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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ruth Daigon -- A Memorial

I ask humbly that you take a few minutes and read, please, about my old and dear friend, Ruth Daigon. Ruth has passed away, but her legacy never will.

Ruth was my friend of many, many years. She was a supporter, a gentle critic, a believer in me.

Let me tell you about her. She grew up in Winnipeg, Canada, and received a BA from the University of Winnipeg and a full scholarship to the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Canada . Yes, it’s true. One of my fondest memories of Ruth’s readings was the incredible surprise, right in the middle of her reciting a poem, when she would begin to sing the lines instead of recite; it was amazing!

After college, Ruth moved to Vancouver where she spent two years singing at weddings, funerals, bar mitzahs. She also had her own weekly radio show, and sang with the various Canadian Symphony Orchestras and touring Canada with an opera quartet.

When she left Canada she moved to New York City where she lived in Greenwich Village and was a soloist with the New York Pro Music. While in New York she did concerts and appearances, was a guest artist on CBS's Camera Three and did "anything that would make it possible to pay for lessons and the rent." She and Artie met in New York. Artie is Ruth’s husband and my friend. He was a professor at UCONN for many years.

Ruth’s recording career included a contract with Columbia Records. And she had the unspeakable honor of being a soloist at Dylan Thomas' funeral; yes. Ruth also collaborated with WH. Auden to record Renaissance poetry and music.

Ruth and Artie had two children and eventually they came to Connecticut. In Connecticut, Ruth sang with the Hartford Symphony and organized some recitals, but there wasn't much work for a concert soprano in Hartford . It was Artie’s suggestion that she write poetry in the late 1960s. And, oh my, did she write poetry!

Ruth started to get some attention from publishers in 1982. She also began editing and publishing Poet's On:, a print poetry magazine, which continued for 20 years. Many years ago, when I doubted that I would ever write a decent poem or gain the attention of any publishers, Ruth believed in me. She supported my work, published my poems, and worked tirelessly with me to help me become a better writer. She also became one of my dearest and best friends.

Around 1990 (and this still makes me very sad), Ruth and Artie moved to the Bay Area in California. I NEVER stopped missing them. Of course, we kept in touch, and when I finally found a publisher, the first person I asked to review my book was Ruth. In fact, you can find her words on the back jacket of Ecstasy Among Ghosts, which would never have existed if it weren’t for Ruth.

Besides her hundreds of public readings, Ruth has read for the Greenwich Library Series, The Poets Voice, which has been in existence for over 30 years, and has her poetry included in the U.S. State Department's literary exchange with Thailand and in the first book of Modern American poets printed in English and Thai.

Her poetry has also been featured by Garrison Keilor on The Writers' Almanac, produced by Minnesota Public Radio.

Ruth always continued to write, do readings, and organize readings for others. Most recently, she cut a CD of her poetry for James Alsop Productions and appeared in The Mississippi Review's issue on War and its Aftermath in February, 2007.

Ruth’s best advice -- "write to please yourself not to impress others."

Ruth’s poetry has appeared in over 900 major poetry journals, as well as many anthologies over the years. She has toured throughout the United States, Canada, England and Israel in readings and workshops. She organized Pub Poetry, a television series of monthly reading featuring Connecticut poets and she had her own monthly series- Poetry A La Mode. She was the Poet-In-Residence at Wavertree Arts Colony, Ossabaw Arts Colony (Georgia), and Fellow at ant the Virginia Center For Creative Arts She was also one of ten poets whose work was broadcast on the BBC, Radio Europe and in the US in an international poetry competition sponsored by the BBC.

Here is just a sample of her many awards --

The Eve of St. Agnes Award (Negative Capability), 1993

Ann Stanford Poetry Award, University of Southern California , 1997.

Greensboro Poetry Award, Greensboro Arts Council, 2000.

