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Sunswumthru A Building

Bob Arnold

With drawings by Laurie Clark


Cover introduction by Thomas A.Clark

Book design by two-hands & Jonathan Greene


2006. 128 pages, Softcover ~ sewn perfectbound, $15

ISBN 1-929048-06-8

LCC 2006-021406 (Prose: Building~Memoir~Poet-Vermont Homes)


Picking up where Bob Arnold's earlier book On Stone: a builder's notebook left off, Sunswumthu A Building is a series of brief, concise prose meditations on tools, carpentry, masonry and life in the Vermont woods, far removed from our digitally accelerated society with its increasingly shorter attention spans. Arnold writes with the keen eye and careful consideration of a postmodern Thoreau-his powers of observation and ability to zoom in on the underlying aesthetics of a splitting maul, wheelbarrow, or even a simple hammer can be read as parables for distilling the inherent metaphysics from any given implement or situation

~ Mark Terrill / Rain Taxi


Longhouse 1604 River Road Guilford, Vermont 05301 802-254-4242 Write Us

For most of us, implements remain in their places. We live in a world without tools. Our digital
sensitivity, with everything available at the fingertips, carries no memory of the workings of the wrist, arm and shoulders, or the force of a body and an intelligence brought to bear behind them.

The built environment is a second nature, already accomplished, as forgotten as the first. We only become aware of it in collapse, when the roof leaks, the lights fuse, our world falls about our ears. We were not there at the beginning, when stone was laid on stone, the gaps filled, a plumb line dropped, and the work was seen to be good.

Such ignorance is shameful for poets, those makars, custodians of poiesis. Poetry is that art which concerns itself with the material aspects of language, the recalcitrance of words, the fit of syllable to syllable. A poet should be able to lift a word, to judge it and carry it before slotting it into place.

A hand that has known the weight and balance of a hammer can test the resistance of flesh, that has grasped a form can open to reach over and touch one. A builder who reads will sweeten the curve of a wall. Trust yourself to a poet who whistles at his task.

You are in good hands here.

—Thomas A. Clark


On Stone

a builder's notebook

by Bob Arnold

from Origin Press, 1988

Now at out of print, but available from Longhouse : $35.00 signed by the author

Review for Once In Vermont by Bob Arnold

( originally published in Oyster Boy Review 13 )


O Y S T E R   B O Y   R E V I E W   1 3
Once in Vermont

Reviewed by M.A. Roberts

Once in Vermont.
By Bob Arnold.
Gnomon Press, 1999

116 pages. $13.50 (paperback).

Bob Arnold builds stone walls. He also builds poems that will last for generations and as natural as stones working together. Edwin Muir once remarked that modern poetry is not read by "the people," because it no longer tells a story. "The people" should reconsider. In fact, I'm going to ask my local hardware store to make this book a permanent fixture at the front counter.

Once in Vermont is the enduring story of Arnold's life. The book moves from short meditations on family and environment, to longer, more narrative poems about country folk. Arnold then returns to his beginnings with a series of condensed meditations. By the time I finished the book, I felt I had visited with Arnold, his family, and his community.

The shorter poems stun-brisk mornings or radiant dusks, bringing fresh vision to daily events, precisely measured with condensed, turning lines. "Sun Up" opens Once in Vermont:

I get up with
The birds who
Get up with me

Delicate repetition. The poem sticks in the ear. Notice how the third line inverts the first. The difference is grammatical and reveals that "doers" ("I") are also "receivers"("me"). The poem realizes that no one meets the day alone, that the natural world rises just like the human world. The epiphany comforts, especially those who live close to the cycles of nature, as Arnold does.

I've long been a student of line-breakers, asking why poets are compelled to cut one word and not another. At times, I find no method; at others, it's clear. Arnold falls into the latter. I like the way the end-words of each line achieve a fluid rhythm. Go ahead, say them: with, who, me; with who me. The hardest sound appears first; the owl-ish sound second; the softest, quietest third. With who me. Bird-like, isn't it?

An overly deliberate poet might have approached this expression more concretely, naming the birds, or describing bare feet on cool floors. But Arnold abstains from details, leaving us our own potent imaginations. Arnold evokes quiet, morning feet on creaking floors; he achieves the auditory mix of dawning songbirds-not with immediate images, but with intimacy of melody and rhythm.

A good chunk of the book is given over to meeting people: "Local [deer] Killers"; Manny, a hard-line country woman suspected of "beating the kids"; Tom Newall, a 90 year old who "boiled 400 gallons / Of maple syrup last year"; the town "Son of a Bitch" who would "bitch at you, bitch at me, / Give him a topic / weather, taxes, / School budget, road maintenance, local / Politics"; and even Arnold and his "Reputation." These stories describe how people get along and misunderstand each other and, ultimately, how they can't live without each other. But Arnold is not merely introducing us to the town-folks and their uniqueness. He shows us a vanishing community, a small town turning mid-size, houses every "1,000 feet", and woods increasingly subject to clear-cutting. This is community dealing with a rapid change.

Arnold's work is steeped in the speech rhythms that I grew up with in Southern Appalachia. Although Arnold's characters hail from his home state Vermont, the accent of my grandfathers and neighbors is "pert-near" the same. This rhythmic, speech-oriented language sustains many of the poems in Once in Vermont. He doesn't polish the phrases or clauses; they sound as common as John Smith. A poem called "Neighbor" begins: "They said it was a heart / Attack but it weren't no / Heart attack even though / We all seen the Rescue van." The nonstandard speech and neglected punctuation give this poem its appealing flavor. Even the poems that are not monologues carry a similar rhythm.

Arnold works under the Wordsworthian banner, using "the real language of men." His poems prove how effective a book can be when manner matches matter, form connects content. He knows his tools and built a book to live in. Once in Vermont is solid, dividing, strong, affirming, like a stone wall.
* * *

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