A Little Wrong

January 11, 2022


Poetry Off the Shelf: A Little Wrong





Helena de Groot: This is Poetry Off the Shelf. I’m Helena de Groot. Today, A Little Wrong. Let me read you a few lines from Bianca Stone’s poem, “Wealth”:


“The truth is,” she writes, money is in war, not poetry. / Money is in real estate and clean water. / Money is in other people’s money. / Not pitted antique linens / with slight stains at the hand stitch / Mom swears are worth a lot.” A few lines down she writes, “I know nothing of money. Of wealth.” She writes it simply, so matter of fact. As if all the trauma underneath has been digested, dealt with. And for Bianca Stone, the trauma began long before she was born. In 1959, her grandfather committed suicide. Her grandmother, the poet Ruth Stone, was now on her own to raise three children. Then several decades later, Bianca’s mother also found herself alone, struggling to raise three children as a writer and artist. Today, Bianca is a mother too, but she has her husband, Ben Pease, who’s also a poet. Together, they’re raising a daughter, Odette, while also running the Ruth Stone House, a literary nonprofit they created out of Bianca’s grandmother’s old house in Goshen, Vermont.


I recently sat down with Bianca Stone to discuss her latest collection, What Is Otherwise Infinite. But we started talking about the project she embarked on after her grandmother’s death, and while pregnant with Odette. She and Ben decided to leave New York and all their poetry friends and move back to Vermont, to convert Ruth’s house into a center for literature. They lived in an RV behind the house, first just Bianca and Ben, then Odette too. I asked her if she remembered much from what I imagine was a chaotic time, doing all those renovations, with a newborn, while living in an RV.


Bianca Stone: No, I remember it well, and actually, it was really a special time, living in the RV. It’s very cozy, and, I was co-sleeping with Odette, so, you know, we were very cozy in the bed. And then we could just open the door and step right out into the yard. And, you know, because she was so little and because the house is so old and dangerous, I didn’t do a lot of work inside the house, but my husband was. And my brother was, and, you know, some carpenters and whatever, but it was a was actually really special. I wasn’t on my computer all the time. I was very much outside every day, so that was really nice and I kinda miss it a lot. (LAUGHS) I’m fantasizing about doing it again.


Helena de Groot: Like it’s kind of like closer to the source or something like that?


Bianca Stone: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: Now it’s like, oh, this like ugly ’80s RV that’s like falling into the ground is like sitting in the backyard of the Ruth Stone House looking like a big eyesore.


Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS) Uh-huh.


Bianca Stone: (LAUGHS) But I have very sweet memories of it.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: And the woods are so magical up there and there’s a little babbling brook right next to the house and an apple orchard. And it’s very nice.


Helena de Groot: That’s beautiful. How old is Odette now?


Bianca Stone: She just turned five.


Helena de Groot: Five. Uh-huh. How was it to like pass time in these, like, weird pandemic times with her these past two years?


Bianca Stone: It’s been, you know, she’s my only child, I think I’m lucky that she’s a lot of fun and we’ve been having a lot of fun together. She’s learning to read and write right now, and I think about what it would be like if I didn’t have a child during the pandemic, and I’m like, you know, in my fantasy, I’m getting so much work done, I’m doing so much reading. It’s like a writing retreat.


Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS) Mm-hmm.


Bianca Stone: With Odette, I’m trying to figure out what my roles are all the time. I want to be a good mother. I want to be very present with her. I want to be authentic with her. I also want to be left alone, and it makes me grumpy and resentful, and I have to constantly try and figure out that issue.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: But she’s, you know, I don’t have anything to complain about. It’s, you know, I feel like we’re on, you know, I always think about 10,000 leagues or whatever it is under the sea and how they’re in that little submarine with all the books and gadgets, and they’re just stuck there. And that’s what it felt like for a long time. Especially in the wintertime, when you can’t go outside as much.


Helena de Groot: Yeah. And now that she’s like learning to read and write, do you have a sense that she has more of a way to, like, keep herself busy that doesn’t so much involve you, that she can, just like, dive into this world of a book or of, you know, I guess it’s still like not entire books, you know, but, whatever.


Bianca Stone: No. (LAUGHS) She’s like, “There’s an A, oh my god, I recognize an A!”


Helena de Groot: Oh yeah, right. (LAUGHS)


Bianca Stone: I’m looking at her little drawings right now and they’re just like five Ts and one O and like an E with like, five lines on it.


Helena de Groot: That’s great that she has, like favorite letter. It’s just like the T on its own is great.


Bianca Stone: Yeah, because they’re letters from her name.


Helena de Groot: Oh right. (LAUGHS) Odette.


