Saturday, November 08, 2008

John Stone, M.D. (1936-2008)

Lots of literary talent departed the earth in the weeks around this Election Day, including personal favorites Studs Terkel, John Leonard, Michael Crichton, and this fine physician and writer. The late Dr. John Stone, M.D., of Emory University School of Medicine, a poet of humor and gravity, was a favorite customer of mine, here in the Michael C. Carlos Museum Bookshop. Dr. Stone would appear on a Friday morning, more than once, before a noontime concert, lunch event, or reading, and ask, "Would you show me all your books of poetry?" I would share our small selection, with a small conversation. Our public radio affiliate, WABE-FM, announced his death Friday morning, November 7. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obituary appears today, here.

Here are a few links, more eloquent than I, regarding Stone's poetry:

When I was a Senior in high school, English teacher John Roberts referred his students to Stone's poems. I don't recall which specific ones today; I think I remember a photocopied handout, circa 1980-1, since lost. Later, when I lived on King Avenue in Athens, Georgia, opposite Athens Regional Medical Center, the hospital hosted Stone to dedicate its new imaging center building; I heard Stone speak there, and read a poem for the occasion, his "Gaudeamus Igitur" [any error in the Latin is mine - BAT]. After that, I kept reading his poetry. Returning to Georgia in 2004-5, in Pickens County, near Jasper, our local Friends of the Library hosted an evening reading by Dr. Stone. My understanding was that resident John Kaiser hosted that appearance in the Pickens County Public Library. Stone shared a gentle respect and humor with his audiences. As I said, I looked forward to his occasional visits to our museum bookshop on the Emory campus in the last few years.

Talking about poetry seems not as good as hearing it read aloud by the poet; reading the poem in print seems like a substitute to me, especially on this occasion. The WPBA/WABE Atlanta Sounds link, above, features Stone's voice. I heard one of Stone's poems on Writer's Almanac read by Garrison Keillor only last week, and that podcast is online, here. I've been rereading old favorite poems by John Ciardi with my child; here's Dr. John Stone on Ciardi, in a poem from Where Water Begins: New Poems and Prose (LSU Press, 1998.)

A Trenta-Sei for John Ciardi (1916 - 1986)

Love should intend realities: goodbye.
- John Ciardi

In the beginning was the word, as noted
(in the end, too, if truth be known)---
Mercy next, then Love, and, gravel-throated,
a distinctive Grace enduring as the stone.
From these were made a better man than most.
We say goodbye today, old crow, gruff ghost.

In the end, too, if truth be known,
was clean white paper waiting under a pen---
a gift of hand, eye, ear, and knuckle-bone
from Boston to Vermont and back again
to Jersey, Georgia, Key West---in every state
he came to talk and stayed to celebrate

Mercy next, then Love. And, gravel-throated,
the man became the word on which he fed
until he fed us all---and what he quoted
was from the major kingdom in his head
comprised not least of children's poems---crows,
pythons, sharks with teeth in rows.

A distinctive Grace enduring as the stone
or bronze or steel sculptors bring to life
he brought to his---and ours---though not alone,
for one enduring grace became his wife:
To her he'd bow and gratefully concede
that men have always married what they need.

From these were made a better man than most
who moved the word from mind to pen to writing
and made the books from wisdom and a host
of wars he never seemed to tire of fighting,
especially those he thought he'd surely win
(as well as some he reveled in like sin).

We say good-bye today, old crow, gruff ghost.
That's never worked before---and will not now.
No good comes of good-bye. Instead, a toast
(in whatever form the authorities will allow)
to you---to us---in minor fifths and thirds.
Along the way you found we'll find the words.

September 24, 1986

Dr. John Stone (1936-2008), from Where Water Begins: New Poems and Prose (LSU Press, 1998.)

The AJC's reporter, Rachel Pomerance, includes this: "A memorial service will be held on the Emory campus in the next few weeks. Donations can be sent to the John Stone Fund for Emergency Medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine. Contact Anne Stainback at Emory, 1440 Clifton Road N.E., Suite 440, Atlanta, GA 30322. He founded and directed Grady’s residency program in emergency medicine, which has since become a department at Emory."


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