Ruth Stone is a supremely under-rated contemporary American poet...She won the National Book Award in 2002 for this book, In the Next Galaxy. Upon her acceptance of the award, she quipped, "Oh, you're just giving me this because you think I am old." She was eighty-seven at the time. I read Ruth Stone and feel myself sinking into a delicious mind. Galway Kinnell said her poems, "startle us over and over with their shapeliness, their humor, their youthfulness, their wild aptness, their strangeness, their sudden familiarity, the authority of their insights, the moral gulps they prompt, their fierce exactness of language and memory."
As fascinating as her work is, her life has been a talisman for women combining work, creativity, family, and independence. This means something to me in an almost primal way. Ruth Stone had three daughters, as I have three children myself. She raised them alone when her young husband committed suicide--and I feel so lucky for the support and steady spirit of the man I'm married to. She is avid in her passion for nature and the wild world. Her friends and the artistic community have always surrounded her, even if the publishing one was initially lukewarm. She was a teacher, a vagabond, a gypsy before retiring to her farmhouse in Vermont. I found a link on NPR (below) where they visited her on the occasion of her 89th birthday. Here, I heard Stone reading her work and discussing her choices.
She still trudges outside in the Winter to get drinking water from the ice floes. Imagine a ninety year old lady with a pickaxe proudly slicing through the mounds of snow with her wispy body. Ruth Stone is going blind now--she types her poetry in huge fonts and must press them to her nose to see them. Though her house is still scattered with books, her children and friends must read them to her. The woman who has recorded the subtle nuances of an aluminum can and a field of grain now can no longer see them. My words may never attain Stone's shapely authority--but I can relate to her feelings as a six-year-old girl of poetry "coming up through her like a train" and of her dedication to "scribble whenever she can". Poetry is a visceral experience in the body--not just the mind. I feel this in my bones like she does. To Stone, children are inspiring--to me, they are pure poetry. The elevation of the mundane to the divine--she pulls it off and this is something I will always strive for. Reading Ruth Stone takes me out of time and place...transformative, meditative, and alive.
Before the Blight
The elms stretched themselves in indolent joy,
arching over the street that lay in green shadow
under their loose tent.
And the roses in Mrs. Mix's yard pretzeled up her trellis
with pink Limoges cabbage blooms like Rubens' nudes.
My lips whispered over the names of things
in the meadows, in the orchard, in the woods,
where I sometimes stood for long moments
listening to some bird telling me of the strangeness of myself;
rocked in the sinewy arms of summer.