light & leaves


This was the night when the heart was broken,
When stars collided and fell into gardens,
Fell into dark streets and lamplit highways,
Into houses with slammed doors and rooms
Full of emptiness,
Where shadows walked in perfect safety
With no-one there to tread on them.

Outside, the yellow light from the tall street lamp
Threw gold over the green bushes and leaves,
Over the leaves dripping greenness into the darkness.
And search as you might,
No spilt blood could be found on the ground.
Spilt only in the heart of the discontinued Lover.

Who whispered and sighed,
Lamented and cried,
At how suddenly everything was lost and broken.
Perfectly willing to grieve for ever.
Wake up!  Look at the calendar.
Your play day will soon be over.
Madness to waste the eyes, the heart, that willing body,
For what is now a shimmering chimera.

Better to see how even the darkest leaf is etched with gold.

Just get going.

                                                © Gwen Grant


ruth stone

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: https://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/product/what-love-comes-936.

 ‘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 don’t 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















                           THE CORNFIELDS AT PRAYER

So the long cool night begins
And through the quiet darkness
I thought I heard the corn stalks talk
Of all the whispered night-time prayers
Drifting over the fields,
Setting the corn to its own prayer whispering.

Then I heard the corn stalks talk
Of all the little living prayers.
The lovely hares leaping
And the small creatures seeking
The bread of life in the earth beneath them,
And quiet lovers walking the poppied grasses,
Breathing promises and prayers
Into the listening darkness.

I know I heard the corn stalks talk
Of the old traditions of hay-making and stooking,
Of sowing and reaping,
Of the laughter of bare armed innocents driven to distraction
By those thin shining spears prickling and stippling,
Until they almost longed to leave
The praying cornfields whispering.

I expect, though, that the corn stalks talk
Of different things
On the bleak plains of grief, for instance,
Or on the long shades of despair,
Taking for their own the bone bare prayer
Of the suffering heart bleeding into the suffering air.
All is loss and lamentation,
Until they sing of a strong and eternal love
That is forever sowing and forever reaping
Love at the beginning and love at the ending.
So the prayers of the world are heard
In the whispering cornfields prayer.

                             © GWEN GRANT




This little seahorse,
Stitched to the linen
In my fingers,
With gold thread, silver, and a blue
So deep,
It promises unassailable peace. 

This tiny creature,
Delicate as kindness,
Moves through the darkest water,
Holding on to the hope
Of the next sunlit morning. 

Its fragile strength
Defeating the stormiest sea. 

                               © Gwen Grant




There they are,
Sheaves of hay lying in the fields
Like golden Lovers,
Waiting for sunrise,
Waiting for the sun’s warmth
To cradle their tired heads.
Make soft shadows of eyelashes
Lying quiet against their faces. 

Don’t wake them,
Let them rest.
For over the thorn hedge
In the next field waiting,
Winter lies on his elbow,
Frosty fingers all set
To kill summer stone dead.

Here comes the sun.
Time enough now to shake their shoulders
Before the frost gets close enough to touch them.

Hold hands, Lovers.
Hold hands and run.

                                                    © Gwen Grant