In the Next Galaxy

Overview

Ruth Stone has rightly been called America’s Akhmatova, and she is considered "Mother Poet" to many contemporary writers. In this, her eighth volume, she writes with crackling intelligence, interrogating history from the vantage point of an aging and impoverished woman. Wise, sardonic, crafty, and ...

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Overview

Ruth Stone has rightly been called America’s Akhmatova, and she is considered "Mother Poet" to many contemporary writers. In this, her eighth volume, she writes with crackling intelligence, interrogating history from the vantage point of an aging and impoverished woman. Wise, sardonic, crafty, and misleadingly simple, Stone loves heavy themes but loathes heavy poems.

Shapes

In the longer view it doesn’t matter.
However, it’s that having lived, it matters.
So that every death breaks you apart.
You find yourself weeping at the door
of your own kitchen, overwhelmed
by loss. And you find yourself weeping
as you pass the homeless person
head in hands resigned on a cement
step, the wire basket on wheels right there.
Like stopped film, or a line of Vallejo,
or a sketch of the mechanics of a wing
by Leonardo. All pauses in space,
a violent compression of meaning
in an instant within the meaningless.
Even staring into the dim shapes
at the farthest edge; accepting that blur.

"Ruth Stone’s work is alternately witty, bawdy, touching, and profound. But never pompous. Her honesty and originality give her writing a sense of youth and newness because she looks at the world so clearly, without all the detritus of social convention the rest of us pick up along the way… Her writing proves her to be simply inspired."—USA Today

Ruth Stone was born in Virginia in 1915. She is author of eight books of poems and recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1959, after her husband committed suicide, she was forced to raise three daughters alone. For twenty years she traveled the US, teaching creative writing at many universities, finally settling at SUNY Binghamton. She lives in Vermont.

Winner of the 2002 National Book Award for Poetry

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Editorial Reviews

USA Today
Ruth Stone's work is alternately witty, bawdy, touching, and profound. But never pompous. Her honesty and originality give her writing a sense of youth and newness because she looks at the world so clearly, without all the detritus of social convention the rest of us pick up along the way... Her writing proves to be simply inspired.
Drunken Boat
Ruth Stone began late, achieving her most powerful works with maturity and continuing their scope and span into age where most poets fall into silence or repetition.
Publishers Weekly
The much-lauded octogenarian Stone keeps up her appealing, sadder-but-wiser lyricism as she surveys subjects from McCormick reapers to radio astronomy, from fractals to "folded wings" and the fatigue of age, in this eighth collection, her first since the National Book Critics Circle Award winner Ordinary Words (1999). Stone veers easily between compressed stories of her Virginia upbringing and her own life, on the one hand, and scenic Americana on the other, finding material in "New York mountain weather," roaming cats, "the railroad 's edge of metal trash." A third sort of Stone poem begins and ends in abstraction, finding spare lines for dejection or reflection, or asking, simply, "How can I live like this?" Stone's lifetime of craft permits her to pare down both description and meditation and, at her best, make startling use of short, slow lines and of occasional rhyme; standout lyric work like "Train Ride" or "At Eighty-Three She Lives Alone" recalls at once Stanley Kunitz and Kay Ryan, and should find a place in many anthologies. Stone's lesser poems can digress into mere jottings; she tends to top off her terse scenes and speculations with forceful (sometimes forced) closing statements, what she calls "severe abstract designs." Even those poems, however, reflect an observant and contemplative life, focused on simplicities of feeling, yet possessed of unfolding subtleties.
Publishers Weekly
The much-lauded octogenarian Stone keeps up her appealing, sadder-but-wiser lyricism as she surveys subjects from McCormick reapers to radio astronomy, from fractals to "folded wings" and the fatigue of age, in this eighth collection, her first since the National Book Critics Circle Award winner Ordinary Words (1999). Stone veers easily between compressed stories of her Virginia upbringing and her own life, on the one hand, and scenic Americana on the other, finding material in "New York mountain weather," roaming cats, "the railroad's edge of metal trash." A third sort of Stone poem begins and ends in abstraction, finding spare lines for dejection or reflection, or asking, simply, "How can I live like this?" Stone's lifetime of craft permits her to pare down both description and meditation, and, at her best, make startling use of short, slow lines and of occasional rhyme; standout lyric work like "Train Ride" or "At Eighty-Three She Lives Alone" recalls at once Stanley Kunitz and Kay Ryan, and should find a place in many anthologies. Stone's lesser poems can digress into mere jottings; she tends to top off her terse scenes and speculations with forceful (sometimes forced) closing statements, what she calls "severe abstract designs." Even those poems, however, reflect an observant and contemplative life, focused on simplicities of feeling, yet possessed of unfolding subtleties. (June) Forecast: Stone's advanced age, her accessibility and her high standing among other writers may all provoke comparisons to Marie Ponsot, though her small output brings her closer to Virginia Hamilton Adair. Either way, the NBA should generate interest in this follow-up, and solid sales that might be boosted by displaying this book among nonfiction titles on aging. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1999 for Ordinary Words, Stone is now in her eighties, having published her first book of poetry when she was 44. Stone writes conversationally, with lyricism, honesty, wit, and plenty of focus on the passage of time. The suicide of her much-loved husband 40 years ago is a frequent theme, as are observations about aging (which she has achieved with great wisdom), the lives of her young students and neighbors, and ecological and political concerns. Stone notices and brings to her poems everyday items like marbles ("Held up to light,/ a small hole/ into another dimension"), an unplugged electric fan ("staring at the floor/ with the nonexpression of the working class/ temporarily laid off"), and cabbages ("blooms like Rubens nudes"). Her uses of subtle and occasional rhyme, off-rhyme, and inner rhyme are delicate and always appropriate. Highly recommended.-Judy Clarence, California State Univ. Lib., Hayward
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556591785
  • Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2002
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 110
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.50 (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.

