ORDINARY WORDS By Ruth Stone Consortium Books 74 pp., $19.95
'Ordinary Words" is not only the title of Ruth Stone's newest collection, it is almost her poetic credo.
Stone, who won this year's National Book Critics Circle Award, uses ordinary language to breathe life and depth into ordinary relationships. Her poems are peopled by family and lost loves, even strangers she watches in McDonald's. The work is grounded in mundane, earthy moments. But in her hands, the ordinary becomes hauntingly moving.
Stone brings to all her subjects - whether she's writing about loneliness or the environment - a keen eye and an understated compassion. Even the saddest and silliest dramas are worthy of her rapt attention. But it is her skill with words and images that allows readers to see beyond the simple surface to unexplored complications and connections.
In "Perhaps," for example, she explores what makes women happy by looking at one woman seated at her computer. Stone takes readers inside the woman's heart by also taking them outside her window. The inner and outer worlds both lead to this conclusion:
.... this snow has lain
over and over
in the gutters; there is this
expectation of love
that lies on the old bones
like a silk mask,
like a skein of ice.
Stone is a master of strong endings that open the poem up just when one thinks she can spring no more surprises.
Stone's best poems are so satisfying that her weaker work seems doubly disappointing. In those places, the language feels a bit too flat, the narrative too unfocused. There isn't enough of the real to ground them.
But when these poems hit their mark, they go a long way toward debunking the myth of ordinary lives. This collection shows that there are no humdrum moments, only moments that have not been carefully observed.
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