Paris Press
a feminist press which has published the letters of Emily Dickinson, the prose of Muriel Rukeyser, as well as two collections by Ruth Stone.

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To order books by Ruth Stone:

ORDINARY WORDS

SIMPLICITY

2ND HAND COAT: POEMS NEW AND SELECTED

WHO IS THE WIDOW'S MUSE?

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On the Road to Paradise

An Interview with Ruth Stone

By Rebecca Seiferle
   


Ruth Stone's newest poetry collection Ordinary Words, shows the poet in her eighties not only writing, but writing some of her strongest, most original works. Ordinary Words won the National Book Critics Circle Award, an award given not for lifetime achievement, but for the best collection by a working poet. In manuscript, the book was a recipient of the Eric Mathieu King Award from the Academy of American Poets. Author of ten previous poetry collections, among them, Simplicity , Who Is the Widow' s Muse?, Second-Hand Coat: Poems New and Selected, Ruth Stone is still relatively unknown, an undiscovered national treasure. In The House Is Made of Poetry: The Art of Ruth Stone, Sandra Gilbert describes Stone as the only person to attain tenure at the age of seventy-five. Stone's new book, like her last, is published by Paris Press, a feminist press which has the mission of reclaiming distinctly American work which has been overlooked or forgotten. Paris Press has reprinted The Orgy and The Life of Poetry by Muriel Rukeyser, and, most recently, Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson's Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson, the first time those letters have been collected in a single volume. Jan Freeman, the editor of Paris Press is herself a noted younger poet. Freeman's first bookHyena was published as CSU Poetry Series XLII and she acknowledges the influence of Ruth's work (see "A Rhyme for Ruth" in this issue of The Drunken Boat.

In April 1998, at the Poetry Society of America Awards, I heard Stanley Kunitz give a talk while being honored in his nineties with the Frost Award. Seeing Kunitz so honored, surrounded by dozens of people who wanted his autograph or to speak to him about their own poetic ambitions, I was struck by the contrast to Ruth Stone's relative anonymity. Her work is like Kunitz's in her preference for the short lyric, poems distinct for sound and imagination. Like Kunitz, 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. Both poets, too, have found their most powerful subjects in the intersection of the self: Kunitz's writing of the suicide of his father, Stone's poems that are, as she says "love poems, all written to a dead man," her husband, Walter Stone, who committed suicide and left her to "reside in limbo" with three daughters to raise. Ruth, with her cabin in the Vermont mountains--the house that a Whiting Award put the plumbing to, and which another award roofed--is connected to a place as distinct as Kunitz's garden in Provincetown. Both poets have also influenced many younger poets; Stone's work has influenced Sharon Olds, Aliki Barnstone, Toi Derricotte, among others. And yet, one poet is much lauded, the other still comparatively unknown. Is it the distinction of gender, the difference in how society greets the fathers of poetry and ignores the mothers? Or is it that women, like Stone, are obscured by life, by the circumstances which make poetry more a private way of life than a public career, the publicity of Whitman versus the privacy of Dickinson?

When I called Ruth to arrange this interview in late July, 1999, she was at her Vermont home in the mountains, looking out from the porch at the loveliness of the woods. A couple of years ago an auto accident (she was hit by a drunk driver) left Ruth in the hospital. When I spoke to Ruth, she was just finishing a year's sabbatical from her teaching position at SUNY in Binghamton. She felt that she had finally recovered from the accident. She described how in the hospital, she had refused to let the doctors do whatever it was they had wished to do to her brain, even though she knew that she had some "brain damage, some loss of memory." She felt that her mind had healed on its own, and was excited that morning because she had just written two poems, the first poems after months of silence. She said it was amazing "how poetry just walks in, how it is absent and then suddenly there it is again, and you are writing the poem." It was the return of poetry that convinced of her recovery. Ruth's accident, followed by the self-healing, the return of poetry, is part of the pattern of Ruth's experience. In her life, poetry has been a way of life, of surviving the most harrowing of events, of healing oneself "without knowing it." She spoke of writing poetry as being on "the road to paradise." This conversation occurred two days later and was conducted on the telephone. The following poem is the second in Ordinary Words and I first heard Ruth read it in Taos, New Mexico in 1996. She was visiting to help promote the work of Pennywhistle Press which had just recently published some of her work in an anthology Sextet One: Six Powerful American Voices. I began with a discussion of this poem, as its last lines "have looked up and seen within the cowl/ this tenuous wavelength" had stayed with me in the intervening years like a mysterious and haunting refrain.

