Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Rob Jacques
Dear Editor,

I was dismayed to read Michael Robbins’s dismissive review of Ruth Stone’s excellent What Love Comes To: New & Selected Poems [December 2008]. Robbins quotes Randall Jarrell, “to have failed as an artist may be a respectable and valuable thing,” thus implying Stone is a failed artist, notwithstanding Robbins’s tepid comment that someone who has published twelve books of poetry can hardly be judged a failure. In context, the quotation from Jarrell’s essay, “The Age of Criticism,” wryly chides critics who wear the authority of their subjects’ greatness before they themselves have attempted artistic endeavors.

As to the quality of Stone’s poetry, I believe the body of her work is quite high, and I hope Poetry readers will not be put off by Robbins’s peculiar reading of a few of her lines. He has a stodgy take on grammar, too, pointing out a supposed grammatical lapse with his snide comment, “I suppose it’s too late to complain that ‘data’ is a plural noun.” Yes, it is too late. “Data” is a plural noun, but for quite some time it has been widely used and accepted in singular construction.

Robbins also questions the syntax of Stone’s “At the counter the male chorus line / is lined up tight.” He asks, “is there any excuse for writing that allows a ‘line’ to be ‘lined up’?” Yes, there is. Without it, we’d lose the delicious hint of these men being “up tight.” By way of encouraging readers to explore the work of one of America’s truly great poets, let me close with a gem from the Copper Canyon collection, “Mantra”:
When I am sad
I sing remembering
the redwing blackbird’s clack.
Then I want no thing
except to turn time back
to what I had
before love made me sad.
When I forget to weep,
I hear the peeping tree toads
creeping up the bark.
Love lies asleep
and dreams that everything
is in its golden net;
and I am caught there, too,
when I forget.

Bainbridge Island, Washington

Originally Published: January 30, 2009

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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