In the Dark


When asked whether poets improve with age Ruth Stone, 89, replied: “There’s no question. If your brain goes on and on, as it should under normal conditions, there’s more in it and your writing will get more profound.”

Year after year, Ruth Stone’s poems turn ever more ...

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When asked whether poets improve with age Ruth Stone, 89, replied: “There’s no question. If your brain goes on and on, as it should under normal conditions, there’s more in it and your writing will get more profound.”

Year after year, Ruth Stone’s poems turn ever more penetrating. Fresh from her National Book Award, this prophetic new book is filled with winter, fractals, and passionate aging:

From “What is a Poem?”:

Having come this far with a handful of alphabet,
I am forced,
with these few blocks,
to invent the universe

Science, politics, art, and fellow small-town citizens all play pivotal roles in her poems. From the cilia in the ear of an owl to cheap paint peeling off the walls, Ruth Stone presents a world dissected and revealed:

From “The Driveway”:

Asphalt is a kind of urban lava flow that creeps from plot to plot along a street;
affluent, weedless, slow, and cancerous;
pressure from the magma populace for easy maintenance; neat status-symbolic,
easy to wash with the garden hose

“Her poems startle us over and over,” Galway Kinnell said when presenting Stone the Wallace Stevens Award, “with their shapeliness, their humor, their youthfulness, their wild aptness . . . the moral gulps they prompt, their fierce exactness of language and memory.”

Ruth Stone is the author of nine books of poetry. She is the recipient of the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, a Whiting Award (with which she bought plumbing for her house) and two Guggenheim Fellowships (one of which roofed her house). After her husband committed suicide, she was forced to raise three daughters alone. For twenty years she taught creative writing at many universities, finally settling at Binghamton University. Today, Ruth Stone lives in Vermont.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
At 89, award-winning poet Stone (In the Next Galaxy) continues to write and publish. Her new volume concerns loss of vision and other faculties diminished by age: "the hand trembles,/ and the three-dimensional/ words in their electrical/ circuits come to the gates/ and find them locked." She pins down the homely details of everyday life with deadpan humor: "Your gray glasses are for playing the piano./ Your brown glasses, for strong reading./ Nothing but sugar in the cupboard./ That's when the voice from the galaxy/ comes back, saying praise be, it had a good/ sleep; it is ready to translate." While this late work lacks some of the sharp edge and linguistic energy of the earlier poems, there is a kind of gorgeous ease in poems like "My Mother's Phlox," where flowers sent by the poet via UPS merge seamlessly with mother love and poetry, gifts that "need almost no care./ They cast their seed. They thrive on neglect." For all poetry collections. E.M. Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine LLP Law Lib., New York Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556592102
  • Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2004
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Ruth Stone

Ruth Stone is the author of nine books of poetry, for which she has received the National Book Award, the Wallace Stevens Award, a National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Shelley Memorial Award. She taught creative writing at many universities, finally settling at SUNY Binghamton. She lives in Vermont.


"I'm just as glad I'm not a star," Ruth Stone said in a 1999 interview with the poet Rebecca Seiferle. Sometimes described as obscure -- or, more kindly, as "a poet's poet" -- Stone thought her obscurity gave her a kind of freedom in her work. That was before she won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Ordinary Words and the National Book Award for In the Next Galaxy. Now well into her eighties, Ruth Stone has become a star poet, after all.

Poetry was a part of Stone's childhood in the literate, artistic household in which she grew up. Her mother read Tennyson to her when she was a baby, and her musician father would read from the King James Bible. Stone began writing poems when she was five years old; her father, who also worked as a typesetter, would sometimes print her poems on a linotype machine and bring them home. Several of her prize-winning poems were printed in actual newspapers while she was in grade school, but Stone was 44 when her first book, In an Iridescent Time, appeared in 1959.

In that same year, Stone's husband, the poet and novelist Walter Stone, committed suicide while on leave from his teaching post at Vassar College. Stone was left to raise their three daughters alone, and her poetry changed as dramatically as her life. "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," wrote Jan Freeman in a biographical essay. To support herself and her daughters, Stone took a variety of teaching jobs at colleges and universities across the country, serving as a mentor and inspiration to so many budding writers (including Jan Freeman, Toi Derricotte and Sharon Olds) that she's been termed a "Mother Poet." Stone was able to buy a ramshackle house in Vermont with the proceeds from an award, and the house -- where "winter demands a vital patience" -- figures frequently in her poems.