UP THERE

Belshazzar saw this blue
as he came into the walled garden
though outside all was yellow,
sunlight striking the fractals of sand,
the wind striating the sand in riffles.

Land changes slowly, the fathoms
overhead accruing particles
reflecting blue or less blue.

Vapor, a transient thing; a dervish
seen rising in a whirl of wind,
or brief cloud casting its changing shadow;
though below, the open-mouthed might stand
transfixed by mirage, a visionary oasis.

Nevertheless, this deep upside-down
wash, watercolor, above planted gardens,
tended pomegranates, rouged soles of the feet
of lovers lounging in an open tent;
the hot blue above; the harem
tethered and restless as camels.

This quick vision between walls, event,
freak ball, shook jar of vapor,
all those whose eyes were not gouged out,
have looked up and seen within the cowl
this tenuous wavelength.

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Rebecca Seiferle: I wanted to start by talking about Ordinary Words . In the beginning of the book, you have the poem "Up There" followed by "Words," and "Words" replies directly to Wallace Stevens "A poet looks at the world as a man looks at a woman." And I was wondering if you meant to reply to Stevens so strongly, since your line "this tenuous wavelength" can be taken to reply to his conception of nature in lines such as “above this blue, there is a barer blue that does not bend,” or what was your intent?

Ruth Stone: I wasn't at all conscious of Stevens. My “Up There” is totally out of my head. I was mainly thinking of the sky above us, the layers of air above us. And when I say “Belshazzar... came into the walled garden” and so forth, it's what we are losing of nature, the ozone layer.

Seiferle: And at the end of the poem, when you have that line “this tenuous wavelength?”

Stone: I was talking really about the loss of the sky. I'm talking always, often, often, often, about the loss of the planet that we're riding on. How we’re eating it up under our own feet. The whole book is riddled with...this goes through many of the poems, not all of them, but it's there.

Seiferle : In a lot of the poems, you use what might be called scientific language, images and terms from science.

Stone : Yes, I guess all of my life, I've been studying, very interested in the natural sciences.

Seiferle : Do you do a lot of reading in the sciences?

Stone : Yes, I was just always fascinated, in astronomy, even physics.

Seiferle : In “Male Gorillas” you have almost a naturalist's perspective of these men at a donut shop...

MALE GORILLAS

At the doughnut shop
twenty-three silver backs
are lined up at the bar,
sitting on the stools.
It's morning coffee and trash day.
The waitress has a heavy feeling face,
considerate with carmine lipstick.
She doesn't brown my fries.
I have to stand at the counter
and insist on my order.
I take my cup of coffee to a small
inoffensive table along the wall.
At the counter the male chorus line
is lined up tight.
I look at their almost identical butts,
their buddy hunched shoulders,
the curve of their ancient spines.
They are methodically browsing
in their own territory.
This data goes into that vast
confused library, the female mind.

Stone : (laughs) Yes, they were, and that's just what they looked like, you know. It was an amazing sight. I guess it was trash day and they were collecting trash probably but they just looked like silver backs lined up, narrow hips, wide shoulders, you know, shoulder to shoulder, and that was their area, and they were browsing. (laughs) It was quite amazing.

Seiferle : It's an amazing poem, you can exactly see them sitting there.

Stone : Oh and there was absolutely no question but that I was out of my territory. (laughs) That was theirs. And the waitress felt so, too. I discovered later that donut shop was a kind of male hangout, a territory.

Seiferle : Did you ever want to be a scientist?