Bianca Stone: Yeah, it’s much easier now that she’s five because I can leave her downstairs to play.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: And she, I don’t know if she’s absorbing herself in books for long periods of time, but she’s certainly, she likes to pretend to read and narrate it, and narrates the pictures. And she’s good at playing by herself compared to other children, which is great. So she will play by herself for a while, and that makes me so happy just hearing her talk in the other room with her toys.


Helena de Groot: Oh my god, yeah.


Bianca Stone: You know, then she’ll pop in here and ask me to do something. And you know, we’re very in and out together. Like this morning, we made gummies together.


Helena de Groot: Wow. (LAUGHS)


Bianca Stone: I have a gummy kit. And then we mopped the floor together.


Helena de Groot: That’s beautiful, I mean, like, you know, because kids also just want to do what we do, right, like they just copy us, and if we’re mopping, they want to be mopping, right?


Bianca Stone: Oh yeah.


Helena de Groot: They don’t see it as a chore yet.


Bianca Stone: No, she’s like, “I want a mop,” slash like, spray water all over the place.


Helena de Groot: Oh, sure, yeah, yeah! Probably not helping as much.


Bianca Stone: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: Yeah, she does imitate me a lot.


Helena de Groot: And I’m interested in that, too. Like, you know, the way we imitate the people we grow up around. Like, the way your grandmother was a real presence in your life.


Bianca Stone: I guess, yeah, I mean, I was very much steeped in in her world. You know, I think back to those memories. I think of her students and colleagues coming randomly to visit and staying for a couple of days or a week. You know, she was obsessed with writing and reading poetry, so they would always be doing that. And I would imitate them constantly. So I was sitting on the floor listening to them read poems, and I would be writing a poem kind of ripping off their lines and stuff like that. Getting ideas from them, getting ideas about metaphor, and I distinctly remember—I’m not sure what age I was, but I certainly was writing poems, wanting to read one out loud like they were, and being very shy and embarrassed about it. And finally, Grandma said she would read it out loud, and I hid in the bathroom while she read it out loud.


Helena de Groot: That’s very cute.


Bianca Stone: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: And I understand that when, you know, your grandmother had students over or colleagues and there would be, you know, a kind of workshop-y vibe where people are writing poems or sharing poems out loud. Of course, I get that you as a kid can sort of witness that and copy that. But when your grandmother was alone, because writing is such a solitary thing, I wonder what you gleaned from that?


Bianca Stone: Well, I saw my grandmother reading and writing all the time. And that’s, you know, she wasn’t gardening, that’s what she was doing.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: And she, she would mutter out loud herself. And that always intrigued me. And she would also laugh out loud a lot while reading like, P.G. Wodehouse.


Helena de Groot: Huh.


Bianca Stone: You know, I was very, very much constantly observing her lying in bed reading or writing. And … yeah, I mean, I can’t, it’s just what I saw all the time, so I understood it by this point.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: It’s when I think of my childhood I think of my mother or my grandmother ignoring me and writing. (LAUGHS)


Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS)


Bianca Stone: Or on the phone with one another, reading someone they had written. “Wanna hear my new poem?”


Helena de Groot: Ah ha. Wow. I mean, but they must be so close, too, because they kind of co-raised you in a sense.


Bianca Stone: Well, close is one way to put it.


Helena de Groot: OK, OK, let’s, you know, I don’t wanna—(LAUGHS) Yeah. Well, I’m also interested in like the way, if you grew up in kind of like a literary family, the way language was … your language, your use of language was shaped. You know, like, were you ever reprimanded for using, you know, filler words or bland words, like “nice” or “awesome” or something like that?


Bianca Stone: Yeah, I think my grandmother was always excited that I was writing poetry, and she would always be like, “You’re so much better than I was when I was your age,” you know. She was very encouraging about my poetry. At the same time, there was an expectation to be good. And when she was in the mood, would critique. And what she critiqued the most was my presentation of reading out loud when I was 16 years old. Her editor at the time wanted to do an intergenerational reading tour of Ruth’s new book in Massachusetts, in Western Mass. So I went on a little reading tour, and she would shout at me from the audience, “Louder, louder!” And when I’d start my poem, I’d just die up on stage. And then she would, you know, then I got coached in looking people in the eye when I read, and on projecting my voice, and she was a good reader. She was very good at reading her poems out loud, very theatrical. And my mom was also a good reader and also theatrical, good at making different voices and things like that good, good presentation.


Helena de Groot: Mm-Hmm.


Bianca Stone: So that was very helpful tutelage.


Helena de Groot: I mean, it sounds like helpful tutelage, but at the same time, when you’re 16, and already you’re reading in front of an audience, which, you know is hard for grown ups, but for a 16-year-old, that’s a whole other league of hard.


