Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Ruth Stone: New Vermont State Poet

At age 92, Goshen resident Ruth Stone was today named the new Vermont State Poet. Long-time widowed parent of three daughters (Marcia, Phoebe, and Abigail), often recognized but never wealthy, wandering from one college or university to the next until finally she settled for more than 15 years at SUNY-Binghamton, Stone's struggles have seemed only to sharpen her writing. Now visually handicapped, she often delivers a poem from memory -- especially her mich-loved poem MANTRA:


When I am sad
I sing, remembering
the redwing blackbird's clack.
Then I want no thing
except to turn time back
to what I had
before love made me sad.

When I forget to weep,
I hear the peeping tree toads
creeping up the bark.
Love lies asleep
and dreams that everything
is in its golden net;
and I am caught there, too,
when I forget.

Stone's nine collections include, most recently, IN THE DARK; her eighth, IN THE NEXT GALAXY, won the National Book Award in poetry. Here's a slice of biography written by Jan Freeman:

At the age of nineteen, Stone moved to Illinois with her first husband, a chemist. While living in Illinois, she met and later married the poet and novelist Walter Stone. In 1952, she moved with her husband and three daughters, Marcia, Phoebe, and Abigail, to Vassar College, where Walter Stone was offered a teaching position in the English department. At Vassar, Stone composed the poems for her first book, In an Iridescent Time (1959). During this period, she won Poetry's Bess Hokin prize and the Kenyon Review Fellowship in Poetry. With the prize money from the Kenyon Review, Stone traveled alone to Vermont and bought a house where she could write and her family could spend the summers. Stone's life changed dramatically when, in 1959, on sabbatical from Vassar, Walter Stone moved with Ruth Stone and their young daughters to England. In England, Walter Stone committed suicide. For the next decade, Ruth Stone moved in and out of periods of deep depression and despair, and Walter Stone's life and death became a nearly constant presence in the poetry of Ruth Stone.

In 1963, Stone was awarded a two-year Radcliffe Institute fellowship, and from 1963 to 1965, she worked on poems for her second collection, Topography and Other Poems (1971), and developed close ties to other Radcliffe fellows, such as Maxine Kumin and Tillie Olsen. After the Radcliffe Institute, Stone taught creative writing at many universities throughout the United States, including Indiana University at Bloomington; the University of California, Davis; New York University; and Old Dominion University. Currently she is Professor of English at the State University of New York at Binghamton. Between teaching engagements, Stone has lived in the Vermont house she purchased with the Kenyon Review Fellowship money in 1957. Known as the "mother poet" to many contemporary women writers, she is the recipient of numerous honors, including the Shelley Memorial Award (1964), two Guggenheim Fellowships (1971 and 1975), the Delmore Schwartz Award (1983), the Whiting Writer's Award (1986), and the Paterson Poetry Prize (1988). Returning over and over to the themes of loss and death, Ruth Stone's poems are ultimately emblems of survival. Combining lyricism with a poignant mix of humor and tragedy, she manipulates the emotions of her audience by opening them with laughter, then shocking them with sorrow. Stone is a feminist poet who uses poetry to boldly address the world of women and family, as well as issues such as aging, homelessness, and poverty. Interspersing astronomy, biology, physics, and botany into her poems, she calls attention to the largest and the smallest spheres, expressing the beauty of the natural world as she highlights the pathos of the human condition, and especially the female condition within the patriarchal world. In addition to Cheap (1975), Second-Hand Coat (1987), and Who Is the Widow's Muse (1991), she has published several chapbooks, including American Milk (1986), The Solution (1989), and Nursery Rhymes from Mother Stone (1992).

[From Jan Freeman, in The Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing in the United States. Ed. Cathy N. Davidson and Linda Wagner-Martin. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Copyright © 1995 by Oxford University Press.]

Governor Douglas will formally appoint Stone as Vermont State Poet on July 26; we'll publish details of time and place as soon as available.

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