Stone : I was very much interested in astronomy, botany. I probably should have done but drifted along the way I went, with literature. You know it's endlessly fascinating, I am always cognizant, I am always aware of the infinite depth of the stoma of a leaf, of how the photons go in there, and knock the starch into sugar, each little photon from the sun, each photon is a machine, a ping!

Seiferle : In a lot of your poems of relationship, you tend to describe them in terms of photons, of particles...

Stone : I do! You know, I've tended, you know I often see everything reduced to a molecule. I see it intuitively that way. I have a tendency, well I didn't know about it when I was little... When I was little, I used to lie out in the backyard and look at the stars. I have a tendency to move in my mind from...You know I'm always conscious that the table is both solid to me and full of nothing but space.

Seiferle : So by "seeing," you must mean that most of the time you go around with this...what would we call it? where you are seeing things in an interior way...?

Stone : I often do, for instance when I think of the brook, when I look at the brook, I am also so conscious that it breaks up into fractals, into chaos and I watch the water, and it's incredible, it looks like it does, and ultimately it does make all sorts of patterns. Ultimately, I am so fascinated by the patterns, by the local patterns, by the chaos, that appears to be in the larger scale, and the patterns beyond the chaos.

Seiferle : I can't remember who said it, some physicist, who said that we see the chaos beneath the world, but beneath that chaos there is another order.

Stone : That's right. And it just goes that way, out and down. Out, oh, out into larger and larger and down into smaller and smaller. It's endlessly amazing. I can't get over the amazing thing that I am just privileged to get to look at. I'm also aware that we live only in the moment, in this moment, this moment, this moment, that's all we have! Everything in memory, trailing behind in memory, and we're ahead of it, and it's moment by moment. This is it. We try to mentally arrange a thickness but we actually don't have it.

Seiferle : Gell-Mann, the physicist, says something to that effect, that time is an arrow...

Stone : that flies in only one direction!

Seiferle : Yes, in only one direction and we’re like right at...

Stone : right at the tip. This moment, right this moment, where you're out there, in New Mexico, and I'm here, in Vermont, and yet here we are in this space, together, this is the moment. You know I have a poem “Green Apples” that ends “this is the moment here, now.”

Seiferle : Yes, exactly, I think that's one of the qualities of your poems, that they have that kind of gravity, or that kind of force, where they are right in the moment. I was struck by how many of the poems in this book are almost...they're not really definitions, for a definition always has that implication of explaining something, but the poems are so precisely what they are. For instance, you have that poem “Etc.,” which begins “this borrowed pressed wood table” which seems to tie in with what we have been talking about. For you have the pressed wood table which is “molecularly unhooked...stored in my lobes where Adolph Hitler/is also... distributed through/my eclectic electrical system.”

ETC.

This borrowed pressed-wood table
is molecularly unhooked in parceled impulses,
stored in my lobes where Adolph Hitler
is also shredded, his repulsive
mustache distributed throughout
my eclectic electrical system.
But that's not all.
His hoarse disembodied voice,
without a decibel, still shouts,
goose-stepping through my cracked
cranium. As now, another snowfall
sculptures an unreality, clean and fresh,
bringing down in its light crystals
industrial particulates as it settles.
Out there, a miracle;
in here, disassembled,
encoded visually, linguistically,
tagged with the rest of the garbage
that my brain recycles, that is myself;
this cumulative trash that goes with me.

Stone : Yes, you just don't get rid of anything! You think I can get Hitler out of me? You know, your mind takes in, and there it is, with everything else. I mean we suck everything into ourselves.

Seiferle : (laughs) Kind of like magnets that can never lose their charge...

Stone : Well, I end up saying “this cumulative trash that goes with me” (laughs).

Seiferle : The other thing about this poem, though is the title “Etc.” and the way in which the poem becomes so precisely about the etcetera of what we are.

Stone : Yep, we are everything, every experience we've ever had, and in some of us, a lot of it translates and makes patterns, poems. But my God, we don't even began to touch upon it. There's an enormous amount, but we can touch such a little.

Seiferle : That's true, just a very small portion.

