Ruth Stone has always eschewed self-promotion and, in the words of Leslie Fiedler, "has never been a member of any school or clique or gaggle of mutual admirers." But her poems speak so vibrantly for her that she cannot be ignored.
In her preface to this volume, Sandra M. Gilbert declares that Stone’ s "intense attention to the ordinary transforms it into (or reveals it as) the extraordinary. Her passionate verses evoke impassioned responses." At the same time, Gilbert continues, the essays collected here "consistently testify to Stone’ s radical unworldliness, in particular her insouciant contempt for the ‘ floor walkers and straw bosses’ who sometimes seem to control the poetry ‘ factory’ both inside and outside the university."
Wendy Barker and Sandra Gilbert have organized the book into three sections: "Knowing Ruth Stone," "A Life of Art," and "Reading Ruth Stone." In "Knowing Ruth Stone," writers of different generations who have known the poet over the years provide memoirs. Noting Stone’ s singularity, Fiedler points out that "she resists all labels" and is "one of the few contemporaries whom it is possible to think of simply as a ‘ poet.’ " Sharon Olds defines her vitality ("A Ruth Stone poem feels alive in the hands"), and Jan Freeman praises her aesthetic intensity ("Everything in the life of Ruth Stone is integrated with poetry").
"A Life of Art" sketches the outlines of Stone’ s career and traces her evolution as a poet. Barker and Norman Friedman, for example, trace her development from the "high spirits and elegant craft" of her first volume— In an Iridescent Time— through the "deepening shadows," "poignant wit," and "bittersweet meditations" of her later work. In interviews separated by decades (one in the 1970s and one in the 1990s), Sandra Gilbert and Robert Bradley discuss with Stone her own sense of her aesthetic origins and literary growth.
"Reading Ruth Stone" is an examination of Stone’ s key themes and modes. Diane Wakoski and Diana O’ Hehir focus on the tragicomic vision that colors much of her work; Kevin Clark and Elyse Blankley explore the political aspects of her poetry; Roger Gilbert analyzes her "often uncannily astute insights into the ‘ otherness’ of other lives"; Janet Lowery and Kandace Brill Lombart draw on the biographical background of Stone’ s "grief work"; and Sandra Gilbert studies her caritas, her empathic love that redeems pain.