“Based on a True Story” Thomas Stewart (Fourteen Poems) – book review

Thomas Stewart Based on a True Story book cover

Thomas Stewart’s pamphlet is a contemporary tour of Grindr dates and poems in reaction to films and TV, including “Point Break”, “The First Wives Club”, “Friends”, “Capote” and “Sister Act”. Although some of the TV and film choices may suggest humour, there is more serious intent underlining the poems, e.g. in “Tyrannosaur”, where the speaker,

“would end up battered
……….outside a charity shop

because I’d battered myself?
……….and I

couldn’t take the feeling
………of being cared for being loved

that I spat it out
……….lashed my shaken sharpened tongue

stomped on that thing that I loved.”

This is someone suspicious of love, prone to sabotaging love because he believes he doesn’t deserve it or it will go wrong so why not get out before the inevitable happens? While he thinks he is hastening closure, he has not factored in the reaction of his date. No one likes to be deceived or unheard. Violence is wrong, and physical violence is being used as the answer to verbal violence, but the biggest deceit here is what the speaker is doing to himself. Prematurely ending a potential relationship is not the answer to the vulnerability of heartbreak. This desire to be invulnerable is picked up again in “Milan Grindr, 2014” where a date asks for another only to be told no,

“I wanted to keep
you as beautiful
and perfect
as I knew you could be
in my memories”

Human beings weren’t designed for perfection. The direct, spare language suggests directness and honesty on behalf of the speaker because it leaves little room for interpretation or misunderstanding. But it also doesn’t leave space for dialogue, for the other person to speak and be heard. Another date is also about preserving a moment, “Edinburgh Grindr, 2016” which is subtitled “(or story thief)”,

“as I hold your waist I think
of the poem
I’ll write one day
about you.”

Even during the act, the lover has checked out and is looking toward a future where he gets to write the script. It’s not known whether the person whose waist is being held has also checked out or whether, despite this having all the hallmarks of a one night stand, might have thought of a differnt future.

Turning to TV, “Desperate Housewives”, a poem in three parts, ends with a question about stereotypes of men,

“Then, there exists
only two kinds
of gay men:

love fashion or sport
opera or fighting

there is no middle ground,”

I’ve not seen the show although the title seems to rely on a stereotype so the stereotyping of gay characters as either effeminate or butch doesn’t come as a surprise. But there’s an echo of what the Grindr date speaker is doing, not allowing nuance, not looking to meet someone half-way.

“Based on a True Story” risks being seen as a solipsistic take on dating and gay tropes. It’s spare language is that of a plain-talker, not afraid to offend and not that of someone who wilts into the wallpaper. It’s a voice that doesn’t want to listen. However, on the page, where readers can revisit what’s being said and see between the lines, readers can imagine what the poems’ voice is not saying. How, ultimately, in trying to avoid being hurt, the speaker is hurting himself. Stewart invites readers to feel some sympathy for someone who has been hurt and is trying to make themselves invulnerable. There’s a subtle nudge into the world of the brash speaker who is hiding his pain.

“Based on a True Story” is available from Fourteen Poems.

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

Featured in the Top 10 Poetry Review Blogs on Feedspot.


One Response to ““Based on a True Story” Thomas Stewart (Fourteen Poems) – book review”

  1. Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 45 – Via Negativa Says:

    […] Emma Lee, “Based on a True Story” Thomas Stewart (Fourteen Poems) – book review […]

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