Stone : Very small. I think that's one of the things that our minds do, Rebecca, that they sort out, somehow, often, and make patterns of significant things to us. And I think our minds do that for us in the dark, and then they offer them back in poems. I think your mind makes up your poem before you get it. You know you receive the poem from your mind, you know you do. It takes a multitude of experiences, and all this language, and all this sound, and puts it together in these patterns that are significant to you and gives it back to you.

Seiferle : The other day, when we first talked, you said that you felt that, when you were writing, you were often following invisible patterns.

Stone : I don't see them so much as hear them, and I know that a poem will happen and later I will look at it, and say: Wow, where did that come from? how did I do that? I didn't set out to do that, but the neural connections are so fast, the body, the self is so slow, (laughs) that you're kind of astonished. It's odd.

Seiferle : Are you often surprised by your own work?

Stone : Oh yes, always. I'm not saying delighted! (laughs) Then, you know, the trick is that you're also able to work on it, to, I mean it's never perfect. You know it's an imperfect thing. But it's an amazing thing.

Seiferle : How do you work on your poems afterwards, as far as revision?

Stone : Years. Sometimes. And maybe it leaves and sometimes immediately or soon after. I had one poem that I worked for a period of seven to eight years, off and on. I've thought--God, I'm never going to get this one right. I give up on them. Then maybe I'll pick them up later and try to salvage them. All the time, all the time, revising. Sometimes you're struck by lightning, that's it. Often, it's like a wave, I expect it's a wavelength in your brain, when your mind presents these things to you, because there's a certain musicality.

Seiferle : It's partly just the sound of the language.

Stone : Yes, I was upstairs this morning, earlier, and I happened to pick up a folder, you know, probably like you, I have tons and tons of writing that has never been transcribed out, you know I have tons of it, I was looking at something that I wrote on long strips of paper, oh, twenty years ago, and I was thinking, oh this is marvelous, you know it was just jotting down about the fairy terns on the islands, and then there was another one, on another piece of paper, you know that was all about the wingbeats of mosquitos (laughs) and it fascinated me.

Seiferle : Do you have so much work around because it's never finished or...?

Stone : No, most of the poems in my notebooks are finished, I've just never typed them up, and I write rather chaotically I guess. Some people have such neat handwriting and make it follow, but I go from back to front, up and down. Do you write on trains or buses? I always do. You know it's the rhythm. You know all I can remember wanting is reaching, reaching, reaching. I wanted only to write better and better poems, that's all I wanted. When did you say you started writing?

Seiferle : When I was nine, as an English assignment. My English teacher said go and write a poem about a place you like. At the time we lived in a trailer park in Vermont (both laugh) and there was a stream running through it and there was a nice pool beside a green bank--just a lovely place, I liked to go there all the time--I went there and thought, oh, I'll write a poem about this place and how the water flows through the stream. And, of course, I couldn't do it. Partly I was trying to meet the English teacher's requirements.

Stone : Oh, yes, of course. Ruinous!

Seiferle : But it was not being able to do it, and this desire that I wanted to do it, as you said, this reaching, reaching.

Stone : Did you write a poem though?

Seiferle : Yes, I did.

Stone : About something else?

Seiferle : No, it was about the stream, three quatrains.

Stone : But it wasn't what the teacher wanted, was it?

Seiferle : No, and it wasn't what I wanted either!(laughs)

Stone :(Laughs)It's so funny the preconceived notions of how one should do a poem. The teachers, sometimes, one has to get over them. I think that desire to write is born of many things. One of which is being blessed with the ability. I always said that I thought anyone could do it, but I think they may go past a time when they can and then maybe they can't go back to it. But children, they can all do it, I think. But who is going to be obsessed? That's the ticket. You were obsessed. I was obsessed. It's the obsession. It's the obsession that keeps you doing it. You think you'll give it up? No! (laughs) No way! do something else?! (laughs)

Seiferle : Where did it begin for you?

Stone : I think I was pretty young. Maybe five, but all five-year-olds make poems. Then when I was in grade school--they would just pop into my head; I would write them down. But you know my mother had read an enormous amount of poetry to me when I was young. And I think that patterns and rhyming and lines and rhythm were built into me.

