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Celebrating American She-Poets (2): Ruth Stone, 1915-2011

What-Love-Comes-To-by-Rut-001-1I first published this piece on Ruth Stone in 2013, but I love her poetry so much I had to include her early in this Thursday series of mine inspired by the work of poet Dilys Wood and the London-based Second Light Network of Women Poets (SLN), which Dilys founded. SLN encourages and supports the poetry of women, including those women with voices emerging in their third act. 

Poems clutter the landscape of my mind with bite-sized portions easily committed to memory, ready to be pulled out in a moment of need or want. I like to think of poetry as literary dim sum, which means “touch the heart.” And poems do spring themselves on me and touch the tender places. Depending on the poem and the poet, they may also tickle my funny bone, stimulate my intellect, or affirm some insight. In the art of living hugely, poetry is warp and weft.

Whether I am writing poetry or reading it, poetry gifts to me those blessed eureka moments, the moments when I understand myself or another, can put a name to the demons, or simply realize that I am not alone in my joy or sorrow. Think of W. H. Auden’s Funeral Blues and the simple line, “Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.”  I am getting older, approaching elderly, and though I am always making new friends, I’m of an age where I lose a friend or two each year. Bereft at the loss of someone precious and shocked that the earth hasn’t stood still, I think of this line and know that in this circumstance, everyone feels what I do . . .

. . . and all it takes is one disappointment in love to relate to Mad Girl’s Love Song by Silvia Plath, “I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed/And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane./(I think I made you up inside my head.)

Of the many poets I dearly love, I particularly appreciate Ruth Stone for her quality of giving things their true names and for the practicalities embedded in her poems. “Dear children,/You must try to say/Something when you are in need./Don’t confuse hunger with greed;/And don’t wait until you are dead.”

Ruth Stone was an American poet and poetry teacher born into an impoverished family at Roanoke, Virginia in 1915. She lived most of her life in rural Vermont, attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, won many awards for her poetry and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for her last collection, What Love Comes To: New & Selected Poems (2008). She was wry, bold, conversational, edgy, philosophical and used the language and imagery of the natural sciences to good effect.  Her second husband, the poet Walter Stone, committed suicide leaving her with three young children and an experience that indelibly etched itself on her life, heart and poetry. She once remarked that she spent the rest of her life writing to him.

Not Expecting an Answer

This tedious letter to you,
what is one Life to another?
We walk around inside our bags,
sucking it in, spewing it out.
Then the insects, swarms heavier
than all the animals of the world.
Then the flycatchers on the clothesline,
like seiners leaning from Flemish boats
when the seas were roiled with herring.
This long letter in my mind,
calligraphy, feathery asparagus.

When Ruth Stone won the Whiting Writers’ Award, she got plumbing for her house. When she received the Walter Cerf Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts at the National Book Awards, she said “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 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.”

Ruth Stone died in 2011 leaving behind thirteen collections of literary dim sum. This poem, which gave its name to a collection that I just purchased, is a new favorite.

In the Next Galaxy

Things will be different.
No one will lose their sight,
their hearing, their gallbladder.
It will be all Catskills with brand
new wrap-around verandas.
The idea of Hitler will not
have vibrated yet.
While back here,
they are still cleaning out
pockets of wrinkled
Nazis hiding in Argentina.
But in the next galaxy,
certain planets will have true
blue skies and drinking water.

In the scant two-minute video that follows, the writer Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) shares the revealing story of her meeting with Ruth Stone.

Ruth Stone, Amazon Page
Poems of Ruth Stone, World Poetry Database
Ruth Stone Obituary, New York Times
On Ruth Stone by Sharon Olds

© 2013, essay, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserve – This piece originally published in October 2013 on Plum Tree Books website

ARTEMISpoetry: remember, sift, weigh, estimate … total …

“And when is there time to remember, to sift, to weigh, to estimate, to total?” Tillie Olsen (1912-2007), American writer and first-generation American feminist


I never pick up my copy of Second Light Network’s 2006 anthology, Images of Womenor open the pages of its magazine, ARTEMISpoetry, without thinking of Tillie Olsen and her book, Silences.  Olsen, an intelligent and hugely talented woman, produced a rather modest opus by some estimates.

Ms. Olsen’s nonfiction book, Silences, was published “in 1978, an examination of the impediments that writers face because of sex, race or social class. Reviewing the book in The New York Times Book Review, Margaret Atwood attributed Ms. Olsen’s relatively small output to her full life as a wife and mother, a “grueling obstacle course” experienced by many writers.