Bianca Stone: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: And then your grandmother is kind of criticizing you in front of everyone out loud. What was that like?


Bianca Stone: It was embarrassing. You know, I felt angry about that, for sure. But it was, you know, looking back, I can laugh about it. I think she just wanted people to like my poetry, and, you know, I want to shout at other people at readings, you know, one of my students giving a reading or something, and I know it’s a great poem, and they’re mumbling into the mic and, you know, going too fast. And I want to be like, “Stop, you know, let people into this poem.”


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: It’s hard to remember that it’s your one opportunity, in that moment anyway, to get people to really hear what you’re saying. And, you know, after you’re dead, you’re not going to have that opportunity anymore. And you get to read your poem how you wrote it in your mind, and with all the pauses and important subtle inflections of voice. And I know from experience as an adult, a professional reader, that it makes a huge difference in your career if you can honor your poems at a reading and give them all the space and emphasis that they deserve. And there’s always going to be fuck ups. There’s always going to be like, readings that I, maybe I’m trying too hard in that sense, like maybe I’m just being too dramatic, or too slow, or I read too long, or something like that. There’s always going to be mistakes, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you don’t get up there and act like you don’t deserve to be up there.




Ruth Stone:


(READS EXCERPT from her poem “Metamorphosis”)


I see it perfectly, except the beast

Fumbles and falters, until the others wince.

Everything shimmers and glitters and shakes with unbearable longing,

The dancers who cannot sleep, and the sleepers who cannot dance.




Bianca Stone: I don’t think I can shake my grandmother’s voice from me entirely, but—


Helena de Groot: Sure.


Bianca Stone: But, you know, I learned a lot from her in the way that it does change from poem to poem, and I think people get bored during readings very easily. So it can be very helpful to be like, to switch your tone really quick. And just change your voice to fit the various voices that inhabit our poems, because that’s another thing that’s important to me in looking through my book, I was thinking, I’m thinking a lot about the multiple self states lately, and thinking about what voice is inhabiting this poem and, you know, what part of me is talking to me in the poem.


Helena de Groot: Yes, yeah, because there’s a lot of doubling, right, in your poems.


Bianca Stone: Right.


Helena de Groot: Like, you almost overhear your inner dialogue, but like, what’s the dialogue part? You know, who’s the other one?


Bianca Stone: Right. And that’s what I keep thinking about, and it’s weird looking back. I don’t go into the poem knowing all of those answers at all, or even exactly knowing what I’m doing. But looking back, I’m like, who is the speaker in this poem? It’s some part of me that’s talking to me. You know, like sometimes it’s the healthy part of me, you know?


Helena de Groot: Right.


Bianca Stone: That’s often said, the healthy part of you. Sometimes it’s the destructive part of me replying in the poem.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: And I like that poetry does that, that you don’t have to be one person in your poems.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: Figuring out the subtleties of that is what a lot of young poets struggle with, and certainly like getting clear with yourself about a speaker. Who are you talking to? Even if it’s kind of an arbitrary stand-in person, like I’m talking to myself when I’m in this state, and I’m thinking of that when I’m writing the poem. It’s not necessarily what other people are going to understand or know, and I’m not sure if it even matters that much, but it matters that I’m specific and precise in a certain effort to speak.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: But, you know, my last book, The Mobius Strip Club of Grief, you know, was much more conversational with Ruth in that book and my mother.


Helena de Groot: Yeah, I mean, that’s what really I thought was so … (SIGHS) devastating about your, about this book. You know, What Is Otherwise Infinite, is that the conversation has kind of shifted to really a you inside you, but as you say, it’s sort of polyphonic still. And it’s interesting because you could imagine that if you write a book that is all about the polyphony inside you, you know, you talking to yourself, that it may be very solipsistic or whatever, you know, or like, very, I don’t know, like just cool for you, you know, to read later as a diary or whatever.


Bianca Stone: Right.


Helena de Groot: But the strange thing, of course, is that that’s not at all what it is. You know, I found your book, almost to a shameful degree, speaking to me about my experience. (LAUGHS)


Bianca Stone: Right.


Helena de Groot: You know? So, yeah, I just, I mean, I would just love for you to read a poem so we can, you know, everything that we’re talking about, that we can make that a bit more concrete. And I was thinking about the poem, “Marcus Aurelius”.


Bianca Stone: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: And is there something you’d like to say before you read?


Bianca Stone: Yeah. I … this poem is one of the oldest poems in the book, and I’ve, you know, it’s, looking back, it’s when I was—this book is a lot about searching for answers. And at this time, I was sucked into the stoicism ideology. And it’s funny because there’s a lot about not Gnosticism in the book, too, and that was sort of like at odds with stoicism back in the days of the Stoics.


