Introducing Stuart Dodds

Stuart Dodds was born and educated in London, England. He served two years of National Service in the Royal Air Force and emigrated to the United States in 1958.  He has worked in advertising and publishing in New York and San Francisco, most recently as editorial director of Chronicle Features, the syndication division of the San Francisco Chronicle. 

He reports: “My first sustained efforts at writing poetry, in the late fifties in New York, were inspired by a New School poetry workshop given by Kenneth Koch who with John Ashbury and Frank O’Hara formed the nucleus of the Tenth Street Poets —an offshoot of the Tenth Street Painters, who became known as the New York School of Abstract Expressionists. It was an exciting place to be writing poetry.”

In 1962, Stuart won the New School’s prestigious Dylan Thomas Poetry Award for that year.  His poems have been published in various journals throughout the U.S, including Blue Unicorn, Beloit Poetry Journal, Freefall, Pacific Coast Journal, Epoch, Carquinez Poetry Review and The Gathering.

Reflecting on his life and marriage, he speaks of retiring from newspaper work, in 1998, and returning to poetry “with renewed energy and a sense of vocation.  I am honored that the story curator has agreed to publish my poems. Should I be fortunate enough to have a book of poems published, I will dedicate it to the editors of Blue Unicorn (for being among the earliest supporters of my work), to Jan Doets who has invited me to join him in cyber space and to the loving memory of a fine poet and superb editor, my wife of 30 years, Natasha Borovsky who died on May 31st, 2012.”

Stuart Dodds continues to write poetry “in the late afternoon,” and is an active member of the Ina Coolbrith Poetry Circle.  He lives in Berkeley, California and is an occasional contributor to the Berkeley Daily Planet.

 

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Saint or sinner

Tom had a smile on his face even then
a saintly smile
that said he would be leaving us behind—
he was ambitious
he mixed up the skandas and the hindrances
threw in some Noble Truths of his own
and became a holy man in a white robe
with a crimson chasuble
on a Caribbean island
with hundreds of followers
a web site, a landing strip, a temple painted white
and a team of lawyers
also dressed in white
to handle charges
brought by former devotees
of assault and battery, false imprisonment
intentional infliction of emotional distress
and fraud

whenever we tried to contact him
our old school friend Tom
(now known as Rub-A-Dub-Dub)
we were told politely but firmly
that he would answer questions
if they were put in writing
and when I wrote telling him to knock it off
he sent me a membership application form
with pictures of him sitting in his earthly paradise
before a meditation class
of young women in swimsuits

his legal cases were settled with cash payments
and confidentiality agreements
and although some say
he deserved a worse fate
for deserting his friends
Tom Smith died in his bed under a mosquito net
surrounded by young admirers
at the ripe age of seventy six

Stuart Dodds

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Love in winter

She came to me in the early morning
following a night shift at the bank
tired and strangely wound up
from counting money
from reading The Faerie Queene
she came with the night air in her fur collar
and the cold mist of the city and the East River
on her cheeks and hands
look how cold my hands are
she said, touching my face
under her coat, she was warm as though from a fire
I took from her hair a silver comb inlaid with red jasper
and, imperiously, she shook out her hair
“If you ask me,” she said
“I think Spenser is out of control”
she talked of night-time rivalries in the bank
a Civil War was being waged in the Loan Department
she spoke of Edmund Spenser
and the Irish background to his epic poem
it isn’t his technique that bothers me, she said
he just didn’t know when to stop
I took off her clothes quietly and with great skill
(the sound of a buckle or clasp
could break the spell)
as she thrilled to my touch
and continued to talk
now slowly, now in a whisper
of sub-prime loans—
how ravenously she loved
how purposefully, knowing this to be the cure
her opponents vanquished in the pitch of excitement
bank officers, credit applicants, Spenserian stanzas,
professors of English literature
dispatched to Oblivion
from my Bower of Bliss
where I drank in her sighs
and her cries I caught in a silver net

Stuart Dodds

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Longing

Often I would see the express train
hurtling through our small station
on the Great Western Railway
dining cars with men and women laughing
and glasses raised in a toast—
a mime show in a capsule
in the midst of this sudden fury
this earth-shattering noise—
how I longed to be on that London train
rushing towards Bristol
through grassy embankments
into tunnels and darkness
and out again into the blinding light of day—
the train that never stopped—
how I longed to be a member of that elite
speeding Westward

Stuart Dodds

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Stuart Dodds: Coffee House

Coffee House

Holding the small white cup of coffee
in its small white saucer
and turning
to decide where I would sit
in this airy place
with lacy wrought-iron tables and chairs
and French windows opening onto a field of sunshine and wild flowers

I am aware of someone else (a familiar figure)
another man within me
aware of having turned this way before
with the exact same cup and saucer
looking about a room with hardwood floors
and outside, an unkempt garden
the smell of coffee and the hissing of espresso machines
two of us

there had always been two of us
not always on speaking terms
and rarely, in a musical sense, together
but this morning, we were together
one within the other
had we been color plates
you would say the registration was perfect
and that is how we would like it

 

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Stuart Dodds: by the sea

by the sea

a pile of books
by the sea
among the wind-swept grass and sand
dumped from a wheel barrow or shopping cart
remaindered items dropped from the sky
tossed out of the sky
some with their covers awry or torn
pages yellow
some standing straight up
or open facing downward
as they fell
some in good condition

authors dead and alive
earning no royalties here in the tall grass
Mary Austin, Franz Werfel, Stephen King
James Michener, Sir Philip Sidney
how outraged would he be to see his “Discourse on Irish Affairs” lying here?