…and her books include…

Handfuls of Time, Small Poetry Press, Select Poets Series, 2002

Payday at the Triangle, Small Poetry Press, 2001

The Moon Inside, Gravity/Newton's Baby Press, 1999

Between One Future and the Next, Paper-Macae Press, 1995

Contemporary Authors: Autobiography Series, Volume 25, Thomson Gale Publishing, November 1996, includes Ruth Dagon's autobiography

"Ruth Dagon's Greatest Hits" from Pudding House Publications as part of their Gold chapbook series.

About a Year – a chapbook

A Portable Past – Realities Library of Contemporary Poets Series – 1986

…and her poems appeared in…among others…

Alaska Quarterly, Atlanta Review, Connecticut Review, Calliope, De Kalb Literary Art Journal Anthology, Greensboro Review, Kansas Quarterly, Negative Capability, Poet and Critic, Poet Lore, Poetry Now, Shenandoah, Sycamore Review, The Southern Review, Tikkun, Zone 3

….and on the internet…

Ariga, Crania, Cross Connect, Mudlark, Recursive Angel, Switched On Gutenberg, Zuzu's Petals,

El autor de la semana (11 al 17 de agosto de 1997), in Spanish and English, Oscar Aguilera, The University Chile in Santiago .

ForPoetry, Kota's Poetry Anthology, PoetryMagazine, The Alsop Review, Three Candle Review, Web Del Sol

Special Collections…

Ruth’s poems, articles, reviews and papers are in Special Collections in the main library at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.

Here is part of an interview with Ruth, featured on LILY: a monthly online interview

Lily: Having first been a musician, tell me how your transition from music to poetry came about.

RD: The transition from music to poetry came out of necessity. We had been living in New York and the New York area where contacts and jobs were plentiful: tours, TV, recordings, etc. When we moved to the wilds of eastern Connecticut because my husband was going to teach at UCONN, the possibility of quick access to performance possibilities slowed down plus I now had two children and couldn't just dump them somewhere and take off. Although the University and the Hartford area (recitals, guest artist with the Hartford Symphony and several concert series and guest artist appearances) were still available to me.... It was nowhere like living and following a New York career. I felt the necessity to use my surplus energy and since I had always enjoyed writing whether it was diaries, descriptive accounts, letters to family and friends, I was always comfortable with a pen between my fingers. Also, every song is based on a poem and since I had covered three or four centuries of vocal music and sang in six languages, I was very much aware of the importance and appeal of poetry. It was almost natural to supplement my involvement with music with my growing interest in poetry. And when I started performing my poetry, it was rather a heady feeling not to rely on Mozart and Schubert et al. but on my own compositions (at whatever stage they were ). A rather exciting transition.

Lily: What was it like to work with W.H. Auden?

RD: Auden was very much the professional, even though he came to rehearsals in an unraveled sweater and old carpet slippers (something of a costume). It took a little while to overcome my awe of him, since the last time I saw him was in my college text book but his interest in the music and the performance quickly made me more comfortable, and he was always most polite if a little formal. But that was to be expected.

Lily: Who has been the main influence of your writing career?

RD: The main influence of my writing career was, of course, my lasting involvement with music. The sound and flow of my poetry, the rhythm, the cadence, lyric quality was given direction by my allegiance to music. There was no other way to express myself honestly and with conviction.

Lily: What led you to begin Poets On:?

RD: Since musical performances always depended on instrumental accompaniments (piano, chamber groups, orchestras ...) it became rather lonely sitting at my desk, once a piano now a computer and I needed the stimulation of others. When it was suggested I make contact by publishing a little mag (Poets On:), I thought, "Why not. It may be an adventure." And it was!

Lily: Were there any important lessons learned from your years as an editor that helped you with your own poetry?

RD: Yes. The most important lesson was that if I turn down a poet or find his/her work not quite satisfactory, I must apply the same principles to my own work. I would subject my own poetry to the same critical eye that was used in examining others. I learned to reject so much that stood in the way of an honest poem. I learned to be more disciplined in my approach, less accepting of something that was "almost " good enough, and I learned how to say "no". I also learned to recognize lack of conviction or lazy solutions, and to use the RED PEN ruthlessly, even though it was painful.

