Running to Catch a Poem

Final Poet for web


A few years ago I accompanied my wife to The Gathering, a literary event at Keystone College in Pennsylvania.  It was there that I learned the story of the poet Ruth Stone and how as a young woman she found inspiration.

I have since learned that Elizabeth Gilbert has made this story famous in one of her TED talks (link).  I am not surprised that it has become famous, at least in some circles.  I heard it several years ago and have loved it ever since. Below is a transcribed version

“As [Stone] was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out, working in the fields and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barrelling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming…cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, run like hell to the house as she would be chased by this poem. The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she would be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it, and it would continue on across the landscape looking for ‘another poet’. And then there were these times, there were moments where she would almost miss it. She is running to the house and is looking for the paper and the poem passes through her. She grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her and she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. In those instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact, but backwards, from the last word to the first.“

About the piece.  It was harder than I had imagined to capture this story.  I felt a little like I was in a version of MS Stone’s story, running with everything I had and catching the wrong angle, the wrong color, the wrong way to make the words visual, but still catching enough of it that I held on.

In order to create this piece, I used someone I know to act as though she was running while I photographed her.  I used multiple photos of weathered paint and paper from urban poster walls, sidewalks and the sides of trains for the color and texture.  I photographed the house in rural Lousiana just south of New Orleans and the utility poles between Iowa and Denver.  The words come from a vintage letter that I found in an antique shop and a print out of one of Ms Stone’s poems. Link to Ruth Stone Poetry










Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *