When I was in college, I didn’t read, write or like poetry,” says New York-based poet Alison Stone. “I thought the point of poetry was for poets to write stuff to make the reader feel stupid by hiding something.”
Since then, Stone has published five collections of poetry, won two major awards and her poems have been featured in some of the most prestigious literary journals.
On Saturday, April 15, she was preparing to teach a master class on ekphrastic poetry to local writers at the Morean Arts Center as part of her 2017 LitSpace St. Petersburg Writer’s Residency grant, sponsored by Keep St. Pete Lit.
“Ekphrastic poetry is one of my favorite types of poetry. It’s based on other art forms such as visual art, fairy tales, mythology, music, dance and movies,” says Stone. “It becomes a way to write about the personal, using the work as a mask so the poet can get beyond fear of exposure or marginalization to express experience without identifying details. Personal experience is linked to larger, more universal stories.”
Stone asked each writer in the workshop to choose from a selection of cards depicting works of art, and then write a poem inspired by the card they chose. The second half of the workshop was devoted to myths and fairy tales, with examples of poetry written from unique perspectives, such as the Cinderella story told from the point of view of a wicked stepsister or a poem comparing the end of love to the myth of Icarus.
Myth and fantasy figure prominently in Stone’s own award-winning work. She was always writing and drawing as a kid. As a fiction major in college, she was required to take a poetry workshop. When she didn’t get in, she had the opportunity to travel abroad and study with the poet Hugo Williams. Williams became her mentor. She was into music, and he knew all the bands she listened to.
“He asked me what I like. I said ‘punk rock,’ so he told me to write about that,” Stone says. “I didn’t know the rules, so that is how I came to poetry. Punk rock was the rhythm I began writing in. When I returned to the states, I changed my major from fiction to poetry.”
Her love of the tarot was also an early influence. She got her first deck as a toy.
“I didn’t like the game, but was drawn to the images,” she says.
She began collecting decks and got the idea of painting the 22 Major Arcana cards using bright colors and different techniques.
“Then the poems started coming. I also did the Minor Arcana, which is more about life situations. I wound up doing 78 paintings in all,” she says.
This work resulted in her latest collection, Ordinary Magic, published in 2016. The poems are drawn from the tarot themes, ranging from the archetypal to the everyday situations of love, work, ideas and conflict that make up our lives.
Stone’s work was so impressive, she was selected unanimously by a panel of five judges for the 2017 LitSpace Writer’s Residency.
“Our applicants this year were amazing,” says Maureen McDole, founder and president of Keep St. Pete Lit. “We had applicants from as far away as Sweden, Ireland, Norway and Zimbabwe, but Alison Stone still managed to stand out.”
Stone is also a psychotherapist with private practices in New York City and Nyack. A mom to two daughters, ages 10 and 13, she has to make the time to write.
“I write on the train to work or contemplate my writing while walking the dog,” she says. “That’s why I am so grateful to have this gift of two weeks of residency at The Craftsman House to do nothing but write. It seems incomprehensible.”
By Alison Stone
True, the first time I went willingly. What girl
could resist his leather pants
and rock star swagger, switchblade
in his pocket, my name
quivering between his lips? How better
to escape Mom’s pretty vines
than to sway in a poured-on miniskirt
across hell’s endless
dance floor while stretched skin
drums throbbed? My gut burned from pomegranate
juice and vodka. The goth house band keened.
Match light flickered on his skull ring
as he whispered smoky promises and blackened
bottoms of bent spoons. His touch
wiped out every ache or question.
My straight-A vocabulary whittled down to more.
Soon my dependence
angered him. He gestured
at my puffy eyes and flat hair.
Turned away with a slap.
Mother hauled me home.
A month in rehab, then a shopping spree
for high-necked shirts and
frilly dresses. Good-girl life
to slip back into like the cloak
I dropped on my way down.
Triggered by a song,
a whiff of sulfur —
in any season, broken
ground inside me opens. Memory
drags me back.
Put off by my pink
cheeks and filled-out limbs, the shades
won’t know me now.
I try to tell my mother what I saw there.
How I lived. All that’s over. Let it go.
My friends steer the conversation
back to fashion.