In Ruth Stone’s Vast Library of the Female Mind, filmmaker Nora Jacobson transports us into the world of Ruth, a poet whose life and work were marked by womanhood, poverty, and tragedy. But don’t let that description fool you - Stone’s candid demeanor and sense of humor made even the darkest topics not only approachable, but an utter joy to behold. The film will be available for streaming worldwide on Saturday, January 29 through the New Jersey Film Festival.
The entirety of this film is centered around the life and times of Ruth, a considerably well-documented poet despite the fact that she never found true commercial success. Those who knew her loved her, and for many, she acted as the gravitational force of her very own, peculiar solar system. To piece together the puzzle that was Ruth Stone’s revered existence, Jacobson employs Stone’s three daughters, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, fellow writers, former students, and old friends.
Ruth’s loved ones take us to her home in Goshen, Vermont, where she wrote, hosted writers' retreats, and raised her family. The house is a time capsule, withered and well-loved, and Jacobson expertly pieces together Ruth’s presence there through footage spanning many decades. Jacobson uses footage from Sidney Wolinski, a former student of Ruth’s who filmed a project about her at the beloved Goshen home in 1973. In it, a youthful Ruth reads her poetry, sings her songs, and hosts other creatives. The old footage captures a delicious slice of the poet’s life, and her presence onscreen fills the room as you watch.
The film progresses and we see the impact of time, and it’s clear that Ruth is a consistent being; her family is still extraordinarily close, she still has her hair in a messy sort of pinned back nest, and she still recites her poetry as if she had just written it. Jacobson does a beautiful job of connecting these different moments of Ruth’s recitations into one continuous flow, aging her forward and backwards, all within the same timeless poems. In many instances, Ruth’s family joins in her recitations, displaying not only a strong sense of the art that runs through the veins of this matriarchal family, but a sense of reverence for Ruth and her work.
The reverence was especially evident in Ruth’s relationship with her granddaughter, Bianca. Bianca is a poet and visual artist herself, and is often portrayed at her grandmother’s side physically, and spiritually by remaining at the house in Goshen where Ruth was laid to rest. Bianca plays a special role in this film not only because she has determined the future of the Goshen house by turning it into a writers’ retreat, but because she created animations for it. Her artwork is striking and personal, and makes for a wonderful transitional and contextual tool.
In a continued exploration of Ruth’s work and family, we learn of the great tragedy of her husband’s suicide. Although he died in 1959, the widow’s poetry displayed a raw, continuous grieving process, and the dark mark left in his wake transcended generations of Ruth’s family. Much of her work was a reference to his death, and the poetry the film shares about this subject is impactful, making grief and the grab bag of emotions that come with it entirely accessible to even the most untrained eye.
And that is the beauty of Ruth Stone: her work is excellent, comparable to that of the renowned greats, while being in a league entirely its own. She went largely unrecognized, unrelenting to the powers of a male-dominated field, and still managed to leave an incalculable mark on the world. As Sharon Olds puts it, people who aren’t necessarily educated in poetry can understand her poems, and that is a rare and special mastery that many seek and few find.
Although Ruth passed away in 2011, her life and presence in the film is palpable, carried to us through soundwives and pixels, and an outpouring of love and poetry. This film does the vital job of chronicling the life of a poet whose work was not for celebrity, but for the fulfillment of her own muses, giving us a fond introduction to Ruth Stone. So follow Nora Jacobson on the winding back roads to Goshen, and don’t forget to thank me when you get there.
Watch Ruth Stone’s Vast Library of the Female Mind on Saturday, January 29 through the New Jersey Film Festival. To buy tickets to see it click here.
The New Jersey Film Festival Spring 2022 will be taking place on select Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays between January 28 and February 20, 2022. As a result of COVID our Festival will be a virtual one again this Spring. All the films will be available virtually via Video on Demand for 24 hours on their show date. More info is available here: https://newjerseyfilmfestivalspring2022.eventive.org/welcome