By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY â€” Some people spend hours agonizing over pen and paper in their efforts to create memorable and meaningful prose and verse.
But itâ€™s always come naturally to Ruth Stone â€” and sometimes at the most inopportune times.
â€œI remember when I was young, Iâ€™d be out playing and I would hear a poem way off â€” like it was way off in the universe, like it was coming toward me,â€? Stone said. â€œIâ€™d rush in the house to see if I could get to pen and paper and write it down. If I couldnâ€™t, it would go right through me and be lost forever. It was very weird.â€?
Weird, but the results are undeniable. At the age of 92, Stone, who divides her time between Goshen and Middlebury, continues to channel her seemingly boundless creative energy into poetry that has filled the pages of nine books and earned her numerous state and national awards. Her most recent accolade is being named Vermontâ€™s State Poet by Gov. James Douglas, a fellow Middlebury resident.
â€œI am very pleased,â€? Stone said of the honor, which will be celebrated at a ceremony set for Thursday, July 26, at the Vermont Statehouse. â€œThe governor called and told me about it. He was really sweet.â€?
While her age wonâ€™t allow her to be an active arts emissary, Stone will proudly wear the mantle of State Poet for the next three years.
â€œIâ€™ll probably speak at some schools,â€? said Stone, who has dedicated a large part of her long life to academia. She served for many years as Bartle professor of English at Binghamton University â€” teaching well into her 80s â€” and previously taught at the universities of Wisconsin, Indiana and California, as well as at Harvard.
As a teacher, sheâ€™s tried to show students how to harness any writing talent they may possess.
â€œYou can encourage (writing), but you canâ€™t teach it; it has to come from the person,â€? Stone said. â€œIt has to well up out of them.â€?
Itâ€™s a talent that has welled out of Stone as long as she can remember.
Indeed, many of Stoneâ€™s poems seem to flow from her in a virtual stream of consciousness. Capturing it has been the hard part.
â€œIâ€™ve lost 99 percent of what Iâ€™ve created because I didnâ€™t get it down and itâ€™s gone out the window,â€? Stone said.
Sheâ€™s tried to keep a pen and pad of paper handy, but that hasnâ€™t always worked out.
â€œThe worst time is driving a car,â€? Stone said. â€œYouâ€™ve got your mind on things and thatâ€™s when stuff would come pouring at you. Iâ€™ve often been driving and writing, and sometimes have had to pull off the road. Iâ€™ve had the police come and stop me and say â€˜what are you doing,â€™ and had to tell them, â€˜Iâ€™m writing a poem.â€™â€?
Stone had to stop driving during her late eighties after losing much of her eyesight. She is also hard of hearing, but her mind remains very sharp â€” even if her memory betrays her from time to time.
Only minutes after struggling to remember the name of her longtime employer, Binghamton University, she smiles broadly and somehow conjures up one of her favorite works from the depths of her soul. It is a poem about being the mother of three daughters who are anxious to grow up and find their way in the world. She has made the poem, â€œI Have Three Daughters,â€? into a song.
She recites three stanzas, including:
â€œI have three daughters,
like three cherries,
they sat at the window
the boys to please
and they couldnâ€™t wait
for their mother to grow old
why doesnâ€™t our motherâ€™s brown hair turn to snow?â€?
Stone chuckles, noting that â€œMy Three Daughtersâ€? wouldâ€™ve been lost if one of her own three daughters hadnâ€™t had a tape recorder to immortalize the poem. Two of her daughters â€” Abigail and Phoebe â€” have followed her footsteps into the artistic world. Her daughter Marcia Croll was a longtime guidance counselor.
Stoneâ€™s many works have covered a variety of subjects, including the universe, Goshen, relationships and nature. Her poetry also offers little vignettes of the many people she has either viewed closely or from afar.
There was a time when her late husband was the focus of many of her writings. Those writings, she said, were the product of a bittersweet exercise to heal her own mourning soul after his death.
â€œI didnâ€™t enjoy writing it,â€? Stone said. â€œBecause of my grief â€” I tried not to. It has been a big subject.â€?
Once sheâ€™s done with a poem, sheâ€™s ready to move on.
â€œI never think about what Iâ€™ve written later on, especially if itâ€™s been published â€” I never even think about it again unless I have to read it,â€? Stone said.
Truth be told, poetry isnâ€™t even Stoneâ€™s primary interest.
â€œIâ€™m really more interested in science; I always have been,â€? Stone said. â€œPoetry â€” I donâ€™t know where it comes from.â€?
She may not know where it comes from, but it keeps coming. Her tenth book, entitled â€œWhat Love Comes To,â€? will soon be published by Copper Canyon. It will feature new work and selected poems from her other books.
As long as she can still find a pen and notebook, Stone will keep writing.
â€œItâ€™s not a plan,â€? Stone said. â€œItâ€™s like, â€˜are you going to breathe?â€™ Itâ€™s your response to life.â€?