Late Poet Laureate Ruth Stone's Goshen home is coming back to life
GOSHEN — Hathaway Road is straight and dirt, passing homesteads nestled up against the Green Mountain National Forest in Goshen. A beautiful meadow opens up, Mount Horrid above. The road continues and the forest closes back in around it and there it is on the left, the Ruth Stone House.
Prior to her death on Nov. 19, 2011, at the age of 96, it was not The Ruth Stone House, refuge of the former Vermont Poet Laureate; it was simply Ruth Stone’s house. And more than that, it was Stone’s home, her architectural soul, her muse.
Stone was a writer who made her living as a poet when women artists were not given the same credence as men. She spent almost 50 years nurturing her art and the art of others in the house on Hathaway Road.
Now, her grandchildren and Vermont’s current poet laureate are working in trust to rescue the property from the ravages of time and neglect to create a space Ruth would appreciate: A writer’s retreat and creative space celebrating the poet’s legacy.
Wet snow flurries fell at the house during a recent visit where granddaughter Bianca Stone, Bianca’s husband Ben Pease and carpenter Mike Quesnel were working to button up the house for winter.
Bianca, 32, is eight months pregnant with the couple’s first child, the top buttons of a woolen pea coat fastened above her belly, her breath visible in the raw November air.
“It had always been a thing in my family, where writers would come up here and spend a period of time,” she said. “Even if they weren’t poets, Grandma would make people write poems and read them, like a salon.”
After Ruth’s death, Bianca, her cousin Nora Swan and Vermont Poet Laureate Chard deNiord were named trustees of the estate. They created The Ruth Stone Foundation with the goal of giving poets and artists the time, space, and opportunity to create new work and share it with a wider audience through the foundation’s small-press publishing house, the Next Galaxy Poetry Initiative. The goal is for Ruth’s house to serve as a retreat with a small museum and the foundation’s headquarters.
But the house was literally falling apart and needed thousands of dollars in renovations in order to be habitable. Half of the first floor has been taken back to the studs and there is a new concrete foundation under two-thirds of the house.
And while much more work lies ahead, some of the most difficult and painstaking effort has already been spent on going through room after room of Stone’s papers, books, manuscripts and mementos, which were all strewn together and starting to mold.
It was a big job that began more than two years ago; Bianca and Ben were working remotely from their home in New York City and spending weekends at the house. But last spring, they realized that if their goal was going to be realized, they would have to move to Vermont full-time.
Bianca is a poet and artist, and personal assistant to renowned poet Sharon Olds in New York. Ben taught English at ASA College in Brooklyn.
“We got to a certain point where we couldn’t do much more, and we knew if we were really committed to this, we’d have to leave New York,” Bianca said. “It was really hard, but it was important.”
Bianca and Ben spent the summer living in a fifth-wheel camper in the backyard of Ruth’s house. Now that winter is almost here, they have taken an apartment in Middlebury.
Ruth Stone was born in Roanoke, Va., in 1915 and attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She and her late husband, Professor Walter Stone, bought the house on Hathaway Road in 1952. The couple had three daughters, Phoebe, Abigail and Marsha. In 1959, Walter committed suicide and Ruth raised her three girls alone in the house. She never remarried.
Ruth received recognition for her work relatively late in life with the publication of the poetry collection “Ordinary Words” in 1999. The book won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was soon followed by other award-winning collections, including “In the Next Galaxy” (2002), winner of the National Book Award; “In the Dark” (2004); and “What Love Comes To: New & Selected Poems” (2008), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Ruth’s other honors and awards include two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Bess Hokin Prize, the Wallace Stevens Award, the Shelley Memorial Award, and the Walter Cerf Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts. Her acceptance speech for the National Book Awards illustrates both her devotion to poetry and her humility:
“I’ve been writing poetry or whatever it is since I was five or six years old, and I couldn’t stop, I never could stop. I don’t know why I did it … It was like a stream that went along beside me, you know, my life went along here, and I got married and had three kids and did all the things you have to do, and all along the time this stream was going along. And I really didn’t know what it was saying. It just talked to me, and I wrote it down. So I can’t even take much credit for it.”
TIME AND MONEY
Bianca, Ben and their fellow trustees have raised over $50,000 so far to renovate the house, which is at least what it will cost to, in Bianca’s words, “make it livable.” Additional donations to the non-profit will go toward the Ruth Stone Foundation for programming, publishing and maintaining the house as a writers retreat and creative space.
“Grandma really wanted to leave this place for writers and the community to make sure it continued on as a haven for writers to come and do their work,” Bianca said.
In an essay published online by vidaweb.org, Bianca succeeds in encapsulating just what Ruth’s house means to her, but also its significance to the perfect stranger:
“Its not just a house that someone lived in. Not just the structure. It’s an entity. It’s a shell of a human life. A ghost we can touch.
“It’s a ghost that has been lovingly touched, particularly over the last three years, thanks to a vigorous fundraising campaign and the help of many volunteers.
“Why work so hard to rebuild such an old, broken down house? What does it matter?” Bianca wrote in her essay. “It matters because that soul that made up Ruth Stone was one that comes once in a lifetime. And its residue is still all over that land, in those houses. Because if we can’t honor, hold up, and continue that complex genius of her art, which she spread wide to include everyone around it, then what is the point of being an artist? Being alive? If we can’t follow through with our dream that we know are the right thing to do, then why do anything at all?
“If there are women that come before us, who overcame obstacles merely by staying true to their art, their passion, then it is up to those of us who benefit from their work to continue it.”
To make a donation to the Ruth Stone Foundation, visit http://tinyurl.com/jnozk9m or visit The Ruth Stone Foundation on Facebook for additional contact information.