Stone Milk by Anne Stevenson

Stone Milk

Anne Stevenson, 'Stone Milk'

"I think of Stone Milk as my final book, my swan song. But then, I talk as often about giving up writing poetry as I do about giving up whisky, and I never quite succeed in doing either."

Anne Stevenson



"True to its title, Stone Milk (Bloodaxe, £7,95) Anne Stevenson's 14th poetry collection, is a book which shares both the multiple geological layerings and the concentrated nature of stone, and the viscerally nutritive quality of milk. Stone Milk is a title itself having many possible layers of meaning. It could be a metaphor for the melt water running off the mountains in the cover painting by Paul Stangroom... It is also a metaphor for anything desirable squeezed out of an apparently barren material - 'the milk of stones'. Or it could be the glaciers themselves, their whiteness, water suspended in apparently solid form. At another level, it is a metaphor for whatever nourishment 'Mother Earth' provides for 'her whole brood'. In that sense, all milk is ‘stone milk’, and the title becomes a statement, a poem in its own right, its formal oxymoron at the heart of what is an uncompromising poetry of ecology in the true sense, a vision of humanity in its spacio-temporal context." 
Josephine Dickinson reviewing Stone Milk in Other Poetry, 2009.

While Anne Stevenson is most certainly, and rightly, regarded as one of the major poets of our period, it has never been by virtue of this or that much anthologised poem, but by the work or mind as a whole. It is not so much a matter of the odd lightning-struck tree as of an entire landscape, and that landscape is always humane, intelligent and sane, composed of both natural and rational elements, and amply furnished with patches of wit and fury, which only serve to bring out the humanity.
George Szirtes, London Magazine

One of the most important poets active in England today... she presents us with a complex reality where an intently sensory world inhabited by wilful resistant people is overlaid by ghosts, ideas, and spectral emissions: the historical, philosophical, and scientific all dimensions of what obviously isn't there and yet can't be denied.
Emily Grosholz, Michigan Quarterly

Her knowledge of botany, ornithology and other natural sciences is impressive, but her talent is for fusing the disciplines into an honest and humane account of our world, and expressing this through rhythm and form…She is wise without portentousness, her technique faultless and her imagination fiery, political and fresh.
Carol Rumens, Independent

Download this review of Stone Milk by Nicholas Murray. It appeared in "Planet, the Welsh Internationalist", Issue 187, February - March 2008.


Stone Milk
                        Sils-Maria, Graubunden, 2006

 A backward May, with all the local finches of the Fex Tal
            piping in dialect.
"Gruezi" to the nun-white finger-high crocuses
            thinly nursing to life the flattened fields.
"Gruezi" to the fisted bristles colouring the larches
            green to break your heart.
The fairytale resorts, scrubbed clean but closed
            because the coach crowds haven't arrived yet,
look to be hospitals for convalescent ideals.

Imagine a breath held long before history happened,
allowing a lake to drown its Jurassic inheritance
            in Elysian blue.
Conceive of the gentians' daytime midnight "smoking
             torch-like out of Pluto's gloom",
Eden's anemones lifting from pale Blakean nightgowns
            faces of incorruptible innocence.
If stones could be milked, these fleeting rivers of melt
            would feed us like flowering trees,
since Mother Earth, you say, after eons of glacial childbirth
            brings up her whole brood naturally.

But naturally what I want and need and expect is to be loved.
So why, as I grow older, when I lift up my eyes to the hills-
            raw deserts that they are-
do they comfort me (not always, but sometimes)
            with the pristine beauty of my almost absence?
Not the milk of kindness, but the milk of stones
            is food I'm learning to long for.



The Enigma

Falling to sleep last night in a deep crevasse
between one rough dream and another, I seemed,
still awake, to be stranded on a story path,
and there the familiar enigma presented itself
in the shape of a little trembling lamb.
It was lying like a pearl in the trough between
one Welsh slab and another, and it was crying.

I looked around, as anyone would, for its mother.
Nothing was there. What did I know about lambs?
Should I pick it up? Carry it...where?
What would I do if it were dying?  The hand
of my conscience fought with the claw of my fear.
It wasn't so easy to imitate the Good Shepherd
in that faded, framed Sunday School picture
filtering now through the dream's daguerreotype.

With the wind fallen and the moon swollen to the full,
small white doubles of the creature at my feet
flared like candles in the creases of the night
until it looked to be alive with new born lambs.
Where could they all have come from?
A second look, and the bleating lambs were birds-
kittiwakes nesting, clustered on a cliff face,
fixing on me their dark accusing eyes.

There was a kind of imperative not to touch them,
yet to be of them, whatever they were-
now lambs, now birds, now floating points of light-
fireflies signalling how many lost New England summers?
One form, now another; one configuration, now another.
Like fossils locked deep in the folds of my brain,
outliving a time by telling its story. Like stars.



Waving Goodbye

           To my son Charles leaving Wales in a strong north westerly

Shadows pelt over the hills at a furious gallop;
Cloud-horses form and reform, group and regroup-
Impermanence brushing inscrutable purple and green
On a canvas of morning you'll barely claim;
Nor will you catch me mourning as you drive away,
Away from where we stand in the sunlight waving,
While you wave, too, from the car's bucking window.

So you went, and every thought, vowel and verb
Of what you are went with you;
Every syllable and page of what you will do
Or may say, all your everydays of solitude or multitude,
All the vague, massed cumuli of your intent
Went with you, out of an us, out of an ours,
As the gate clanged shut into a new story. Yours. All yours.



Inheriting My Grandmother's Nightmare

Consider the adhesiveness of things
     to the ghosts that prized them,
the 'olden days' of birthday spoons
    and silver napkin rings.
Too carelessly I opened
    that velvet drawer of heirlooms.
There lay my grandmother's soul
begging under veils of tarnish to be brought back whole.

She who was always a climate in herself,
     who refused to vanish
as the nineteen-hundreds grew older and louder,
     and the wars worse,
and her grandchildren, bigger and ruder
     in her daughter's house.
How completely turned around
her lavender world became, how upside down.

And how much, under her 'flyaway' hair,
     she must have suffered,
sitting there ignored by the dinner guests
     hour after candle-lit hour,
rubbed out, like her initials on the silverware,
     eating little, passing bread,
until the wine's flood, the smoke's blast,
the thunderous guffaws at last roared her to bed.

In her tiny garden of confidence,
     wasted she felt, and furious.          
She fled to church, but Baby Jesus
     had out grown his manger.
She read of Jews in The New Haven Register
     gassed or buried alive.
Every night, at the wheel of an ambulance,
she drove and drove, not knowing how to drive.

She died in '55, paralysed, helpless.
     Her no man's land survived.
 I light my own age with a spill
     from her distress. And there it is,
her dream, my heirloom, my drive downhill
     at the wheel of the last bus,
the siren's wail, the smoke, the sickly smell.
The drawer won't shut again. It never will.

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