If ever there were a modern poet reminiscent of the troubadour of yore, Wade Stevenson would be this poet. Suffused with the themes of the troubadour canso—unrequited love, sexual desire, despair—
The Absence Of The Loved
, Stevenson’s most recent book, pulls the reader in a centripetal spin toward the heart, wherein lies the absence of the poet’s beloved. Like many suffering lovers, the poet does not often seize glimmers of lunatic love, but he does know “it will take time to cool,/To bring this heart back from the land of the dead.” For him, this love promises “a last chance,” for her it’s simply fate.
The lovers are young, in their early twenties when they meet in Paris, “a blind bargain at that first date.” He is “a poet, a rebel, a black sheep, a clown,” she “a dancer, a flute player, a butterfly being,” both soulfully unprepared for this passionate love affair. A month after they meet, she leaves him—sans note— with no refuge to still his lonely heart.
Why does the poet recall this woman’s absence with such fervor? Even as their affair ends by her departure, he continues to write about her for the simple reason that “at the bottom of things you know/There’s a pain that cannot be said.” On the title page, these places and dates appear:
Paris, April 1969
Buffalo, January 2017
On the last pages of the book is a photograph of him at the age apparently when the affair took place. Years later, as 2017 affirms, the poet is still writing about his Parisian lover, because, as he explains, “Print on a page is my only escape,/A liberty more difficult to find/Than pineapples in Siberia.”
The answer to the poet’s relentless search to reinterpret the meaning of this woman’s absence may be found in the dedication to The Absence Of The Loved, where Stevenson writes, “To the woman whose absence at last became a presence.” Recasting her absence, the poet at last decides that his loss does not have to last longer than loving her must, and so, with this insight, he unravels the conundrum that in her absence is also her presence. Moreover, the poet realizes that love doesn’t only flow outward but also flows inward. To conjoin the two—the outer and inner direction of love—the poet becomes the sole proprietor of his lover’s absence as well as her presence, transforming this love into “a fine art.”
There is another way to look at the conundrum of the lover’s presence in her absence. The title The Absence Of The Loved is instructive here. “The Loved” of the title injects an ambiguity ripe with meaning: Why choose “the Loved” instead of a denotation such as “my butterfly lover,” or “a loved one,” or “the flute player”? After all, his lover is “a real woman/Who touched the jewel of jubilant joy.” I would suggest that given the nature of romantic love itself and the poet’s experience with this particular lover, the above denotations do not express what the poet is after in the deeper layers of Absence Of The Loved. The “the” in the title connotes not only his specific lover, but also a generalized class of “the loved.”
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