Helena de Groot: How so?


Bianca Stone: Well, the Romans believed in stoicism and Jesus was, you know, the Christian myths were … it’s been so long since I’ve delved into this, but, there was a sort of like unemotional practicality about stoicism. And when I think of early mystic Christian texts, I think more of interacting emotionally and creatively with a mystery. So, I don’t think it’s one or the other that one has to choose at all. I think there’s a lot that we can get out of the teachings of, say, Marcus Aurelius. But for me, I’m in dogged pursuit of the ineffable mystery, so making a … making a list of, you know, goals is kind of empty to me now. I think at the time too, sorry, I’m like all over the place.


Helena de Groot: No no, I love this. (LAUGHS)


Bianca Stone: I am going to read this poem! You probably noticed I was struggling with drinking at the time of writing all these poems. And I had read this quote about Marcus Aurelius, sort of just like, look, drinking is just, it’s just grape juice going through your body and passing through your liver, and you’re just the sponge, you know, you’re just a—what did I say, sponge?


Helena de Groot: The filter.


Bianca Stone: Filter, right. I think removing the emotion of it was appealing to me. And—


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: And, you know, Marcus Aurelius was an obsessive journaler and, you know, writing down of ideas and thoughts, and that was appealing to me, too. And I think I’m still very drawn to a sort of militant, unemotional, masculine person with all the answers. And to me, that’s, you know, that’s still a very appealing persona for me to hold in my mind, differentiating it from the neurotic, unsure, over-emotional women that I grew up with. (LAUGHS)


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: Okay, that said, I’m going to read “Marcus Aurelius”.




Sometimes I wake in the night

in a headache, my mouth like an iron forge,

looking for anything valuable in the debris.

I turn on the tiny light clipped to my book,

I write things down

in the spirit of Marcus Aurelius

who said the finest bottle of wine

is nothing but grape juice passing through the liver.

No matter the beauty of a frosted glass

or a night of big Truth-seeking, never recalled,

the importance of putting something sweet

into our mouths, turning it around and around

on our tongues, attaching to it our missions,

our purpose—in the end

we are all just filters. No more miraculous

then the plainest of birds. Who, up close,

we can hardly believe,

nor as focused as the deer tick—

nothing is given over to, nothing new is lit.

So often it is this. I wake up, urgent, fatalistic,

with the taste of nectar on my boughs.

I replay on a loop my one stoic consistency,

my middle-of-the-night vow

that I will start tomorrow

the essential dismantling

of how I live.


Helena de Groot: Thank you. Yeah. I mean, what I thought was so devastating about this poem … “I replay on a loop from my one stoic consistency, / my middle-of-the-night vow / that I will start tomorrow / the essential dismantling / of how I live.” You know, that I think that is like something we all recognize, the middle-of-the-night vow that tomorrow, you know, I will start doing, you know, whatever it is.


Bianca Stone: Yeah. Yeah.


Helena de Groot: And just earlier you said that you are interested in the ineffable and that like, goals, just like a list of goals is kind of empty to you now. And I’m wondering like how that relates to this. Like, do you still wake up in the middle of the night with this vow, like, tomorrow I will do the thing that I say is a goal or—


Bianca Stone: No.


Helena de Groot: Okay.


Bianca Stone: Well, I say no, but I still fall back. I still, I have relapses. I was obsessed for a little while with thinking that I had found an answer in this, I’m going to say self-help, you know, new you, like, start today, don’t wait till tomorrow. You know, I’m going to do, you know, here’s my attainable goals, and here’s how I’m going to get them. And I was like, listening—this is so embarrassing. I’ve come a long way. I would listen to this one CrossFit coach’s podcast. I didn’t do CrossFit I, but—


Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS)


Bianca Stone: I listened to it, because that’s what they’re really into. And it became downright masochism. And it became a form of self-harm for me to make these promises that I knew I wasn’t going to do. And this obsession with, I need to change, you know, be a different person in order to be happy and to be liked, to move forward in my life. And then just never doing it, and always doing the opposite every day. You know, drinking was a big one, I’d say, you know, “I’m not going to drink.” and then I would drink and then I would, you know, be up late eating frozen pizza and like hating myself. And it just, you know, it’s … for women, it’s particularly hard to overcome this habit of feeling like you have to be more beautiful and lose weight and work out. I mean, men have it too, obviously. But, you know, I can only speak as a woman and from what I see, you know, my mother and grandmother were always dieting. You know, I was endlessly fat and thin issues. And it’s a big, giant distraction from life. And it’s harmful. And it got so bad that I, you know, I’d kind of hit bottom like emotionally, just couldn’t do it anymore. I was so depressed that I just couldn’t do anything. I mean, it got really bad. I thought it was something that I needed to do in order to get out of depression, but it was just making it worse.