Stone's work has come to be characterized not only by a deep sense of loss, but by a sharp, sometimes cynical, often quite funny view of human society. She has paid special attention to the disadvantaged and disenfranchised, and has often noted the ways in which women are still marginalized in certain male-dominated arenas. ("At the doughnut shop/twenty-three silver backs are lined up at the bar,/sitting on the stools," she writes in "Male Gorillas.") It's fair to call Stone a feminist poet, even a political poet, but she reaches her reader through plain-spoken observation rather than heated polemics. Her poems are full of the ordinary people, places and events of American life; one publisher lists her subjects as "trailer parks, state parks, prefab houses, school crossing guards, bears, snakes, hummingbirds, bottled water, Aunt Maud, Uncle Cal, lost love, dry humping at the Greyhound bus terminal, and McDonald's as a refuge from loneliness."

This preoccupation with the local and particular is balanced by an interest in the nature of the physical universe. Stone is an avid reader of science writing, and often transforms scientific fact into poetic metaphor, whether it's photons and fractals or a lowly tomato caterpillar carrying parasite wasp eggs. Her subject matter is seldom high-flown, yet the music she coaxes from "ordinary words" often soars. "Sly, subtle, exuberant, poignant, bawdy and bitter" (as Sandra Gilbert wrote), Stone certainly deserves her belated fame.

Good To Know

After teaching creative writing at so many universities that Willis Barnstone suggested she might hold "a record for teacher vagabondage," Stone finally settled down at SUNY-Binghamton, where she is now professor emerita.

When she's not at Binghamton, Stone lives in Vermont in a "house with 5,000 books in it," as she told an interviewer for Poetic Voices. She has three grown daughters and seven grandchildren.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Ruth Perkins Stone
    2. Hometown:
      Goshen, Vermont and Binghamton, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 8, 1915
    2. Place of Birth:
      Roanoke, Virginia
    1. Education:
      University of Illinois (no degree); B.A., Radcliffe Institute of Independent Study at Harvard University

Table of Contents

Accepting 3
Another day 4
Another feeling 5
Full moon 6
An imprint of the Roaring Twenties 7
Becoming vegetarian 9
Bennington bus stop 10
Body language 11
Bianca 12
Walter, upon looking around 13
Between men 14
A male tale 15
Calibrate 16
Clay 17
Cause and effect 18
Chausible plausible 19
Border 20
Am I 21
Consider this 23
Almost the same 24
Currents 25
Fragrance 26
Always Icarus 27
Elsie's brooks 28
Eta Carinae 29
So 30
And so forth 31
Cosmos 33
Exotic extras for reading at City College 34
Riding the bubble 36
Floaters 37
From outer space 38
The self and the universe 39
Heaven 40
Fear of the Doppelganger 41
Ice 42
How can I? 43
I walk alone 44
In the arts 45
In the free world 46
Infrared 47
Inner truth 48
Leap from a footnote 49
Interim 51
Blizzard 52
Drought again 55
Euphoria 56
Writer's block 57
Clotheslines 58
Living in the past 59
Margaret Street 61
Man on the ice 62
March 2003 63
What is a poem? 64
Menty Ears ago 65
My mother's phlox 66
The Wailing Wall 68
On the dangerous way 69
Negative 70
On the outer banks 71
Pamphlet for bullfrogs 72
Pigs in crisis 73
Praise 76
Mindless 77
Pulsing 78
Shark 79
Spin 80
The driveway 81
Laguna 82
Storage 83
That's not me 84
Tell me 86
The apex 87
The barrier 88
The gift from Isfahan 89
The jewels 90
The laying down 91
Orbits 92
The leaf 93
The old story 94
The sadness of lies 95
Progress as reported 96
This is what I think 97
This day brings a slight poem 99
This is how it is 100
Tools of the psyche 101
Trying to write 103
Visions 104
Weathering 105
What she said 106
Whither weather 107
What they don't tell us about 108
The message 109
The cave 110
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  • Posted January 22, 2009

    fetching poems from 89 year old blind woman

    IN THE DARK by Ruth Stone. Copper Canyon Press, PO Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368;; 110+x pp. $22.00 hardcover, ISBN 1-55659-210-8. Ruth Stone is 89, and nearly totally blind. At this age and with this condition, memories make up the substance of her life. For her, memory is virtually a sensation; memory brings her into an intimacy with her surroundings and her past. Feelings and moods are not transient for her. Rather, they are entire universes of different aspects of the world and existence. The 'sadness of things/speaks for you.' (from 'Interim') The flower beds and lawns of a small college--one where Stone likely taught at one time--intone the 'quiet authority of culture.' (from 'Border') The title is somewhat ironic, for Stone illumines her subjects in an almost preternatural way.

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