Lily: What has been your proudest achievement in regards to your poetry?

RD: The book Payday at the Triangle, based on the terrible fire that broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in NYC in 1911, resulting in the tragic death of so many young people - primarily young immigrant women - was a work of such dedication and almost obsession that it comes close to being the kind of work that gave me more satisfaction than any of my other books. It incorporates all my beliefs, disciplines, ablility to translate the story of others and bring them back to life.

Lily: How do you think poetry itself has evolved over the years? How has your poetry evolved?

RD: That's a very difficult question. I think poetry has broken so many many of the "DO'S" AND "DONT'S" dictated to us by the academics and what I consider to be old-fashioned and rather superior attitudes. But I still steer away from the Language poets that play with words and turn everything into a game of nonsense and numbers. There is a lot of that around masquerading as serious poetry. A pity! I'm not prepared to comment on how my poetry has evolved because it is still evolving, becoming more open to experimentation, honing down to the essentials, finding new ways of looking at things but never abandoning the music.

Lily: What do you think every good poem should do?

RD: Again, that's a difficult question, but words like "honesty", "conviction", "fearless yet controlled", "alive", "unselfconscious" rise to the surface and WRITE TO PLEASE YOURSELF NOT TO IMPRESS OTHERS.

Lily: Do you write every day? What is a common inspiration for you?

RD: Yes, I DO write every day. Just as I went to the piano to practice every morning, I go to the computer and "practice". Whether what emerges is successful or not, I make my fingers move along the keys. I don't think in terms of "inspiration" but if I dry up I listen to poets reading their own works on recordings or in performance or just steep myself in the poetry of others until something in me responds.

Lily: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

RD: My advice is to set aside a certain amount of time each day. Start moving your fingers on the keyboard. Read the work of those you admire and those you don't. Go and listen to the poets in bookstores or other venues. Find a group of people who are on your own level and listen to their criticism - even in you disagree you will learn something... something will rub off. Read your work aloud. Listen to your voice. Get your friends and relatives responses, no matter how negative they may be, and for God's sake enjoy what you're doing. And when that's all done, forget about it. Go for a walk. Go to a concert or movie or party. Do something different to feed your interest whether it is politics or a smashing time with friends, but cut away from the slavery of the page and then come back refreshed.


Here is part of a letter I wrote to Artie the other day…

Dear Artie...

It's hard to know what to say. Carol and I have missed you terribly ever since you left Connecticut. I never really came to terms with it; I missed you too much.

Ruth was, of course, a GREAT friend and supporter. Thirty-five years ago, when I was a young writer, what I wanted (like so many young writers, I'm sure) was acceptance, validation. And I could not find it anywhere. And then Clem (our darling, darling Clem) introduced me to Ruth. Well, from then on she supported my poems by always taking my best work for Poets On: and helping me to make my weaker poems better. The Manchester Community College Poetry Workshop was, for years, a safe haven for so many aspiring poets. Sometimes there were as many as 20 young kids (all "poets") at Clem's house, ready to read and learn. And when Ruth was there, if one really listened, one could learn amazing things. And Ruth's poems always seemed to come so naturally and with so much ease, though I knew that simply could not be the case. But the fact that she seemed to write with such assurance and ease only added to the wonder of her poems. And I do mean wonder -- could her poems be any more straightforward, clear, precisely wrought, wise, and poignant?

I must say, the best years for me at the MCCPW, as we called the "workshop," were those couple of years when membership had declined to three -- Clem, Ruth, and me (in hindsight, I think Clem made that happen). We moved the meeting place from the living room to a tiny "office" upstairs -- there was a small desk, two chairs, and a small bed. There was no room for anything else. I had a chair. Ruth had a chair. And Clemmy, relaxed as always, took the bed. There I was with two great poets, two great teachers; how could I have been so fortunate. Oh how fondly I recall those days.