Helena de Groot: Yeah. Yeah. And I was—I’m so curious about that, because I feel like there is something very insidious about this mentality of self-improvement that kind of overtakes the inner conversation you have. You know, the conversation you have with yourself becomes all about that, becomes all about, how am I scoring on whatever path I’ve charted for myself. And it becomes kind of very like, punishing or so, you know?


Bianca Stone: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: And I’m wondering, I mean, it’s so insidious and it’s also so much in our culture—


Bianca Stone: It’s like, “You’re not being kind enough to yourself!”


Helena de Groot: Yeah! Yeah, exactly! Like, why can’t you ever relax! Just go and relax! (LAUGHS)


Bianca Stone: “Be grateful, god dammit!”


Helena de Groot: Exactly.


Bianca Stone: You know, it’s like, I don’t want to be grateful right now, you know, it’s like, what else is happening?


Helena de Groot: Yeah, yeah. And also the moment you have to be grateful, it’s like, it’s a lot less magical, you know. (LAUGHS)


Bianca Stone: Yeah, it’s like actually—yeah, it’s like, there’s something else that has to happen, not this.


Helena de Groot: And so like how did you get out from under this self-improvement voice?


Bianca Stone: Um … well, like I said, I’d sort of hit this wall. It was really halfway through the first year of the pandemic. Odette was like three. And I just, I was just the most depressed that I’d been in a long time. And I was scared. It was scary, because I have a child, and the stakes were much higher. And I didn’t know what to do. I went to my doctor. I went to my general practitioner thinking that there was something, thinking I had to get blood work. I thought there was some medical reason why there was something wrong with me. You know, I’d had, you know, I’d had a baby, my body had changed. That was hard to accept. I was still breastfeeding. I was still, you know, I was like—maybe I was done breastfeeding. And that might have been part of it, too.


Helena de Groot: Mm.


Bianca Stone: So I went to my doctor and got this blood work. So ridiculous, I think back, and I’m like, Jesus Christ. I hadn’t had a doctor like him, and I don’t know if ever. He was very nice and present and like, looking me in the eye. And he was like, “I’m really worried about you.” And I was like, “What?” Nobody, you know, doctors are usually just like in and out.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: We upped my—I can’t believe I’m telling you all this.


Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS)


Bianca Stone: We upped my antidepressants, you know, put me on another antidepressant. I was on, but I got this sense being with him. I was like, I felt something by my interaction with him that it was important to do this. Something sparked in me. I knew it was important. I knew that I had to seek help elsewhere, and I—and he was like, “You’ve got to, you know, are you going to see a therapist?” I didn’t want to, I’d had really bad experiences with the mental health care system in the past that I just couldn’t bear the idea of repeating. But my interaction with him made me realize that I needed to find the right person, and I did. But just luck of the draw, did some research, you know, knowing what I didn’t want, and I found this psychodynamic therapist, which is a very—it’s not an unusual therapy, but it’s not CBT therapy. It’s not your more common kind of therapy. It’s also not psychoanalytic, like lying on the couch therapy. It’s very much based on the relation between you and the therapist in the room right at that moment, so it’s very immediate. It’s very challenging. It’s not meandering. It’s not me complaining. It’s going to the heart of things, and that’s really changed everything for me, and I—it’s opened up a whole new world to me in terms of thinking about psychology, how the mind works, how interactions between people work. And of course, when you’re in psychodynamic therapy, you’re working with the unconscious, when you’re writing poetry, you’re working with your unconscious. And they’re very different things, but, you know, thinking about how they both work has become very important to me. And that came into the book, certainly.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: Changed a lot of the poems, new poems came out of it. I knew that I had to stop making promises about tomorrow.




And, you know, here we are in the New Year. It was mightily tempting to make promises, and I didn’t. You know, I said I want to do things like, I want to play with Odette more, and be more involved in our play together. You know, things like that that I know will be worth pursuing, but I’m not … you know, I don’t get in the trap of, I need to change, I need to lose weight, I need to be more beautiful. You know, it’s still—I’m still … trying, you know, it still comes up, it still haunts me, but I don’t have to listen to it. You know, poetry, creation is what I want. You know, I want to learn more about the mind. I want to interact with people and have real conversations. I want … I want to grow as a person. I do want to change. But you only change by being honest about who you are. And appreciating the multiple parts of yourself that are at odds, are different, you know, are unacceptable to—you know, one part of me may be unacceptable to another part of me.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: And they both need to exist.




