Andrea Stone

Scholar, teacher and poet, Andrea Stone’s work as an academic bleeds into her poetry. Her poems are ingenious hybrids of narrative and lyric, laced with the political and cultural histories that come up in her scholarly work. Stone’s debut story in verse, American Spelling, makes several trips across the Canada–U.S. border and blends politics with linguistics as it explores difficult emotional terrain, daring to surface the disconnects and dissonances found in the bond between a mother and child. Where the language of her poems involves, as she puts it, “syllables [that] involve the whole mouth,” the story she tells involves all our mental, emotional and linguistic faculties. 

American Spelling has been described by George Elliot Clarke, the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada, as displaying “the desperate sentiments of Plath, but also the frustration and alienation of Eliot’s Prufrock,” and Clarke calls the book’s effortless lyricism “a beautiful, newborn twin to William Carlos Williams’s verse-novel, Paterson.” Stone’s novel-in-verse recounts the story of a daughter—who learns that she was dropped (as a very young child) from a bridge by her mother—and a mother, on the run and in isolation from her family and former life, tasked with understanding how she came to remove herself from motherhood.

Stone did not necessarily set out to write a book of poems; instead she found that American Spelling’s narrative resisted prose and fit most naturally into the compressed, emotionally charged medium of poetry: “I wanted to develop these characters and events, their narratives, but I wanted to do it in a way that would create the strongest images and feelings, and I wasn’t sure how to do it in prose,” Stone said in a 2016 interview with MassLive.com, “[i]t seemed to need the distillation of poetry, the concentration of language.” American Spelling’s child is like a “vowel/disavowed/dropped,” and her Canadian mother, in hiding across the border, adopts the “u”s from words like “colour” and “honour,” traditionally dropped from American usage.

Born in Toronto and raised in Dunnville, Ontario, Stone has published numerous essays, reviews and a chapbook, Tibetan for Bada Bing! (2011), with Michael Thurston. Stone’s creative work springs from academic work, both frequently addressing concerns about mental health, well-being, and cultural identity; “[M]y academic work informs my creative work very much,” Stone has said, “even if it’s not obvious.” Her other full-length book, Black Well Being: Health and Selfhood in Antebellum Black Literature, was published by the University Press of Florida in 2016. Stone is an Associate Professor of English at Smith, where she teaches courses on the literatures of the African diaspora from the 18th century to the present. She is currently working on a book about black prison intellectuals in America.

Poetry Center Reading:

Fall 2017 (with Maya Janson & Mary Koncel)

5

The peach smudged knife is sticky
Stainless steel so penetrating
Mingling juices
Elements and substances
join, react, counteract
over the smooth surface of
an instrument of creation
and ruin

Myself, my lamp, a peach on a plate

Why deny oneself the pleasure of stealing and denying?
Because I stole from you

I flirt with American spelling for a change
The history
The revolution of letters

Dropped letters –
colour
favour
remind me… of you
child vowel
disavowed
child ‘u’

I left one prison for this
I am telling the way out

From AMERICAN SPELLING (Levellers Press, 2016)

15

Jerry’s paler than his teat-twiced coffee
Disappearing into the pallid wall paint,
before her just clothing and hair
An invisible man, the older thinks

Her sister knows her thoughts

The father’s things needed sorting, selling
Spring is real estate season
Soon the lawn would come up
Jerry could help
The older continues to watch him disappear
then shifts her gaze

Her sister’s belly looks hard, a giant baseball
She hunts for seams she could pick
till it frayed apart

Two apples in an orchard
their father used to say
only variety bound them
that and Sunday dinner
where they stared
from opposite ends
as if at steaks

Older: when are you due?
Younger: June.
Older: I used to have a doll named June
Younger: Jerry’s aunt’s name is May
The conversation runs out of the room like a motherless duck

From AMERICAN SPELLING (Levellers Press, 2016)

29

The sun sets in Texas pretty much like it does anywhere else
I raised sheep for two years by mistake after my flight

When the rattlesnake bit the lamb
I moved to the city, couldn’t take the pain

The lamb’s head swelled to
twice its baby size
Within an hour she died in my arms
dusty Pietà in Hill Country

Seeking revenge on rattlers is a bad idea
but anger caring only for itself thinks differently
I needed to save
or destroy something

That day on the way to the bridge
You were becoming me
a baby moth, food for a billion ants
a brain on a marble doorway slab
The sun glinted
And the knowledge glinted through
Cut the ropes
Cut the questions
Released the answer
Euphoria rained down
like health
and then

From AMERICAN SPELLING (Levellers Press, 2016)