Author of PRIVATE KEEP OUT!
‘The funniest childrens’ book ever written’ - 
Lucy Mangan in The Guardian

Its a great privilege to be included in the list of Nottingham Unesco City of Literature Writers for Young Readers.

WELCOME

I have a poetry blog at gwengrantpoems.com
contact:   gwen@gwengrant.co.uk

last update  15 Oct /2019
 

PRIVATE- KEEP OUT!
now published by
PENGUIN VINTAGE CHILDREN’S CLASSIC

 

Ruth Stone

I was asked by WRITERS REVIEW to choose any book I wanted and review it. This was such a lovely request that, although I went to my bookshelves, dithering over other books, it was actually always going to be ‘What Love Comes To’ by the American poet, RUTH STONE. It’s a rare day I don’t read a Stone poem.  

This Review was picked up by Bloodaxe Books and reprinted on their website. Bloodaxe is a brilliant poetry magazine. The American cover, which is of Ruth Stone herself, is the cover Bloodaxe used and it can all be found here

‘WHAT LOVE COMES TO’ New and selected poems by RUTH STONE

The American poet, Ruth Stone, writes poems that shine with clarity, understanding and beauty, poems which  I absolutely love and admire for their finely balanced, rhythmic elegance. Stone is witty, wise and, at times, funny, but she can also be a very tricky customer, for she has this great gift of being able to change course mid-poem, so that what seems all set for plain and simple will, quietly, unexpectedly, lead into much darker waters.  It’s like being mugged by a feather. You do’nt know it’s happened until you reread a poem and find something new in it that you somehow missed before.  Every Stone poem is a journey into a new understanding for she is a force of nature, a poet in possession of her world and ours.

In SECOND-HAND COAT, she begins with two words then in the following twelve short lines, turns this poem about an old coat into a surreal story of how, once it is taken home, it begins to talk, asking solicitously if its new owner has everything they need before leaving the house, the distinct impression being that it is speaking in the voice of the woman who once owned it.  Alchemy of the highest order.

‘WHAT LOVE COMES TO’ is made up of new poems and poems selected from earlier books, witty, acerbic, hostile, elegiac, fierce poems, some political, some absorbed by science, some with rough sexual imagery, some deeply sensual and some so tender, you can hear the poet breathing, feel her heart beating. 

All Ruth Stone’s poems have such integrity, you trust her to tell it how it is, which is a tall order for a woman who was no stranger to tragedy.  Early in their marriage, Stone’s husband, Walter, killed himself, leaving her with three small girls to raise. She has said that all her poems are love poems written to a dead man, whose suicide forced her to live in limbo. Yet Stone keeps this compact of honesty between herself and the reader, sparing herself nothing and, therefore, sparing the reader nothing. In ‘TURN YOUR EYES AWAY’, so hard to read, so impossible to think of how hard it must have been to write, the Gendarme notifies her of the nature and death of the man she loved.

Each plain and unforgiving line of TURN YOUR EYES AWAY stonily taps into the next line, telling the bleak sorrow of how Walter died. Of what happened when they pushed the door to his room open, of where his dead feet lay, then going on remorselessly to where his tagged body lies in the morgue.  Then, almost before there is time to feel sadness for such suffering, Stone whirls around, remembering how they once lay together in a single bed, face to face, breath to breath, not wanting ever to part, that erotic love poem, the Song of Songs, lying open in the hotel’s Gideon Bible. 

It is through Ruth Stone’s absolute honesty and unflinching gaze in this poem as in all her poems, that in these last lines, we are able to feel the passion and sexual desire these two had for each other; a love that seems to shatter sorrow, swipe death out of the way and burn up the page with longing.

In ‘THE SPERM AND THE EGG’, another mid-course change poem, the egg hates the sperm and then the sperm hates the egg, wanting its tail back because then it was free. Dark waters here, for every reading throws up new thoughts.  It is Ruth Stone’s genius that this poem ends with an absolutely apposite quotation from Hamlet.  Then the lovely humour of SETTING TYPE, where the semi-colon, the paragraph, the vocabulary and good punctuation get it together.

Finally, from ‘THE WIDOW’S MUSE’, Poem XLII tells how the widow is triumphant having got through thirty years of widowhood, until her muse forces her to smell an old undershirt of Walter’s, which still retains his scent.  At this, the widow whimpers with grief whereupon the muse knocks all the sense out of her.  Harsh, hard and truthful.

 Ruth Stone, who died aged 96, in 2011.
© Gwen Grant  2019

When I am asked how I came to be a writer, I have to say that I don't know because I seem always to have been writing stories, or poems, or plays,  and not all of them for children. For instance, the ‘100 stories for Haitia’ book below is for young adults and older readers and a lot of my  poetry is for young adults and older readers, too. The first stories I wrote were for BBC radio and they were for the same age range.

I didn’t begin writing for children until I wrote a picture book, MATTHEW AND HIS MAGIC KITE and then when my own two sons went to Comprehensive school, I wanted them to know what life was like when I was a child, so I wrote ‘PRIVATE-KEEP OUT’ which is partly based on my own life.

As a child, I used to tell my sister bedtime stories - not always a good thing for her because I kept killing off her favourite characters - and, sadly, when I was sent to an Open Air School, (my second book, Knock and Wait is about that time in my life), which was a bit like a hospital and a school combined and I was given the job of telling  stories to the girls there, I did the very same thing and got into  terrible trouble.

Writing and reading have always been two of the most important and necessary things in my life.

 I always tell others who want to write how great that is and how they should not only write on their own but also get together with other  people who feel the same and have fun whilst they develop as a writer.

POETRY REVIEW AND BLOODAXE BOOKS

GWEN GRANT

WRITER