Seiferle : What sort of things did she read to you?

Stone : Tennyson, Shakespeare, (laughs) you know, that sort of stuff.

Seiferle : You were a lucky duck in your mother.

Stone : Wasn't I though! I knew the nursery rhymes by heart very, very early. And I think they're great poetry.

Seiferle : I agree. I learned all of those really early.

Stone : Yes, I think they're basic. And the Bible. My mother read the King James Bible.

Seiferle : So you think that your mother's voice reading to you was an essential part of your becoming a poet?

Stone : Yes, absolutely. On the other hand, you probably if you look around, have a tradition of the arts in your family, literary arts. I know in my father's family, they were all poets and artists. My grandmother...my aunts, they all wrote poetry.

Seiferle : Yes, my father painted and wanted to be a poet. I think everyone in his family tried writing at one time or another.

Stone : Yes, they just did it. They lead normal lives and so forth, but they all wrote, just for their own pleasure. I expect some of it is genetic. It could be. But, anyway, I just feel it has been a great blessing to me, and don't you feel that way too? this great blessing...of the language, that it comes to you this way, that we have this language, that we can express the inexpressible.

A pause occurs here with the changing of the tape.

Seiferle : I wanted to ask you in connection with your book. Are you familiar with the form of flash fiction?

Stone : Let me guess--quick?

Seiferle : Yes, exactly, they try and write a short story, several characters, in a page or less.

Stone: I do that, don't I? I also have in this book some of my Mother Stone's Nursery Rhymes. "Can Cranes Cogitate?" and the one about the tomato worm ("Yes, Think") and the one about, there's another one in there. Yeah, I write a lot of these you know, I call them that.

CAN CRANES COGITATE?

All alone a young crane stood on a sand hill.
Father, he cried, I am lonely. Give me an egg.
Son, the father said, smiling ever so slightly,
you are getting ahead of yourself. Eggs are not
that easy to come by. The mysterious egg
is a process unto itself. Even I am not sure
how this miracle occurs. I am loath to admit
that my wife, who certainly was not known
for her brain, seemed to have an occult power
when it came to eggs. She sat on them, you know.
The young crane immediately found a gaggle.
of swans' eggs. That's simple, he said. And sat down.
When the irate swans arrived, they bit and battered,
the badly mistaken crane. Thief, murderer, they hissed.
But I want to be a father, cried the ignorant crane.
Birds of a feather flock together, the mother swan
hinted, albeit in a nasty tone of voice. The father swan
coughed and looked aside. Get thee to a nunnery, son,
he advised. Confidentially, son, that's from an old roué.

Seiferle : Have you ever put them together in a book?

Stone : I did put eighteen or so of them in a book in Binghamton a few years ago. One of those little paperbacks that some guy did. I called it Some of Mother Stone's Nursery Rhymes. (laughs)

Seiferle : Is it still in print?

Stone : Oh, no, he was just a printer, it was just something he wanted to do. What did you think of the prose poem "Arboretum" in the book?

Seiferle: I liked it.

Stone : I think it's the first prose poem that I've ever stuck in a book. There's that poem "Translations" in Second-Hand Coat that looks like a prose poem, but it's not really.

Seiferle : Yes, I've always loved that poem. I remember you reading it at Warren Wilson. Susan Stewart was also there and called it a “tour de force."

Stone : Yes, she's just delightful. Did you hear that she won a MacArthur? I think that's just great, women who get some rewards.

Seiferle : Yes, maybe, we should discuss that, women in the literary world. You're published with Paris Press, which is a small, feminist press.

Stone : It's a women's press. Well, I did that on purpose. (both laugh) I wanted to make a statement about how I feel, you know, about the treatment of women writers, at the big presses, and so forth. I went with them because I wanted to say, you know, I don't care about this other--it's actually a male world. A male world with women allowed. I wanted to make a statement for women and for myself. And also for small, for the small presses.

Seiferle : So, do you feel that mainstream publishers still have a problem with women writers, poets?