“Doña Perfecta” by Galdos
(a discerning breeze has opened its pages)
“Uncle Vanya” and “Le Pére Goriot”
a German shepherd pauses to look at “Bleak House”
before catching up with its master—
a young backpacker circles this literary heap with tilted head
straining to read the titles—
he picks up “Microsoft Word for Dummies” and moves on

Is this a message from heaven, a warning?
are we being told that this is the end of publishing
that the whole enterprise has failed
there will be no more books
these are the last—they are worthless but if you see any you like
help yourself
before the tide comes in and carries them off

 

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Friends: from one came another

In my recent article ‘Books: from one writer came another’, I described a trail of paper friends, authors whose works have come to inhabit my bookshelves. Along this trail, I have formed many real friendships. Some of these friends I have never seen. We have yet to shake hands! We know each other through the power of the written word and the occasional long-distance telephone call. One of these friends is Stuart Dodds.

In ‘Books,’ you will have read how I came across the works of  F.C. Terborgh, a pseudonym for the former Dutch diplomat Reijnier Flaes, and how my friendship with his son Reijnier led me to his father’s diaries, 1932-1948. Through these diaries I became a virtual witness to events of the Spanish Civil War, the Japanese occupation of Peking and to daily life in the spy-ridden free city of Lisbon in neutral Portugal during World War II. The diaries also took me to war-torn Warsaw during the post-war Communist take-over of Poland. It is during these ‘travels’ with Terborgh that I learned of Gino, Count Giacomo Antonini, an almost life-long friend of his.  This led eventually to my meeting, in person, with Gino’s widow, Karin Antonini, in the South of England in February of 2001. I made a brief reference to this meeting in my story ‘Women.’ Karin put me in touch with a wonderful couple in Berkeley, California:  Natasha Borovsky and Stuart Dodds.

Natasha, the daughter of Maria Sila-Nowicki and the celebrated Russian pianist, Alexander Borovsky, told me of her father’s friendship with Serge Prokofiev which began during their studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Borovsky was one of the first to hear and play Prokoviev’s innovative piano music, including Visions Fugitives. Maria Sila-Novitzka would meet Prokofiev occasionally in the United States during the period 1918-1922.  At the Lyric Opera in Chicago in 1922, she went backstage at a performance of “Love for Three Oranges,’ when Prokoviev was conducting his own work.  When she told Prokofiev that she was going to Paris, he urged her to look up his friend Borovsky which she did; they were married within a year. Natasha was born in 1924. The Prokofievs also went to Paris  in 1923 and the two families were close friends until 1936 when the Prokofievs left for the Soviet Union.

Maria and Alexander were divorced in 1937 and when Maria married Gino Antonini, Natasha acquired a very interesting and dear stepfather. A few years after Maria’s untimely death in Boston in 1959,  Gino married Karin Barnsley.

Italian by birth with a Dutch mother, Gino was raised in Holland.  A true European intellectual, a lover of opera, he was a critic in the field of literature and movies. He even acted in a film—Sacha Guitry’s “Napoleon” in the role of Pope Pius VII! He knew all of the Dutch literary elite during the interbellum years and some of them became his friends, like Jan Slauerhoff,  Eddy du Perron and F.C. Terborgh. Thus, much is known about him through the biographies of a number of Dutch writers of that time. The most detailed and accurate biography of him was written by Ronald Spoor. It can be found in the Biographical Dictionary of The Netherlands, 1880-2000.  Mr. Spoor visited Karin Antonini several times in connection with his study.

In France, Antonini interviewed amongst others Paul Léautaud, Marcel Jouhandeau, Jean Paulhan, Jean-Paul Sartre, Gertrude Stein, Robert Brasillach, Henry de Montherlant and André Malraux, who dedicated his book La Condition Humaine to their mutual friend Eddy du Perron. Antonini contributed his personal recollections to the ‘Hommage’ in the Nouvelle Revue Française to André Gide and Albert Camus, both of whom whom he had met in person. Gino Antonini was a most interesting man who became truly alive for me in the last ten years through the contacts mentioned above.

All of these people have enriched my life in some way, directly or indirectly, through their creative work or through the gift of their friendship.  Whatever it is they shared (unknowingly in some cases) with me, I would like to share with others—across time zones and continents. This is what I am going to do in many of my blogs to come.

*   *   *

Natasha Borovsky was brought up in French schools in Paris and in Lausanne.  Forced to leave France at the outset of World War II, she came with her mother to the United States where she spent two years at Sarah Lawrence College and where her extraordinary language skills landed her a job translating wartime broadcasts from around the world for CBS News.

Natasha is the author of two works of historical fiction spanning the first half of the twentieth century. Their predominant themes are the shattering effect of war on families and the decline of the European aristocracy. Her first novel, ‘A Daughter of the Nobility’, was translated into ten languages, including Russian and Polish. Her second, ‘Lost Heritage,’ is a sequel with many new characters, completing a drama that began during the Russian revolution and ends at the time of the Yalta conference. Her published poetry collections are ‘Drops of Glass,’ ‘Desert Spring’ and ‘Grasp the Subtle Lifeline,’ the latter two with drawings by her daughter Malou Knapp.

Natasha died on May 31, 2012. Stuart Dodds, her husband, has agreed to contribute to my blog from time to time, with his poems and film notes. He is a former editor and syndication director at the San Francisco Chronicle, an award-winning poet and film buff.  He has given me permission to publish some of Natasha’s poems and reminiscences, in English and  French.

This is going to be fun. A most amazing beau hasard: Stuart and I share the same name. Both Dodds and Doets mean: the son of Doede, of Dodd, an ancient Frisian and Celtic name meaning ‘rounded.’ He calls me his ‘Frisian cousin.’  I call just him Stuart. It suits him for there is a princely ring to it.

 

 

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