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Ruth Stone

08/02/07 7:55AM By Jay Parini

(HOST) Commentator Jay Parini thinks that Ruth Stone is a good choice for Vermont's new State Poet.

(PARINI) At the end of his long poem called "New Hampshire," Robert Frost writes: "At present I am living in Vermont."

Vermont has always been a place for poets, and this remains true. Among the best of them is Ruth Stone.

I was delighted to hear that recently she was appointed to the official post of Vermont State Poet. It’s an honorary position, of course, but it carries an auspicious legacy of names. Robert Frost himself held the post for many years, and after his death the position seems to have disappeared. Governor Madeline Kunin revived the job in 1988, and the marvelous Galway Kinnell stepped into the role. Every four years since a new poet has taken on the mantel, and it has fallen successively to Louise Glück, Ellen Bryant Voigt, and Grace Paley -- all poets whose work I admire. Stone seems the obvious and right choice to continue this line.

At 92, she has lived a long and fruitful life, and devoted herself to the art of poetry as well as to raising children and teaching. And she has been a vivid presence in Vermont since first arriving in Goshen in 1957. She bought a summer home here that year, and it has remained home for her large circle of family and friends. More recently, reporters have flocked to her door as well, eager to find out about her life and work.

In many ways, Stone has been one of the great secrets of American poetry; although she has regularly published books since her first volume, In the Iridescent Time, appeared in 1959, she has only slowly over many decades acquired a readership. That readership has blossomed in past decades, as Stone has published a lively sequence of books that reveals a poet of warm surfaces but chilly depths. These volumes have attracted a new generation of readers to her work.

One has to wonder what the Vermont State Poet does exactly. Sometimes, I believe, they visit schools and libraries. In general, they simply stand in for poetry, an earthly embodiment of the art -- again, in the tradition of Robert Frost, who more than anyone embodied the art of poetry for America in the twentieth century.

In a recent poem called "In the Next Galaxy," Stone writes that "Things will be different. / No one will lose their sight, / their hearing, their gall bladder." Anyone who has read her recent work will know that Ruth Stone has lost nothing of her ability to see and hear the music of what happens, to see the lines in the face of a world she has observed so closely for so long. Her many books speak of a long residence in Vermont and her intimate sense of nature in these parts. She writes about birds and animals, about the mountains and sky, and about the losses, little and large, that afflict us all. In doing so, she makes us all see a little more clearly, and hear a little more keenly.

Jay Parini is a poet, novelist and biographer who teaches at Middlebury College.

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