As Athena Kildegaard writes in Monday’s profile of poet Ruth Stone, there are two things at the heart of Stone’s work—“grief and wonder.” Both of those are reflected in the quotes and excerpts from her poetry below. Also present is a clear-eyed, unflinching regard for the reality of female oppression, and a deep appreciation for the “obsession” that is art.
“About the writing itself I care enormously, and I think the difference between the person who is a writer or who becomes an artist and the one who does not become an artist is the obsession. And there’s no question in my mind that I’m an obsessed person—about the art.”
—from a 1973 interview with Sandra M. Gilbert, reprinted in The House is Made of Poetry: The Art of Ruth Stone (1996)
Those endless closets and halls
in the brain where the unknown hides; that open for a
moment and then close again. That is where the
poems come from.
—from “One Year I Lived in Earlysville, Virginia” in What Love Comes To (2008)
Mary Ann Wehler: Where did your anger come from?
Ruth Stone: My anger came from everyday injustice. Men are respected and women are put down, even today. There’s not enough change.
—from an interview with Mary Ann Wehler for Paterson Literary Review (2001)
“They take each other so seriously, those men. We’ve neglected her. And now we give her this, and so forth. I know that women don’t respond to me that way. They really think I’m good . . . I remember men used to tell me, oh your work is wonderful; you don’t write like a woman, you write like a man. Not true. I write like a woman. I never have written like a man. Why did they say I wrote like a man?” —from “A Conversation with Ruth Stone,” Boulevard Magazine (1996)
I can never know what a man sees
when he looks at a woman.
That is a sealed universe….
A poet looks at the world
as a woman looks at a man.
—from “Words” in Ordinary Words (2002)
After she smashed the furniture, Mabel tried
to burn the house down. Years later when they
let Mabel out of the asylum, she was so light
you could lift her with one hand.
Buddy took her in and she lay on the iron bed
under a pieced quilt. “Quiet as a little bird,” he said.
—from “How They Got Her To Quiet Down” in Ordinary Words
If I heard a girl crying help
I would go to save her;
But you hardly ever hear those words.
Dear children, you must try to say
Something when you are in need.
Don’t confuse hunger with greed;
And don’t wait until you are dead.
—from “Advice” in Second-Hand Coat (1991)
in her pockets; she wore nice cotton gloves,
kept a handkerchief box, washed her undies,
ate at the Holiday Inn, had a basement freezer,
belonged to a bridge club.
I think when I wake in the morning
that I have turned into her.
She hangs in the hall downstairs,
a shadow with pulled threads.
I slip her over my arms, skin of a matron.
Where are you? I say to myself, to the orphaned body,
and her coat says,
Get your purse, have you got your keys?
—“Second-Hand Coat” from Second-Hand Coat
J.F. Battaglia: Do poets improve with age?
Ruth Stone: There’s no question of that, if your brain goes on and on as it should under normal conditions there’s more in it, it gets more full of whatever, so it’s bound to happen, it seems to me, if you are a writer, that your stuff will get more profound. Although young writers are more passionate. But the purity of their passion, you know— passion has influences. Often, what ruins the poet is passion.
—“A Conversation with Ruth Stone”
A special scarf has to be worn to conceal it.
It is now the size of a head.
The next time you look,
it has grown two eyes and a mouth.
It is difficult to know which to use.
Now you are seeing everything twice.
After a while it becomes an old friend.
It reminds you every day of how it came to be.
—from “The Wound” in Simplicity (1995)
Gilbert: [I]t seems to me there was a great change in your poetry. The first book is by a young woman sitting in the sun, and being very witty and talented, and the second book is by somebody who’s been told even though she wanted to stay in the sun to go into the shade. And she goes into the shade to the cold. It’s somebody who’s not shivering, she’s just sitting there cold but she’s not going to say that it’s cold.
Ruth Stone: Life altered me. Experience altered me. Suffering altered me. Having to endure [after Walter Stone’s death] and be strong altered me. Having not to—not being able to—cry altered me. I didn’t cry, but I didn’t talk for a year either. I couldn’t even stand up straight . . . I shuffled: ‘I shuffled and snuffled and whined for you’ [lines from the poem ‘The Tree’].”
—from the Sandra M. Gilbert interview
They say, as they rise on the horizon
And come toward us dividing and dividing,
That we must save; that we must solve; transcend
Cohesive and repelling flesh, protoplasm, particles, and survive.
I do not doubt we will; I do not doubt all things are possible,
Even that wildest hope that we may meet beyond the grave.
—from “Being Human” in Cheap (1975)
All things come to an end.
The red clay bank, the spread hawk,
the bodies riding this train,
the stalled truck, pale sunlight, the talk;
the talk goes on forever,
the wide dry field of geese,
a man stopped near his porch
to watch. Release, release;
between cold death and a fever,
send what you will, I will listen.
All things come to an end.
No, they go on forever.
—from “Train Ride” in In the Next Galaxy (2004)
“[I]t takes an entire life to finally get a tiny bit of wisdom.”
—in “A Conversation with Ruth Stone”
Click here to read Athena Kildegaard’s feature piece on Ruth Stone.
Home page photo courtesy of Bryan Bruchman via Flickr