John was born in the South-East of England of Scottish parents and spent his childhood and adolescence living on a farm. He decided early that he was not cut out for farm life but it remains one of his recurrent themes. He read Russian and German at university and also speaks French (languages were the only school subjects he was good at, he claims).
He spent most of his working life commuting from Hertfordshire into London but moved to Somerset in 1995 to open a regional office for his employers and feels it is the best move he ever made. A self-confessed slow starter, he retired early in 2005 specifically to devote himself to writing his own poetry and developing the audience for poetry in Somerset.
He hadn’t made much effort to get published or win prizes but had a few poems in print and won one prize before his first collection Word of Mouth, was published in 2009. An ‘impressive debut’ said Staple magazine editor Wayne Burrows. He is currently chairman of Fire River Poets, has organised the Poetry at The Brewhouse events in Taunton (the venue was switched to the Creative Innovation Centre in Taunton in 2013) and is an active advocate for South-West poets and poetry.
There is an interview with John, by Paul Tobin on this blog.
He’s as calm as an oak.
No seismic rumble in the gut;
no shift in the gentleman smile.
And he breezes to his stance
more daffodil to camera than oak.
But he’s a big hitter; a sky dibber;
a six-over-the-stand sprayer;
a bowler slayer; fieldsman teaser;
He leaps the air; calls up joy
to celebrate each hundred
and flies the bounds
like an open road.
He has a gun bat. He’s a thunder
cloud over the bowling arm. A plough
of grief tearing their hearts.
What joy when he’s out! Like a great blaze
that had blighted the whole world.
In the crowd
Ask in the crowd and they’ll tell you, talking
to their shoulder or their thirst, how the mood
of the world divides into rain and shine.
If it’s tight for a draw they’ll dance for rain
and bad light in a darkening drama –
or fan the run rate and beat the drum.
Or the hours can wander off the pace
and slowing talk can harden to another one?
Gossip between overs and in the sleepy hollows
rises and falls … between the politics
of shopping and candling Leave or Remain.
But you’re in the way of settled ways if you can’t
be serious down at the base line: the County,
its foes and woes. And forecasts of the final score.
And then there sit among, alert and mild, those
who chat without a head moving, take a sip
and focus hard on the match. They quote scores
since 1958 and know the detail of the Botham
game you try to remember. They’ll touch
the estimates with their vaper and their eyes glow.
Light as a rumour and full of pleasure.
She may have had prey on her mind swooping
round across the hedge over my shoulder.
Or was she heavy, weighed down already
with a dead or struggling weight? If I had known
and could have watched her coming
I would have marvelled at her insolence or gasped
at her parabola but I was flat surprised
and left with just the scaling
of her back, the hunched wings that vanished
over brambles and down the hill. I looked
as far as I could. She did not appear
at the valley floor. As I lifted the fork
again and turned it round, I had a sense
of her turning for home in strong, slow time.
© John Stuart
Seascape with boats
Playa Honda, Lanzarote
Farther out there may be a beach but here
there is a lava scramble still shiny and,
from time to time, still washed by sparse waves
that hardly break. Further on as we walk
small white breakers float softly to the shoreline,
skip up the rocks and vanish in the dusk.
I can’t think what to say that would not spoil
in the air so I am, dumb man that I am,
simply an arm to hold, a profiled face
to walk beside, a shirt you may yet admire.
The boats are resting in the shallow bay
not far ahead but I know what they want:
they have set themselves to captivate you
on the restaurant veranda; to beg
of me some kind of immortality
as the warm night closes in on our table.
It is a picturesque scene, we agree –
and we have to talk of something, don’t we?
But they, meanwhile, sit silent and at ease,
winking on the blackened tide; lit softly
by the restaurant lights. Matt red, white, blue and black,
they’ve wilted into looser shapes now the sun,
somewhere over the island, sets in a blaze
we don’t see, remote, splendid and unashamed.
© John Stuart
In this valley which each year marks
a season with its own taxonomy
rotating with the crop, just one steadfast hand
on his powered steed ploughs, harrows, sows,
sprays, harvests and stores. Like a genie
from his own sandwich box. He has no need
for his father’s strong arms and legs,
only a good eye and steady hands. Alone
in the great field on his comfy seat,
mobbed by gulls and crows as the sun climbs
and falls, as the clouds bunch or fly, wind
or still air round his sealed cabin,
rain shot on his roof or the dead heat
across his shoulders. It’s a shifting world.
And when he takes his path back to the farm
leaving his beast to the watch until morning
there is nothing to give the cooling earth.
Only the sad paper which is no sacrifice
sits in his back pocket, folded and out of sight
to set him ready for tomorrow.
© John Stuart
You should not imagine that
he’s ever doing nothing. If you find him
thrown across the sofa, head
propped blankly on a hand and eyes
fixed on the sightless distance,
don’t ask: he’s occupied.
You may imagine that he’s lost
in a desert without words,
a waste with no horizon
for the sun to climb. Life is a great jigsaw:
maybe he’s lost a piece
and needs to work on where it dropped.
Or love is a well
down which he may have thrown
his last penny and is breathless
waiting for the splash. Or fortune
as an eye the size of the world
and he could be, he could just be
staring into the eye of fortune
trying not to blink.
© John Stuart