[The book] “‘begins with an account, first drafted in 1962, of her own long, circumstantially enforced silence,’ Ms. Atwood wrote. ‘She did not write for a very simple reason: A day has 24 hours. For 20 years she had no time, no energy and none of the money that would have bought both.'” Julie Bosmen, Tillie Olsen, Feminist Writer, Dies at 94

Second Light is about just the opposite of silence. It’s about women getting a second chance to have their say. It offers older women of a certain generation and those women over forty coming up behind them a “room of their own,” if you will; a place to remember, sift, weigh, estimate and – perhaps – to total. (This is not to negate men or to deny that men are often also silenced by their circumstances, but that would be a subject for another day. Among other things, the heart aches for all the voices being silenced by wars and other violence, by starvation and by social and economic inequities.)


artemisIssue 12 of ARTEMISpoetry (May 2014) arrived as I was transitioning into senior digs and immediately took its place at the top of the stack of books and magazines waiting for calmer moments and a close read. Reading through the pages, it’s hard to say what is best or better because it’s all good from the featured poets and even to the ad on the back cover that offers a sample of two poems from Hilary Davies‘ poetry collection ImperiumEnitharmon Press.

It’s a difficult thing to pick just a few poems from the wealth of this issue, but here they are … you may chuckle at the first and dab at your tears when you read the other two. They are shared here with the generous permission of the poets and publisher.

The Substitute Sky

Each day we stare at screens,
a sly fluorescence, a not-quite sky
where swarms of data
aggregate and fly

while unseen cloud-and-sunlight
walks the grass, gold shoes
then grey, and aspen, oak,
the green-leaved spirits, pray.

Pilots of pixel storms
what do we bring? Less talk,
less laughter, less sun on our skins;
our lives on hold, our children wired in.

Core addiction, captive eyes.
Outside the real world breathes and dies.

– © Lynne Wycherley


In the shower you cling to me, your new grab-handle.
Ignoring my shakes, we both pretend you’re in safe hands.
Ninety years of fair usage, Mum, and your scrap of a body

is shrunken against a cage of chrome bars. Buttocks swing,
their skin an overhang of ragged sack; dugs hang
like empty toothpaste tubes; hip bones jut like garden stakes.

As if flicking a switch, before I can distance or disown them,
wartime images flash on my inner eye, a film-reel
of Pathe horrors. I feel the panic in your grip pinch

when I regulate the shower temperature, causing overflow.
I sense a warder’s buzz of control
knowing you are lost in a huddle of hurt and helplessness.

Though eager for the rush of water to relax your greying skin,
you’re fearful of falls, bruises, broken bones. Should you now
be fearful of me too? Frailty lays a hand on both of us,

each clutching at her hopes. Under the metallic power jets,
I scrub myself to clean my shame away and find the love that,
tight as a rosebud un-blossoming in winter, refused to flower today.

– © June Hall

‘Dear God, all the children can run except me’

Most children come out right. They come with all
their arms and legs, ten fingers and ten toes,
their brains wired up the ordinary way.
They go to Brownies and have sleepovers,
they learn piano, ballet and Tae Kwon Do,
they do the Duke of Edinburgh’s award.
No one avoids them, or their mothers
in the playground. When they grow up
they have good jobs, and partners
and get on the property ladder, climbing steadily.

But you were never most children, and
never will be, your whole life long
my damaged, precious boy,
my baton passed to the future, my fear, my joy.

– © Veronica Zundel


To my delight this issue featured  Myra Schneider’s The Real Mrs. Beeton HERE, speculating on the life of Isabella Beeton, the 19th century writer known as the first and “best” cookery writer. Mrs. Beeton wrote about more than cooking though and might be considered the Martha Stewart of her day. Her life, however, was nothing like the glamorous, wealthy and independent Ms. Stewart as you will see when you read the poem.

Further on, Anne Stewart asks:

Why do you take the dark path, knowing
its silences and hiding place?”
excerpt, Making for Home, which will post on The Bardo Group blog this Friday …

Anne handles some of the administration for Second Light, as well as being the administrator for the website. She also developed and maintains poetry p f for poets.Myra Schneider and Anne have been a great helpers, getting permissions to share the work of other poets here on The Poet by Day and on The Bardo Group blog and also sharing information, education and updates with me so that I might share with you. I appreciate these two women and Dilys Wood – the founder of Second Light – for their poetry and for their committment to encouraging other poets and the love of poetry. You can sample some of Anne’s work HERE, Dilys work HERE, and Myra’s work HERE.

