm blood harden
he did not catch a thing but shame
the other man was made of fire and forge
he walked into the pond with bare chest gleaming
he painted his spit upon my cracked lips
Sensuality weaves in and around the pages, and I could almost feel the “pale butter sun” of the girl whose hair is being brushed, and see the “milky calf and powder” in ‘trictophilia’.
Continuing with the confessional diary feel in ‘park’, we’re lulled into what we think is an everyday situation, “I’d wait for you outside the happy shopper”. Slowly, the poem reveals something else entirely, but grounded in that normality of daily life, where horrors happen every hour
… you’d put your arm around me like
a father would and I’d ache for you to touch me
where I knew you shouldn’t …
It is a gruelling and scorchingly honest unravelling of the grooming process
i see now what you were doing but then i just boiled inside
… you turned me, slowly, against love and safety
and I would hope that anyone affected by it would identify and know that they do not live in isolation. This is another of the most important aspects of poetry, for me. The silenced voices speaking and the hidden ears listening.
Mixing fairytale with domestic scenes, ‘he must be full by now’ opens with a smile of a line, “once her daughter had called her beautiful so she wore it like silk”, and we plunge at once into a heady concoction of
… a smile of clarified butter that smokes in the pan
the second before the heady pits of cumin, mustard
and cardamom hit the tarnished copper
Many of the pieces in this collection are akin to experiencing a densely packed spice blend, each layer of flavour distinct yet changed into something else altogether, as in this kitchen “that now is made up of the man who took her ocean away / every surface a split lip smile, windows flecked with spittle. ” Stuart Buck is a master of the turn-on-a-heel poetry moment.
Some of the pieces begin in medias res, an interesting convention that allows for a whole host of additions and extras, including development, backstory, ambiguity, and flashback. The reader is placed into a position of uncertainty from the get-go; there will be no spoon-feeding here.
Brutality abounds, where a poem may start with the beauty of “we are where orchids bloom” and flip to finish with a lyrical punch in the nose,
… taking you back to
the day fifteen years ago when I pushed your face
into the ground the first time you had spread your
legs for me and crying with anticipation asked
me to hurt you like our father did
The physical experience of reading this collection equates to being on the cakewalk at the funfair, you know the one, where the walkway beneath your feet begins to shimmy up and down and side to side in a totally unpredictable manner, and all you can do is hang onto the rails, trying to stay on your feet.
The final poem is simply heartbreaking. Dedicated to and written for a friend now departed, it does, however, leave us with that most valuable lesson in life, that
we can’t take back the ugly things
but we can learn from loss
Yes, and we can write it out of ourselves and thereby soothe the pain of our fellow suffering beings, to help them to “keep yourself warm”.
From tenderness to terror and everything in between, become something frail is swarming with macabre half-seen shadows and sensual fragments of a visionary’s mind. I would be insane with jealousy if I wasn’t already crippled with admiration.