I'll never forget, one night at a workshop, arriving with a new poem -- Gratitude it was called. I had brought it to work on it. Well, I read it, and Ruth leaned across to me, took the poem from my hands, and said, "I'll take that!" I knew immediately what she meant, of course. She liked it so much that she was snatching it up for Poets On: I don't think she ever knew how wonderful a moment that was, how validated I felt. I had brought the poem to work on, and in the blink of an eye, it would soon appear in the prestigious Poets On:.

And of course, I recall with a heavy melancholy, dinners at your house with Clem and Bob, dinners and parties and Clemmy's...parties at Carol's before we were married...heaps of chicken on the grill, good wine, music, dancing, laughter, POETRY (always poetry!) The six of us -- you and Ruth, Clem and Bob, Carol and me, and me ALWAYS feeling so incredibly blessed to be in your company.

And when, after years and years, I finally found a publisher for my first book, the first person I contacted was, of course, Ruth. I will always remember how delighted she was. I wonder if she ever really realized how responsible she was. In her comment on the book jacket she wrote -- “John Stanizzi is a poet of courage and passion who manages to be achingly sensual without a scrap of sentimentality. His work is brought to life by the transformation of nature, its eroticism and beauty. There is no separation between his personal world and the world at large, both of which he creates with intelligence, musicality and precision. His work moves between the old Italian family traditions of mysticism and spontaneity and his own new venues of passion & tenderness, a wonderful balancing act.” Did she know that, if it were true, she was the one who taught me to embrace the sensual all around me, to avoid sentimentality always, to marvel at nature and be proud of heritage. It's true. And here she was, years and years later, telling me (on the back of my book -- a dream realized in large part BECAUSE of Ruth) that she thought I had learned my lessons well.

First Clemmy moved on. I miss her every moment of every day. I want to tell her things. Read new poems to her. Show her that I was paying attention.

And now Ruth has moved on, and though I'm sure she knew it, if she were here now I would tell her again, with deepest gratitude, that whatever I know about being a poet I learned in great measure from her lessons, her poetry, and her precious, undying friendship.

Bless you, Artie.

We miss you. We have always missed you.


John and Carol Stanizzi


And a few poems…


Let there be days soft and deceptive
the taste of water absolute
the inner sun absolute
and our awakening absolute
Let our life fly over fields
filled with radiance we almost touch
air we almost embrace
and moments of near fullness

We are one with the legendary shadows
smiling with apricot lips and vanilla voices
singing the sea's high sound
in a rush of joy before dark

When the last feather of light floats down
on the ripening hours
the breath grows visible
dividing and dividing stillness

We recall fine tunings of sun
the moon's ancestral silver
fugitive years and moments
nudging enchantment when we wore

the loose limbs of childhood
and watched endless springs and summers
steeped in the music


The dead complain we lack
the skill to keep them buried.
But that's the grave's job
and there's no safe burial ground.
They'll shine up through the earth
spreading their affection.

They're offered refuge
under markers and memorials
but they refuse and wait
for us in unlit places
tapping their white canes
with the terrible patience
of those possessing time.

In the slow caress of years,
our weight is doubled by
the burden of others
we cultivate and carry,
and deep in the future
our children keep us alive.


She dreads the thought leaving
empty-handed as her life leaks out
and words beat against each other
into alphabets of silence.

She fears the wind
with its invisible rope and scaffold,
the sea with a thousand eyes
and rain like a dance of knives.

Held fast in amber of memory
are breathy remainders of those
with a past of ashes
and ash their only future.

But in her secret world
she sleeps with the invisible
in the long and late afterward,
safe in the warm and yeasty dark.

She hears once more
summer harps, choirs of insects,
cinch pods mating
and dandelions snuffing the air.

Night spans out in a slow glide
as a voice deep in her heart's hollow

Look long and longer
before the drum rolls of morning
herald the naked earth
no bud time no seed time
and the sun like a dead heart
at last.

Bless, my dear, dear friend. Bless. Godspeed. I love you.

1 comment:

JAHsh Concurz said...

Very sorry to hear of your friend and mentor. She seemed to be an amazing woman. Rest assured, she lives on in your heart...