Anne Stewart is an accomplished poet. Most recently her poem Snow snow more cold lonely snow won the 2014 Poetry on the Lake “Silver Wyverm” award. Her poem Tiger was long-listed for the Plough Prize. Grief’s Trick and This Stone are included in an upcoming anthology, Love and Loss edited by R. V. Bailey and June Hall.

There were two pieces by publisher, Adele Ward (Ward Wood Publishing). One on Pascale Petit, which I discuss HERE and another on Why Small Is Still Beautiful, which discusses the ins-and-outs of chapbooks from the poet and the publisher perspective. Myra Schneider examines The Rewards of Reading Poetry and there’s the second part to A C Clarke’Lies Like Truth, which is about “fictionalizing” real events. Kay Syrad discusses the radical landscape of poetry and Lavinia Singer the young woman-poet’s view of the poetry world. The issue rounds out as always with a a calendar of events and announcements of members’ new publications and latest awards … an altogether neat, stimulating and rewarding read. Recommended. 

© 2014, review, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Look Alive Ladies: Only ten more days to enter your poem in Second Light Network’s poetry competition

Originally posted on The Bardo Group blog.

Second Light Network Founder, Dilys Wood
Second Light Network Founder, Dilys Wood

SECOND LIGHT 20th ANNIVERSARY! The Bardo Group community extends to Second Light Network (women poets forty-years old or better) our best wishes, appreciation, and congratulations for its on-target focus, fine work and unrelenting commitment to poets, poetry, and to giving women in their third act a second chance. Special kudos to poet and founder, Dilys Wood, and all those who provide regular support to us here at The Bardo Group especially poets Myra Schneider who keeps us informed, provides us with wonderful poetry and instructive feature articles and Ann Stewart who so ably assists us with the details of coordination.

Jackie Kay (b. 1961), Scottish poet and novelist is the 2014 Second Light Network Long and Short poetry competion, photo by Slowking4 under CC A - Noncommercial Unported License
Jackie Kay (b. 1961), Scottish poet and novelist is judge for the 2014 Second Light Network Long and Short poetry competition, photo by Slowking4 under CC A – Noncommercial Unported License

SECOND LIGHT POETRY COMPETITION DEADLINE: TUESDAY 17th JUNE. Judge: Multi-award-winning JACKIE KAY. Long and Short Poems by Women. (‘Long’ = 50+ lines). 1st Prize £300 (in each category). More cash & book prizes + publication in ARTEMISpoetry + London reading. Enter by post or online.

Amongst Jackie Kay’s many poetry awards and prizes are the Forward, Saltire, Scottish Arts Council (for The Adoption Papers) and a shortlisting for Costa. She also writes award-winning fiction both for adults and children, and for stage and TV. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University. She was awarded an MBE in 2006, and made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002.

£300 First Prize for each of Long (no upper limit) and Short (max 50 lines) poems

£100 Second Prize (1 poem from either category)

£50 Third Prize (1 poem from either category)

Commended poets: book prizes

Winning & Commended Poets published (in full or extract) in ARTEMISpoetry

A reading will be organised for winners in London in Autumn 2014.

Entry: £6 each per long poem. Short poems: £4 each or £9 for 3, £14 for 8. Enter by post (2 copies) or online.

Complete details HERE. PLEASE NOTE THAT ALTHOUGH SECOND LIGHT NETWORK OF WOMEN POETS IS BASED IN ENGLAND, MEMBERSHIP IS OPEN WORLDWIDE AND SUBMISSIONS TO ARTEMISpoetry and to various anthologies and competitions are considered from women anywhere in the world. You do not need to be a member to submit your work to be considered for publication.

Photo credits ~ Dilys Wood © All rights reserved; Jackie Kay © All rights reserved

ARTEMISpoetry, Second Light Network of Women Poets, Poetry Communities

Please read my Disclosure HERE, particularly paragraphs four and five.

The Greek Goddess Artemis, call Diana by the Romans
The Greek Goddess Artemis, called Diana by the Romans

The mailbox is the most fun when it delivers literary delights: Poetry magazine, The Paris Review, The Hudson Review and a few others including ARTEMISpoetry, one that you may not have read much about except possibly in reading this blog over the years.

