I just realized I’ve never posted a review of my poetry collection here on my blog.
It’s been almost a year since its release, and thanks to your kind interest, I’m very close to being able to make a third donation to third-world educational projects. What a thrill to have exceeded my goal like this. Once a few more books are sold, I will donate to Unicef’s Gift of Education fund for the second time. So please consider the book as a possible Valentine’s or Mother’s Day gift, and tell your love or your Mom that half the proceeds go to helping a child get an education they otherwise may never receive. I am happy to ship autographed copies if you contact me, just drop me a comment here so I know you’re interested.
UK poet Tom Phillips kindly took some time to review my collection when it was first launched. I would like to once again thank Tom, Tony Lewis-Jones, Kathryn McL. Collins, Sally Evans and everyone else who has dropped by and reviewed my book on the Lulu web site for taking the time to make such thoughtful critiques. What a year it’s been!
Where the Butterflies Go by Heather Grace Stewart
* * * * * * 6/6 stars
by Tom Phillips
Arranged under three broad headings – ‘Pain’, ‘Growth’, ‘Family’ – Heather Grace Stewart’s Where The Butterflies Go gets at the nub of what it means to try and live in a world which appears to be passing by at an ever more astonishing speed and where what’s pumped out through TV and computer screens seems startlingly at odds with both the realities of ordinary, day-to-day existence and our more humane impulses and aspirations. It is a book of illusion, disillusion and, as it were, re-illusion, an acknowledgment of loss and the discovery of fragile compensations. The great risk for poetry like this, of course, is that it can come across as rather naïve, the losses too easily overcome, the compensations too easily found. That’s certainly not the case here. Thanks to an exhilarating directness and a worked-for simplicity of language, not to mention a nicely self-deprecating sense of humour on occasion, this is a book full of sharply drawn images, honest poignancy and frank admissions.
Take ‘Golden Dreams’, with its refrain of ‘Durango gold, Durango gold’ alluding to the Colorado gold rush and, by implication, the consumerist dream. Here, on a home-improvements shopping trip, Grace Stewart is overwhelmed by a different sort of ‘rush’, one of harsher realities: “We choose ceramic tiles/content,/while war rages/over the ocean,” she writes, with a telling nod at childhood song (“My bonny lies over the ocean”, too), before admitting, with an almost brutal honesty: “We care, but still go about our lives.” Only, of course, she’s not letting herself off that lightly – there’s homelessness, a government dedicated to preserving the status quo… By the end all that’s left, it seems, are “dark clouds/across this Canadian sky”.
The causes of such disillusion seem legion. There are poems here about the 1989 Montreal massacre (when fourteen women were gunned down at the Ecole Polytechnique), child-soldiers in Sierra Leone, disenfranchised women in Iraq, 9/11, beggars, poverty, domestic violence, divorcing couples, and a child mown down by a speeding driver. In the ‘Pain’ section of the book in particular, it seems a bleak, broken and violent world where the only option appears to be to “forget about/the fragile parts/and go on surviving”.
Grace Stewart, though, doesn’t forget those “fragile parts” – love, empathy, hope – and refinding them occupies the remainder of the book. In many ways, this is about celebrating simple, mostly domestic pleasures – the sight of bulbs in the garden coming into flower, the “butterfly kisses” of an unborn child in the womb, that child’s first steps, an embrace, “the shelter of my lover’s arms”, “the melting days” at the end of winter – but always with a persistent sense of their fragility and a refreshing down-to-earthness which locates these moments in the context of dirty washing, internet pop-ups, torn umbrellas and other irritations which “just won’t matter/100 years from now”.
In ‘My love picks me plums’, for instance, she accepts “bushels and bushels of dark juicy fruit” from her husband on her first anniversary, only to remember to “file this moment away in my mind/for some day when, in heated argument/I wish to throw plums at him”, while in ‘Forecast’, the hope she finds “hanging in the air” after a storm is simultaneously “just within my reach;/just outside our window”. Such ambiguity gives these poems their strength because ultimately these are restorative acts, finding and preserving moments of tantalising hope, sifting what really matters from what doesn’t and holding on. (Tom Phillips)