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Filmmaker discusses documentary on life of poet, former Binghamton University professor, Ruth Stone

Ruth Stone Trust
Ruth Stone.

Poet and former Binghamton University professor Ruth Stone is the subject of a new documentary about her life and career, "Ruth Stone's Vast Library of the Female Mind". WSKG's Brent Fox talks with filmmaker Nora Jacobson about the documentary.

Brent Fox: So let me just start off by asking you what led you to Ruth stone in the first place?

Nora Jacobson: Oh, that's an interesting story. I didn't know who she was. I'm a filmmaker. I wasn't, I'm not a poet. I don't know that much about poetry. But a friend called me up one day and said, this was back in 2009. And said, I know this poet, and she might be really great to have on camera, because she's very charismatic. And I am doing some interviews with poets for a book I'm writing and I just thought that she might be particularly good for a video interview, why don't you come up and meet her. So I grabbed my camera and a sound recording person. And we went up to the Green Mountains of Vermont. And I spent the day interviewing this 93-year-old poet, Ruth Stone. And by the end of the day, I was so dazzled by her and by her presence, that I asked her if it would be okay to make a documentary about her, about her life. I was interested in, fascinated by her life. And she and her family said yes, and this was 2009. And now how many years later, 2023, the film is finally finished and is going to be premiering on public television.

BF: So what was it like telling her story?

NJ: Oh, I loved it. Well, first of all, because I didn't know much about poetry myself, despite being the child of a poet and a playwright, words, people. But I'm an image person, I learned about the importance of poetry. I learned that poetry is something that you can carry around with you in your back pocket, like a poem on a piece of paper, and look at it and refer to it when you're feeling down or depressed. Because it's so economical. It's so, it's so short, and a wonderful poet like Ruth Stone, whose language is simple, but whose feelings are profound, really can help you as you navigate your own emotions in the world. So that's what I learned from making this film, the importance of poetry.

BF: And as a filmmaker, how do you approach a subject like this one?

NJ: Well, it's very difficult. It's very challenging to make a film about a poet, because poetry, as I'm sure, you know, is something that takes place in the reader's mind, the images that are evoked when you read a poem, are all in your own mind. And so how do you translate that into film? That was my big challenge. And so I had to find ways to tell the story cinematically, because I didn't want it to just be words, you know, talking heads, Ruth reciting poems, poets, talking about Ruth and her importance. So I had to figure out what is and one of the ways was to ask Ruth's granddaughter, Bianca Stone, who's an animator and a poet, if she would do some animations for the film. And so take us outside of just the word world, the world of words into the world of images. And so Bianca Stone, made some amazing hand drawn animations, handmade animations, to enhance the film.

BF: And why do you feel Ruth's story was such an important one to tell?

I believe that she has not been accorded the due that she deserves. She is someone who, well, you'll find out in the, a tragedy happened to her when she was just beginning her career as a poet, and that really circumscribed her whole life. And so, she from that point on, she used poetry herself as a way to solve life's problems to get her through. And I think that's the big lesson of the film, that art actually any kind of art form any kind of creativity that you can do, self expression, allows you to put a frame around misfortune around your own problems, depressions and you create something new out of it. And by doing that you transform that experience outside of yourself into something, something beautiful.

BF: And do you have a favorite poem of Ruth's that you could read for us right now?

NJ: This is one of my favorite Ruth Stone poems. It's called "Then".
That winter from the back porch, we would hear the storm like a train. The Doppler effect compressing the air, the rain heavy machine coming up from below the orchard rushing towards us. My trouble was I could not keep you dead. You entered even the inanimate, returning in endless guises. And that winter, and ermine moved into the house. It was so cold the beams cracked. The ermine's fur was creamy white, with the last half of the tail soot black, its body about 10 inches long, it slipped through small holes, it watched us from a high shelf in the kitchen. In our loss, we accepted the strange shape of things, as though it had a meaning for us, as though we moved slowly over the acreage, as though the ground modulated like water, the floors and the cupboards slanted to the west, the house sinking towards the evening side of the sky. The children and I sitting together waiting there on the back porch, the massive engine of the storm, swelling up to the undergrowth pounding towards us.

BF: I've been speaking with award-winning filmmaker Nora Jacobsen. "Ruth Stone's Vast Library of the Female Mind" will be airing on the WSKG World Channel on March 3 at 9 p.m. and then on the main channel, WSKG-TV on March 22 at 3 p.m.