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Visual Poetry at the Savoy

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Ruth Stone in 1977. Photo by David Carlson.

On Jan. 20, the Savoy Theater will host Norwich filmmaker Nora Jacobson for a post-screening Q & A on her new documentary “Ruth Stone and the Vast Library of the Female Mind.” Jacobson will be joined by her two collaborators, Vermont poets Chard deNiord and Bianca Stone. This lyrical documentary showcases the hard-won wisdom and irrepressible creativity that infuses Ruth Stone’s work. It is an intimate and revealing portrait of an earthy, elegant woman — a bold poet through and through.

DeNiord introduced Jacobson to Stone in 2009. He was working on a collection of interviews with elder poets, which would become the book “Sad Friends, Drowned Lovers, Stapled Songs: Conversations and Reflections on 20th Century American Poetry.” He hired Jacobson to film and help lead his interview with Stone, the poet laureate of Vermont at the time. That set of interviews became the basis of her documentary, 12 years in the making.

In those interviews, Jacobson captures beautiful moments with the nonagenarian Stone, no longer able to read because of macular degeneration but recalling many of her poems. Stone is surrounded by three of her adult granddaughters — Hillery, Nora, and Bianca — the four women recite Stone’s work in unison, relishing each line like a matrilineal birthright. 

Stone passed away two years later, in 2011. Her family became integral to Jacobson telling Stone’s story. The film weaves together a tapestry of interviews with friends, family, and colleagues, archival footage from poetry readings, and clips from Sidney Wolinsky’s short 1973 film about Stone, “The Excuse.” Stone’s granddaughter Bianca occupies a central role in the film, contributing animation and music and providing a framework for understanding Stone’s legacy. 

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In 2013, the Ruth Stone House was established, a nonprofit foundation spearheaded by Bianca, her husband Benjamin Pease, deNiord, and Stone’s other grandchildren Nora Swan Croll and Walter Stone. The mission of the Ruth Stone House, according to the website, is to preserve Stone’s “physical and literary estate,” which has included renovating Stone’s beloved home in Goshen and using it to further poetry and the creative arts.

Before renovating, Bianca led Jacobson and her camera on a tour of the cluttered old farmhouse — what deNiord, borrowing a phrase from Stone’s poem “Male Gorillas” — calls  “the vast library of the female mind.” Room by room, Jacobson explores entangled corridors of Stone’s life, from long-lasting poverty — picking up teaching residencies and visiting lectureships when she could — to her eternal widowhood, always grieving her husband Walter, who died in 1959 but whose indelible absence never leaves her work.

The Ruth Stone House boasts classes, workshops, a letterpress, and an online magazine, “Itinerant.” In 2020, Copper Canyon Press published “The Essential Ruth Stone,” edited by Bianca. Now, Jacobson adds her cinematic contribution to Stone’s legacy. 

“Ruth Stone and the Vast Library of the Female Mind” plays at the Savoy Theater Jan.  20 through Jan. 27.

Travis Weedon is a programmer at the Savoy Theater and the festival director for White River Indie Films.