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It Is the Evening of the Day

Ruth Stone 1915-2011

The poet Ruth Stone died on Thanksgiving. She was 96. At the tender age of 85 she won a National Book Critics Circle Award, and at 87 she won the National Book Award for her collection In the NExt Galaxy.  In the NY Times obituary, I was startled to learn that her husband, also a promising poet, committed suicide just as her first book was about to be published. They had three young daughters, who she raised in near poverty according to the article. She somehow made it as an “itinerant” professor, and she published thirteen poetry collections. I’ve just ordered two of her books and this will be my Christmas project. I should have discovered her sooner. She led the life I always fantasized about, was romanced by as a young girl, love and suffering, language, tragedy, living that one life and no other, ta tum, ta tum, ta tum, ta tum, one slim volume after another, spines skinny as matchbooks.

When she won the National Book Award, Stone said in her acceptance speech, “They probably gave it to me because I’m old. I’ve been writing poetry, or whatever it is, since I was 5 or 6 years old. I don’t know why I did it. It was like a stream alongside me. It just talks to me, and I write it down.”

A stream alongside me.

33 Responses

  1. Oh, wow … the stream alongside me that talks to me, and I write it down. What a marvelous – and matter-of-fact – way of describing inspiration and the writing life. Thanks for alerting me to her work. xo

  2. I know what she means.

  3. Oh, thank you for sharing this. I’d never heard of her, but now I want to know all about her. She sounds positively alchemical.

  4. My gosh, exactly. I love the sound and feel of that image.

  5. What a photo. What a life.
    You called poetry “God’s work” in one of your posts. That stayed with me and has prompted me to read more matchbook volumes. In fact, I just decided. Everyone on my list gets poetry this year.

  6. Called poetry “emotional opinion” and could just as well be describing literature–the whole subjective lot of it. What a woman.

  7. My husband folded this obit and left it on my laptop. His way of reminding me. And me, I have a new woman to adore. Here’s to you, Ruth Stone.

    • What a sweet, quiet gesture! Your husband is a Keeper.

      When NPR reported on her death, they also mentioned that she used some of her award money to get indoor plumbing. I’m guessing she had a real stream running nearby to both inspire and sustain.

  8. “Words make the thoughts.
    Severe tyrants, like the scrubbers
    and guardians of your cells.
    They herd your visions
    down the ramp to nexus
    waiting with sledge hammer
    to knock what is the knowing
    without knowing into knowledge.”
    (From “The Trade Off”)

    One of my favorite people on this earth gave me this poem when I was feeling frustrated.

    I wish I’d tracked down more of Ms. Stone’s stuff at the time.

  9. All night you waited for morning, all morning
    for afternoon, all afternoon for night;
    and still the longing sings.

    — Ruth Stone, “At Eighty-three She Lives Alone”

  10. How quiet, how beautiful.

  11. I am coming very late to the party with poetry. I think having to memorize “I wander lonely as a cloud” in 7th grade traumatized some part of my brain. Perhaps I’ve healed. I read that obituary too. And was encouraged by it. Would that I could put words together like that.

  12. Thank you for this introduction. Her description of how poems came to her and how she wrestled to get them down is incredibly moving. There is a children’s book author, Pheobe Stone, who has the same paprika hair and high cheekbones. Her daughter, perchance?

  13. There is confidence in her words–like she knows the meaning of life.

  14. She said she could feel a poem coming toward her like a faraway train. When she heard the whistle, she would drop what she was doing and run for a pencil and a piece of paper.

  15. I think it takes a lot of guts and confidence to write poetry and then show it to the world. I’ve always admired poets.
    Lately my mother has been writing poems and mailing them to me. Unfortunately they are the scribblings of a crazed lunatic, although I like to pretend she’s someone like Ms. Stone and I’ve been saying “My mother, the poet.”

  16. Many people, especially at this time of year, seek happiness through material things, sparkly trinkets and electronic gizmos. It’s good to step away, to listen to that stream alongside us and whatever it brings.
    (And don’t hesitate to put many coins or several bills in Salvation Army kettles; you never know who will be grateful for that next simple meal or nice, warm used coat.).

  17. …It was like a stream alongside me. It just talks to me, and I write it down.”

    Love this.

  18. I haven’t written a poem in nearly thirty years. Traded it in for reality and practicality.

    You read a story like this and wonder if you might find your way back.

  19. Poets are just cranky humans like the rest of us. But I love Ruth Stone.

    By noon I can’t stop writing.
    I’m on the back of last night,
    a reverse gallop.
    Last night I lay turning—asking—
    what is the telephone pole good for
    if not the woodbine?
    Because of men, women translate fear.
    Thus all women present subliminally.
    That the killer did not come last night
    proves nothing.
    At night what is a glass window?
    Only a dark space reflecting yourself.
    Only a lens for the one outside.

  20. Thanks so much. I love discovering new poetry. Just ordered her book. A gift to myself for Christmas.

  21. Betsy, have you gone over to the dark side? I’m a little stunned to see a B&N ad below this post. Even more stunned that my book is rotating within.

    I’ve never heard of this poet, but will check her out because you said so.

    • @Stef: I don’t know exactly how it works, but since Betsy’s blog is hosted for free with WordPress, advertisements will show up on the blog for readers, but she won’t see them when she’s logged into her own blog. Not only that, but I’m pretty sure that the ads are targeted specifically for each reader based on what your internet activity has been recently. Big Brother is not only watching, he’s plugging your book.

  22. […] Lerner beat me to Ruth Stone, but it’s Mark Twain’s birthday and he wrote some interesting poetry—they may […]

  23. You people are making me swoon.

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