Helena de Groot: You know, and I mean, it’s really interesting what you say now, like that it’s about kind of building the relationship between the different parts of you, even the parts that are at odds, you know, like one part of you may not really like so much another part of you. But what I also found in your poems in this book is an almost like camaraderie that exists between the voices within you. Like, for instance, in this poem, “The Way Mirrors Happen.”


Bianca Stone: Mm-hmm.


Helena de Groot: And I was wondering if you can read that poem and then we can sort of talk about that a little more.


Bianca Stone: Okay.




The Way Mirrors Happen


Going up the stairs of your house with laundry

like one of the washers

of the Magdalene asylums for fallen women,

you pass the tall, always unclear mirror

and glance quickly at yourself, meeting your eyes,

like a waitress commiserating by sight

with the only other waitress

at the steakhouse of off-duty men.

A whole needlecraft passes between you,

a fleeting empathy that hardens and endures.


Your job has become a conduit of static electricity.

Wrinkled tea towel, faded underwear.

You are both undercover

in the Domestic Tragedies Department

playing housewife. That you are somehow not separate

from your reflection

cannot fully resolve in your heads.

And it is a weird comfort.                                                      

To think one of you

will no longer look out

after the other has collapsed.


Helena de Groot: Thank you. Yeah, I love this poem. And I feel like it gets better the more times you read it.


Bianca Stone: (LAUGHS) Good.


Helena de Groot: You know, I mean, I can imagine if you hear it, maybe just listening to it once, that it’s kind of confusing.


Bianca Stone: Yeah?


Helena de Groot: Because it happens like so quick, you know, you walk up the stairs with your laundry and you pass a mirror and glance at yourself. And then from then on, there is like this doubling that occurs, you know? Quickly “glance at yourself, meeting your eyes, / like a waitress, commiserating by sight / with the only other waitress / at the steak house of off-duty men,” which I thought was the best image.


Bianca Stone: (LAUGHS) Yeah.


Helena de Groot: Then, you know, “A whole needlecraft passes between you, / a fleeting empathy that hardens and endures.” That too, I just felt like it was so embodied. Like, basically, you’re talking about consciousness, you know, like, how you the self meets the self or whatever. And you can do that in the most, you know, esoteric terms.


Bianca Stone: (LAUGHS)


Helena de Groot: Or, you know, you can talk about a woman walking up the stairs with a basket full of wrinkled tea towels and faded underwear.


Bianca Stone: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: But what I what I’m interested in is, throughout your collection, you work—you write about really big ideas. And consciousness and the nature of self and, you know, the nature of eternity and, you know, I mean all these big things. But you never get that feeling, like, oof, that sounds a little abstract, that sounds a little much, you know? You never get that feeling. And I’m wondering, like, how? How do you do that? How can other people do that? How do you teach this to people who have big ideas and who want to write about it but just don’t know. Like, how do you find the scene that is sufficiently tiny to carry all those ideas?


Bianca Stone: I think it’s a good question. I think you have to just keep listening to yourself throughout your day, and in the night, to what falls out of your head. It may seem unimportant, and yet in a weird way, it’s standing out to you. You know, also there’s … there’s some sort of element of free association at work always in poetry, and you’re not sure what’s going to come from it. So a lot of it seems to be about just allowing yourself to express something without judging it first. And it’s always going to feel a little wrong, but you have to follow it anyway, because your mind knows more unconsciously about what it should be doing than the conscious thoughts, which are more wrapped up in like, let’s say, “I’ll start tomorrow” mindset.


Helena de Groot: Right.


Bianca Stone: And, you know, advice from other people or thinking about what other people have written poems about, and I should be writing poems about that, but really honoring your everyday obsessions, the things that keep coming back to you in your mind, that are haunting you. I think things that are haunting you are haunting you for a reason, and you really can’t move on until you address them. And, you know, oftentimes we’ll write poems about the same things over and over again, because we haven’t said it in the right way to be able to move on from it. And that’s OK, too, as long as you’re not just falling back on old themes because you’re … you know, lazy.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: But one should rate many bad poems as well.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: It’s like I don’t … I don’t set out to write necessarily about big things. I want to understand something about myself and about my relationships with other people, and I want to understand—I want to connect with other people, somehow. It’s, I’m trying to figure out ways to do that by telling my experiences. I don’t know, I think all we can do is get better at being honest with ourselves. And writing that down on a piece of paper. And that includes contradictions, too. I think the worst thing you can do is not listen to yourself and try to do what somebody else is doing. Even though we need other people’s work as well. We have a conversation with it. It’s still what we’re doing in conversation with what they’re doing.


Helena de Groot: Mm-hmm.