Biography

"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

Read an Excerpt

Poems
When you come back to me
it will be crow time
and flycatcher time,
with rising spirals of gnats
between the apple trees.
Every weed will be quadrupled,
coarse, welcoming
and spine-tipped.
The crows, their black flapping
bodies, their long calling
toward the mountain;
relatives, like mine,
ambivalent, eye-hooded;
hooting and tearing.
And you will take me in
to your fractal meaningless
babble; the quick of my mouth,
the madness of my tongue.

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Table of Contents

The Professor Cries 3
Spring Beauties 4
Always Your Shadow 5
Looking at Your Hand 6
Seed 7
In the Next Galaxy 8
Metaphors of the Tree 9
Rising 10
Returning to the City of Your Childhood 11
Leaving My Roommates in New York 12
The Gambler 13
Incarnation 14
This Strangeness in My Life 15
Genesis 16
White on White 17
Shapes 18
Entering the Student's Poem 19
Changes 20
March 15, 1998 22
Visions from My Office Window 23
The Illusion 24
Again - Now 25
The Electric Fan and The Dead Man (or the widow as a useful object toward the end of the century) 26
As It Is 28
Useless Words 29
The Eye within the Eye 30
Always on the Train 31
Bits of Information 32
A Woodchuck Lesson 33
Marbles 35
Parts of Speech 37
Before the Blight 38
Poems 39
What Meets the Eye 40
Junction in the Midwest 41
Breathing 43
On the Slow Train Passing Through 44
Eden, Then and Now 45
Wanting 47
Don't Miss It 48
At the Ready 49
That Other War 50
Tip of the Iceberg 51
Napping on the Greyhound 52
Reading the Russians 53
What We Have 55
A Pair 57
Spring Snow 58
What We Don't Know 59
Linear Illusions 60
When I Was Thirty-five You Took My Photograph 61
Love 62
To Give This a Name, Astonishing 63
Reality 64
At Eighty-three She Lives Alone 65
A Good Question 66
Getting to Know You 67
From Boston to Binghamton 68
Air 69
Sorrow and No Sorrow 70
Points of Vision 71
Train Ride 72
Assumptions 73
The Poem 74
The Interesting Way of Life 75
The Provider 76
Surviving 77
Light 78
Drought 79
Sorrow 80
Albany Bus Station 81
Cousin Francis Speaks Out 82
Messages 83
Grade School 84
Lines 86
On the Mountain 87
Tongues 88
Half Sight in Middlebury 89
Again I Find You 91
The Cabbage 92
Three A.M. 93
To Try Again 94
Not Expecting an Answer 95
Mantra 96
About the Author 99
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