September 17, 2008

Reviewed by Gilbert Purdy

by Ruth Stone

Copper Canyon Press
PO Box 271
Building 313
Fort Worden State Park
Port Townsend WA 98368
ISBN 1-55659-271-3
2008, 383 pp., $32.00 cloth

The Belle of Goshen

The first letters of the lines of Ruth Stone’s poem “Acrostic” spell “Walter Stone PhD.” The lines begun by those letters compose one of 68 new poems that appear in What Love Comes To: New and Selected Poems. Those 68 poems are quite enough to compose a healthy volume in themselves and a notable largesse compared to the mere handful of new poems generally provided in the “New and Selected” format in recent times. In fact, they are designated, after the same fashion as the previous volumes, as Stone’s most recent: What Love Comes To (2008).

Ruth Stone’s late husband, Walter, an associate professor at Vassar College, hanged himself on March 11, 1959. He was in England at the time. In the bluntly prosaic words of David Slavitt’s “Elegy to Walter Stone”:

In London, on a grant
to study Renaissance eschatology,
the late professor and poet, Walter Stone,
committed suicide:… (1)

Walter left Ruth and three young daughters behind to go on without his person or paycheck.

Ruth herself would have a great deal to say, in her own poems, about the life and death of the husband with whom she has never stopped living to this day. In the poem “Coffee and Sweet Rolls,” selected from the volume Simplicity (1995), she revels in the forbidden, bohemian nature of their early love:

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