Bianca Stone: I don’t know how else to put it except … to just interact authentically with your mind and let the things that are scary and uncomfortable and strange onto the page. And I think it’s a good sign if you’re like, “This isn’t right, this isn’t what a poem is, this isn’t what you write poetry about.” That’s always a good sign, because it’s something new. And the bigger you try and, you know, if you try and sit down to write a poem about consciousness, like how far can you go, you know?


Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS) We’ve all read those poems, you know, I mean, I wish I hadn’t.


Bianca Stone: Yeah. I know. And I see sometimes people get really confusing, and that is not going to help anybody. People, we, like, listen to me right now, like, it’s confusing and hard to understand sometimes what it even is you’re talking about.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: You know, and then you have this moment of being like, “Oh, this is what I’m talking about,” and it’s like one little line will come—


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: —that’s like clear and precise and strange. And like, you don’t understand it all, but it’s definitely different. It’s definitely like something is there.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: And that’s what you’re always chasing, and it’s so hard. That’s why most poetry sucks is like, because it’s so hard to do, and it’s like, we have to accept the bad poetry too, because that’s what most of it’s going to be. And … yeah, I mean, I just … I write a bad poem and I feel like I shouldn’t be writing anything.


Helena de Groot: Yeah, yeah.


Bianca Stone: You know, I don’t deserve to be writing anything. I’m like, “Oh, no, does this mean everything I’ve written is bad?” Like, “I’ve lost it!”


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: It’s really hard to accept writing bad poetry, especially if you’ve shared it with people. And you feel really ashamed. (LAUGHS) But it’s really necessary, because you’re figuring stuff out and you’re playing, and you’ve got to be able to take criticism.


Helena de Groot: Mm-hmm.


Bianca Stone: I’m trying to write prose right now. I’m trying to write essays, and I’m really not good at it. And it’s really hard for my ego to deal with this. And I just sent a draft of this thing I’ve been just laboring over to my sister and, you know, she wrote me back some great edits that sounded a lot like me editing other people’s poetry.


Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS) Yeah.


Bianca Stone: And it was, you know, it was like, you’ve got a lot of work to do. And I’m like, do I want to work, or do I just want to give up!


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: You know, like I have in the past. I just want to give up. I don’t want to hear that I have a lot of work to do.


Helena de Groot: Uh-huh.


Bianca Stone: The great thing is, is that I know for a fact that when you do do that work and then you see a finished product that you’re really proud of, is that there’s really nothing like that feeling. And what’s the alternative? Just find people who are okay with mediocrity, I guess, you know?


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: And there are lots of people that are okay with mediocrity. I’m not. I’m like, constantly fighting against it. I don’t—I want to be great! In the things I read, in the things I write, like I really want to push myself, and that means I’m going to, it’s like more suffering or something.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: But the payoff is so great, because you really grow and you really get to the real stuff.


Helena de Groot: Yeah. I’d like to take what you’re saying now, about sort of pushing past the shame, you know, like, okay, you’re going to do things wrong and they’re going to look horrible and they’re going to make you feel like you shouldn’t even be doing this. But then to kind of do it anyway, and something will exist on the other side of that.


Bianca Stone: Yeah.


Helena de Groot: And it will probably be a lot closer to what you wanted in the first place or what you didn’t even know you needed.


Bianca Stone: Right.


Helena de Groot: And I want to ask you about that kind of like, painful process, but when it comes not to writing poems, but to raising a daughter, while, of course, you, as everyone, having been raised yourself. You know, like, as a new parent, I can imagine that there are things where you’re like, “I will never do this mistake that my mom or my grandmother or, you know, the people who took care of me,” and then inevitably, you do end up doing that or you do another bad thing or whatever, you know. And also there you can’t give up. You can’t be like, “I’m unfit to be a mother. Never mind.”


Bianca Stone: Right.


Helena de Groot: You know, like, you have to push through it and see what’s on the other side, you know, and kind of push through your shame. And yeah, there’s a poem about this. And I’m just kind of seeing, should we first read the poem or should I first ask you about it? Well, let’s first read the poem. It’s called, “Other Wound,” and it’s on page 87.


Bianca Stone: Yeah.




Other Wound


The wound is usually someone else’s.

My love was never enough.

I couldn’t touch the whole of it.

I wasn’t a match for that depth.


Every daughter

has a cage around her head

and a mother on the cross.


I always hope to take it off, and rarely do.

Instead, I climb up, like a child into the bed.

I nail myself beside you.


Helena de Groot: Thank you.


Bianca Stone: Short poem.


Helena de Groot: Yeah, but it’s—I don’t know, it packs a punch, you know?