Stone : I don't know that they do, probably not, I'm sure Norton publishes lots and lots of women. I don't think that's the problem there anymore. Though a lot of magazines may still. But I think everyone is beginning to admit that the country is full of great women poets. It is, across the board. But I did want to make a statement for myself, that I don't like the way the publishing world works. I was with Harcourt Brace, you know, they didn't give a hoot for me. And even David Godine, he wouldn't reissue my book. (Second-Hand Coat) He sold it out very rapidly and then he wouldn't bring it out again. So when this other guy (Yellow Moon Press) wanted it and would do The Widow's Muse, too, well, the guy just bought the tape and reprinted the book. And it's still selling, it's not a bestseller of course, but a very steady, steady book.

Seiferle : Paris Press also seems to be publishing work that is distinctively “American."

Stone : I think so, like Muriel Rukeyser, Emily Dickinson. I think they are also bringing out the work of women, of women who have...well, the poetry world has never treated Rukeyser right. The woman was way ahead of her time. It's partly because she was radical, politically radical, far far to the left. But she certainly was a trailblazer.

Seiferle : Yes, exactly. I was wondering why it is that works which have those distinctive qualities, are so distinctively American, still have trouble being accepted?

Stone : I think that the tendency often is to look at another culture's work rather than this one's? Don't you? Even in the Spanish languages, you know, they really look to other cultures.

Seiferle : Yes, that's like Vallejo, the Peruvian poet that I've translated, he wrote an article years and years ago in which he called for an "autochthonic poetry" from a Greek root meaning "humble, of a particular place." He wanted Latin American writers to write a poetry that was distinctively of their place and time.

Stone : And I think he's right. I do try to do that. I do that a lot, don't you think so? I do that a lot, I don't care, what is ordinary? You can call it humble if you want to. But that's life. (pause) ...so he didn't get anywhere?

Seiferle : No, he wrote a letter to one of his friends, late in his life, where he was still complaining about this. He said for instance that if "Lorca can be Andalusian, why can't I be Peruvian?"

Stone : Right. Absolutely.

Seiferle : I think, in fact, one of the ways in which his work has been misunderstood since is that most critics and scholars about his work prefer to connect him to European traditions rather than...

Stone : rather than to where he was from. Peru. I know it, it's so stupid. It's snobbery. Also insecurity on the part of the critics. They have to go back and make a connection. They have to make sure that they're going to be approved--the critic. To say what's backing them up. They can't be original. Seiferle : Are there any critics or writers in that realm of the literary world that you admire?

Stone : There's a young one, Roger Gilbert. I think he's very sharp. He teaches at Cornell and writes for the quarterlies, he's also interested in music. He's Sandra Gilbert's son. He's really really pretty learned. I like what he writes. It's very unusual, he's got originality in his approach and he's sharp, he's very sharp. He's never dull. Who do you like?

Seiferle : (pause, then laughs) Well, I can't think of anyone, of anyone that I'd run to read.

Stone : Well, Roger's unusual. He often gives those MLA talks but he's never dull. Never dull. I can't stand overblown language and all that. For years I paid no attention to most literary criticism, because it was posey. There are some people who can do it.

Seiferle : Have you ever had the desire to write criticism?

Stone : No, I don't think so. I've written a few book reviews but that's about it. I do it in my own, my private self, about things, I'm extremely, I tend to do it about anything I read, but getting it down on paper, I don't know. (laughs)

Seiferle : How do you feel about your teaching at this point?

Stone : Oh, you know, teaching, you may go at it in a more scholarly way, I don't know, but I am more apt to try and get students to read, to open their minds to everything out there that's going on around them, in the world, to listen to their own minds. Trying to get them to read and write.

Seiferle : Yes, that's exactly what I'm doing most of the time, trying to get them to read and write, especially to read.