ARTEMIS, the well-chosen namesake of the magazine, is she of the hunt, of nature and birth. She is the moon goddess.

Artemis is an archetype for independence, courage, strength and confidence. Depicted with bow and arrow, she is a free spirit, both huntress and protector of wild animals. Not unlike Artemis are the free-spirited women poets who have the strength and courage, the independence and confidence, to shoot poetic arrows of intuition and insight. Speaking their hearts, they stir the wildness in our souls.

Among the many things that I like about ARTEMISpoetry is the idea behind the organization that birthed and publishes it, Second Light Network. Second Light was founded by English poet Dilys Wood as a movement to encourage and acknowledge a “second” start for older women who, without the responsibilities of their younger days, now have the time to devote to the craft of poetry. It gives women who were once almost invisible in the world of poetry …

        • a welcoming community of poets,
        • events at which to gather, learn and celebrate,
        • and a chance for professional publication of their work in their distinctly feminine voice in its magazine ARTEMISpoetry , on Second Light’s website and in its anthologies.

“The inspiration for Second Light was that vibrant, exciting work is absolutely not sex or age-related. Probably all serious editors and organisers know this, but some number-crunchers are obsessed with youth, trendiness, or any kind of gimic. There may be reverence for famous older poets, but the pattern of women’s lives may mean that a woman may be a ‘new poet’, just starting to publish, at any time up to old age.” Dilys Wood HERE in an article on this blog

English poet and Second Light Network Founder, Dilys Wood
English poet and Second Light Network Founder, Dilys Wood

Dilys Wood founded Second Light Network in 1994, which predates the birth in the late 90s of blogging and subsequently of social networking with their easy means to form communities of like interest. Blogs and other social networking technologies had to wait until the development of web publishing tools that facilitated online content publication by non-technical users. Through the gift of blogging we observe that there are many people of both genders that come home to their art – poetry or other arts – late in life, a second chance.

Blogging, however rewarding, doesn’t preclude off-line activities. Second Light Network is open to women all over the world, but is mainly active in England where it was founded and where the bulk of its members appear to reside. I’m guessing women in other countries would be welcome to start chapters, though you’d have to check with Second Light on that. I would start one here if I weren’t often home-bound and undependable due disability. Though my own poetry community is now largely an online adventure, I encourage other poets, women and men, to complement their online creative communities with off-line communities.

A reader of The Bardo Group blog who wishes to remain anonymous had this to say about such creative collectives:

“Prior creative and intellectual movements benefited greatly from geographic proximity. It wasn’t enough to be part of community, but that the community shared and debated some essential values and were in constant contact. The idea is that fervency, serendipity and discovery arise out of actual physical proximity.

“This is why artists still flock to cities. Despite the Internet, we still go to Mecca.

“Connecting technologies have always strengthened the bonds between people with like-minded interests (letter-writing, magazine letter columns, BBS, chatrooms, message boards, social networking, etc), fostering community. But, in the last 40 years, I haven’t seen technology yet truly replicate the creative synergy that occurs with physical proximity.”

1815_coversI find Second Light Network’s magazine, ARTEMISpoety, a welcome and refreshing read. While many of the poets included are fairly well know, the bulk of the work is by talented lesser-knows. I never have the feeling – as I do for example with American Poetry Review (APR) – that the work is largely (if not exclusively) about big names posturing for critics and marketing their classes and expensive university creative writing programs. Books are marketed through ARTEMISpoetry, but that’s fair, I think.

In addition to a wealth of poems and a dollop of original artwork, there is always an excellent interview or two. In the most recent issue (November 2013) Gillian Allnutt  was interviewed by Ruth O’Callaghan in a feature, Among the Already Occluded Worlds. There are thought provoking essays, like the one by Myra Schneider, published HERE as a post. There’s instruction on writing and the writing process. In the November 2013 issue Jill Eulalie Dawson showed the evolution of her poem Owl, a good lesson for those who don’t know what to do with their first draft or wonder how other people move through the development of a poem.

I find much to admire in the enterprise of the ladies of Second Light and much to value in their magazine and in their support of other women poets.  The ideals are real.

© 2014, essay, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Photo credits ~ Artemis, in the public domain; Dilys, © Dilys Wood, All rights reserved; magazine covers © Second Light Network/ARTEMISpoetry, All rights reserved