Bianca Stone: Yeah. You know, I had a hard childhood. There’s a lot of great things about it, you know, namely just the creativity and the emphasis on that. And of course, there was a lot of love, a lot of intense, intense love. (PAUSES) But it was—mistakes were made, and, I mean, I’m dealing with that now. And I think as a mother now, that’s why I’m doing this work in therapy, I feel like, is a big part of it. I don’t want to make the same mistakes. And poetry is all wrapped up in all the feelings, too, so it’s very … I’m very steeped in it. And I’ve chosen this life, I wanted this life. I remind myself of that a lot that it was really my choice to become a poet and to pursue it so, so hard for so long. And I put poetry on a pedestal, like my grandmother did, but I don’t want it to be at the stake of ignoring other things in life. Other ways of expression and Odette’s interests, and … but I think this poem is about inheriting a lot. And the more that I learn, the more I see this is rampant in all of our lives, is inheritance from our caretakers of their bullshit. You know, their stuff that they didn’t deal with.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: And poetry is a good place to explore all of this in an indirect way, because a direct way just won’t do for me. I think, in some ways, this book is about moving forward from this martyrdom that was very prevalent in my family and is still, you know, to a certain extent. But really deciding whether you’re going to carry it on, you know, to the next generation or not, and I am saying, no, I want to carry on the things that I think are good. But we can go for a long time. God knows where it started, you know?


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: The wound. There’ll always be a wound. You know, I’ve learned that what you don’t want is to drown in somebody else’s wound. You don’t want to stop creating because of what you’re not dealing with. And I feel like there’s a lot that I haven’t done because of, you know, trauma. And I want to do things now that I didn’t before, like writing prose.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: Writing prose, or something, you know, I want to try new things. I want to push myself in different directions. I want to like, okay, like, going back to this self-help stuff, it’s like, what happens if I move on from that? Like, what if I just accept myself? Like, what if I’m good enough? Like, then what? Then you actually have to do the work. Then you actually have to write the poems, then you actually have to like, do the podcasts and like, talk to people. And you can’t just sit and moan about what should or shouldn’t be. You just have to be like, “Well, this is what is, okay?”


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: Everyone else is going to appreciate you admitting that and writing about it and being honest about it. Nobody wants to see you being a perfect being, whatever that is. I don’t know, I’ve gone through a lot, I’m still going through a lot about this book. It’s like, why do I do this to myself?


Helena de Groot: (LAUGHS)


Bianca Stone: Why am I was putting my most darkest secret things in a book that I’m selling to people, you know, it’s bizarre. It’s … I think I’m just trying to connect with people, and I want them to do the same or something. I’m like, let’s have this, let’s have this cerebral conversation about being, you know? I think ultimately the book is saying, I’d be infinite if it wasn’t for my obsession with my faults, you know, I would be God-like if I could just stop trying to figure out why I’m like me. Not only that, but like, I already have a lot of the answers. You know, in the therapy room, an entire year to say one sentence that I’d already said in a poem, that looking back, I had already said it multiple times. I’d written whole poems about it. I’d written a whole book about it.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: Yet I had to say it in a certain way, in the presence of a certain person, or to, like, accept it or be like, “Yes, that’s true.” My brother read me a Franz Wright poem the other night that just … I felt obliterated, I felt like he said it! He said it! I couldn’t even repeat it back to you, but he fucking said it exactly what I, exactly what I was going through. And then one sentence can like, can contain it. And it’s like, okay, that’s it, I’m looking at it.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.


Bianca Stone: The mirror again, too, you know, like, oh, there it is, there it is in the mirror. Now I can live another day.


Helena de Groot: Yeah.




Helena de Groot: Bianca Stone is the author of four poetry collections, What Is Otherwise Infinite, The Möbius Strip Club of Grief, which she wrote after the death of her grandmother, Poetry Comics from the Book of Hours, which is exactly what it sounds like, a book of poetry comics by Bianca’s hand, and her debut collection, Someone Else’s Wedding Vows. She’s also published a children’s book, A Little Called Pauline, illustrated Anne Carson’s Sophocles translation, Antigonick, and she’s edited an anthology of her grandmother’s poems, titled, The Essential Ruth Stone.


Bianca Stone also teaches classes at the Ruth Stone House, a nonprofit which she founded with her husband, Ben Pease. They live together in Brandon, Vermont with their daughter Odette. To find out more about her poems or her comics, check out her website,, and the Poetry Foundation website.


The music in this episode is by Todd Sickafoose and Eric van der Westen. You also heard a fragment of Ruth Stone reading her poem “Metamorphosis” for a 2009 documentary by Bloodaxe Books. Thank you Bloodaxe for generously letting us use it. I’m Helena de Groot, and this was Poetry Off the Shelf. Thank you for listening, and a happy New Year.





Bianca Stone on family trauma, wrinkled towels, and the case against self-improvement.

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