Stone : They're not great readers. Which I think is...well, where's this language they're going to use if they're not going to read? The multitudes of styles that people present is so enriching. I mean I'm full of the styles of thousands of books. I don't deliberately imitate anyone, but, you know, it's all intertwined in me. If you don't read, it doesn't seem to me, well, I don't know how you can think if you don't read. Of course, I also try and encourage them to listen. I encourage them to listen everywhere, if they're just sitting in a cafe, or on a bus, to just listen to the language that's going on around them. To how people are saying things. I think listening, looking, reading, are all part of it. And not necessarily not part of the "boob tube." You know you get the same language, the same slappy, violent, cuckoo, noise from every program. There's very little difference from one program to another. . Maybe if you watched it all the time, you can see little differences. But that's the American language they're all getting. And it's a great deprivation. Noise is the main thing.

Seiferle : Are there particular writers you recommend?

Stone : Yes, you, and one year, we were reading Lucille Clifton, Stafford, Gerald Stern, Joy Harjo, and the students were reacting. Then there are always poetry readings to go to. Also, I like them to look at form. Even though they may not think they want to use it, it's interesting, it's lyric phrasing, and so forth. You probably do a great deal more.

Seiferle : No, actually, it sounds like we're on the same track. Just to get them to open the doors.

Stone : Oh, yes, I think so. To listen. The rhythm is, our heartbeat and our blood are all part of the rhythm.

Seiferle : I always tell them it's a great thing to be an eavesdropper.

Stone : That's it! I've told them to secretly listen to everything, other conversations. They don't have to tell. To get the sound of it, to get the gist of it, and how people talk. Isn't it wonderful? Are you an eavesdropper?

Seiferle : Yes. (both laugh).

Stone : Oh, me, too.

Seiferle : As the years have gone by, have you noticed more trouble with your students?

Stone : No, the only thing is they come less and less with books in them. They read less and less. Every year. Though there are always some who are heavy readers. I don't know--do I have more trouble. I don't know, do you think they're more trouble, that they come more troubled?

Seiferle : I think so in a way. At the community college where I teach, they've actually started faculty classes, to teach us how to deal with troubled students.

Stone : Yes, I've had suicidal students, they often have problems. I've had to be a therapist in my office often, that's no joke. They can talk to me, and be helped by it, often. And often they're grieving. They've lost their mother, their fathers, bad things have happened to them, their boyfriend has dumped them, you know. It's mothering, I guess.

Seiferle : Well, I've done that too. Sometimes I've wondered if being a poet doesn't in a way doesn't prepare you, or make you in a way, a therapist. And I remember when I used to ride buses, it was also a kind of confession. So many confessions.

Stone : Yes, oh yes, and when some of them discover that they can say things, it's wonderful. I do think poetry is healing, it surely is. I know I spent many years healing myself without even knowing it.

Seiferle : Do you feel that poetry is why you're alive?

Stone : Absolutely. My kids and the poetry, you bet. And a wonderful mother.

Seiferle : You know in Buddhism, they talk about spiritual practice. It's not so much a particular theology, as a practice. Do you think that poetry is such a spiritual practice?

Stone : Yes, I do. I always feel, I'm always aware, and I'm sure you are too, that we are part of all, we are part of this entire All, and I think that is what gives us the strength to say anything. We're not speaking out of this small thing that is ourselves. But we're part of the whole thing, we're one with it.

Seiferle : Yes, and I think that's really has that sense in it. For me, it's so alive, and, yet on the other hand, it's so uniquely what it is.

Stoner: You can't imagine hearing things like that from you, and I'm sure that it's the same way when you hear things like that from me about your work. It affirms. You know in a way, I'm not sorry that I'm not a star. You know in poetry, we see the star poets, we all know who they are, but I'm just as glad I'm not a star, because I don't know, it might get in the way of a lot of feelings. It might confuse me. I'm just as glad I'm obscure somewhat. That's part of being a woman, too, at my age, at any rate. One thing, it gives you...from where I am....the obscurity gives you more freedom. (long pause...) And I always think, I do think it's a gift from the universe. I really do. Our lives and our art. You know I always feel it's a gift from the universe.

All poems quoted are from Ordinary Words, copyright 1999, Ruth Stone, Paris Press, P.O.Box 487, Ashfield, MA 01330. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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