BY MAT CLOUSER
GOSHEN — The shadow of Mt. Horrid may not seem the likeliest place to go in search of lyrical elegance and timeless profundity. Still, despite the pessimistic name-giving tendencies of our puritanical predecessors, many who spend time on Hathaway Road in Goshen have found just that.
Located 20 minutes south of the well-kept literary ballyhoo of Breadloaf, beyond the specter of Robert Frost, is the former home of a lesser-known but no less astonishing poet. Ruth Stone, who won the National Book Award in 2002 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2004, lived at 788 Hathaway Road from 1959 until she died in 2011. She wrote many of her finest poems there, including “Green Apples,” which appears on a historical plaque in front of the rundown-but-ever-resurgent house.
The Ruth Stone House (RSH), was formed in 2013 to celebrate Stone’s legacy, preserve the home where so many important works were created, and fulfill Stone’s desire that her work and home be used to further poetry and the creative arts.
The folks running RSH are acclaimed poets, artists, musicians, and publishers in their own right. They also know a thing or two about Ruth. Among them are two of her grandchildren, Bianca and Walter Stone, who serve respectively, as the creative director and program director, and Bianca’s husband, Ben Pease, who serves as RSH’s executive director.
Today, RSH publishes the literary and arts journal Iterant, hosts in-person and online events and classes, records a podcast, hosts a free weekly workshop open to the public, and publishes meticulously made books and broadsides on a mammoth vintage letterpress machine that once belonged to Ruth.
“Ruth bought it in the 70s, I believe,” said Bianca after a recent ‘Beer & Broadside’ event that brought visiting poets—Meghann Boltz, Marisa Crawford, Ben Fama, and Matt L. Roar—and local poets together for a poetry reading, conversation, and the printing of one of Roar’s poems to benefit RSH.
“There were always a lot of artists hanging around, and they made books and woodcut images with it,” Bianca continued. “It sat unused in my lifetime, until now.”
It’s somewhat surprising that such a massive achievement lies hidden away in the mountains of Goshen. There is the sneaking sense that something more should be known or done. There is irony and perfection in that, given the scale at which a poet must operate. And so, the place, like the poet, is a contradiction.
Stone’s poetry is a swoon-worthy junket along the interstitial roads of human experience and produces a cult-like intensity among her readers. The mere mention of her name can produce orgiastic eye rolls, awe-induced speechlessness, strings of joyful expletives, and amorous shortness of breath.
But Stone’s life was not only about beauty. She moved to Goshen in the wake of her husband’s suicide. She was unshrinking in how she wrote of the inevitable pains and unexpected tragedies of life. Her poems can render their readers into pools of oblivion and grief just as quickly as they may raise their pulse.
That legacy affects RSH’s ongoing mission in two distinct ways. “First, we love sharing her life and work with those who visit the house or take part in classes or programming,” said Pease. “It is an important life story and body of work that has inspired us and continues to inspire others.”
“Secondly,” he continued, “we are affected by Ruth’s equal parts welcoming, independent, and uncompromising way of being as we do our own work. We try to embody these characteristics ourselves as we encourage others to do the same.”
Visitors to RSH events held at the house will find themselves in a liminal state filled with the ephemera of a great poet’s complicated, rugged, and ultimately inspiriting life. But it’s not only a place that’s filled with ghosts.
At a recent event, one of Stone’s great-grandchildren ran through the house, whispering to the adults as she handed them drawings she’d made over one of RSH’s broadsides with a quote from another luminary poet, Sharon Olds, which read: “I am doing something I learned early to do, I am/paying attention to small beauties,/ whatever I have—as if it were our duty to/find things to love, to bind ourselves to this world.”
In August we carried the old horsehair mattress
To the back porch
And slept with our children in a row.
The wind came up the mountain into the orchard
Telling me something;
Saying something urgent.
I was happy.
The green apples fell on the sloping roof
And rattled down.
The wind was shaking me all night long;
Shaking me in my sleep
Like a definition of love,
Saying, this is the moment,
*Reprinted with the permission of the Ruth Stone House. All rights reserved.