Friday, April 25, 2014


Back Road Chalkies
Sonia Sanchez

photo © bob arnold

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


One of the quietest books of Vermont poetry ever to fall through the cracks is this thin wonder. Nicely divided between two contrasting themes: "Vermont" and "Asia", and the lyrical power and persuasion remains constant and sure no matter where Lyle traveled. Just listen and feel the language work. Born in the spring of 1911 in Leverett, Massachusetts, a country boy raised in country schools and with farm stock, he worked his own way at odd jobs to make his way through an extensive education at Middlebury and later Harvard, where he had to be the most unassuming and modest Ph.D I ever met, and later worked for, at carpentry and landscape jobs at locations found in these Vermont poems. Hayden Carruth took a shine to the poems, too, and with the help of the Vermont Council of the Arts and fine arts publisher Roderick Stinehour, this series of Vermont Poetry Chapbooks was kicked off in 1975, with Hayden as its editor. You couldn't have been in better hands. I wish it could have gone on forever. Lyle as well. He passed away in North Bennington in the fall of 2004 at age 93.
 The time of year he loved.

[ BA ]



Moving from Buffalo
to Bennington
he digs a shoot
of her spice bush
from its lodge
by the corner of the garage
and some red roots
of a choice peony
and two small saplings
from the big maple
in front of the house,
he tails them into
the rough sod at the new site
waiting for October
rain for a final
transplant, inside
the new small house
raw from the builder's
plane and saw and mortar board
he scrubs spilled
sealer from the linoleum
floor, hangs pictures in bedroom
and livingroom where
they will please her eye,
arranges all the upstairs furniture
before starting to unpack
boxes of books
for his downstairs den,
they have been married
33 years, they have lived
in apartments, the first small
house, then the great house there
in Orchard Park
for growing children
and growing reputations
this house is for themselves


For an old man
who cannot walk the trails
the hills are
supinely beautiful
surrounded by
green hogbacks
remote from town
he seems insulated
from everything
even a visit
to the supermarket
from which he can bring back
a quart of milk
a loaf of bread
no handclasp
from a friend


In the livingroom
of the new house
lights switched off
his feet fumble
in the dark
nonpulssed to find
no clue
to the familiar way
still too
bright in his head
to be switched off
with the overhead


He rolls his mower
down to the big farmhouse
the only house in sight
and cuts a patch of grass
for his sister-in-law
roaming afterwards
through the cluttered
chambers of the great barn
storing hay
and junked machines
from old days
when the farm
was acre to acre alive,
now a neighbor's
crops clover in the rented
pasture, here in semi-dark a churn
heaved in a corner
is cobwebbed, there
a cement block
marked at corners
with rusty tags of steel
shows where the separator
once chirred
after the spurt of milk
to scrubbed
and shining pails


Rummaging in the pighouse
at the farm
he comes across
a fence-maker's
barb-wire creel
suitable for a sawbuck
ready for use
this legacy
from his father-in-law
who sawed and squared and nailed
the solid frame
to last beyond his life
stopped twenty years
but speaking sure
in oak that can endure
beyond one man's tenure


never get over
trying to find out who
what you are
pretense jars, scars
in the end will wear out
so be true you
at peace,
even so
somebody says
"I didn't know you were like that"
and the whole rigamarole
to find out who,
then, she thought you were
starts over again
to prove it to her


Morning air
is so clear here
and today so still
a herd of cows
four sheep
are pasted
like a child's cutouts
white against green
on the opposite hill


My father-in-law told
how one spring when he was getting
out dressing for the fields
his spreader cleared the drive
and gained the dirt highway
in time to meet a two-
seater from town, the driver
and three ladies got up
in white, and parasols,
to view the pretty country
cows and barns and horny
handed farmers in
denim bibs, he managed so
his team got crossways
of the road and he kicked
loose the whiffletree
just as they drew abreast,
the load was fragrant
and it took awhile
to calm the restive horses
his and theirs,
he tipped his cap
and saw them on their way
passing a green bottle
from nose
to nose, it was not so much
they were shocked as
shocked was what they thought
they ought
to be


An immense
tenderness comes over him
for all the shared
or missed
he feels lucky
to have been spared
aloneness, the look back
on years of self-
congratulation, knowing
at heart
it wasn't all that great
to be fourth for dinner
and bridge the customary
spice of the party, but late
at night in the spic
and span small
apartment all
to himself an inventory
of rage


Once poised
upon the edge
for ever
you look down
on fields
and farms below
green groves
and furrows far
and fallow
where they walk
the godlike people whom
to join would be to plunge
but once up there impaled
upon the cliff's
high brink
who evermore
would dare
the paradise


From his small house
protected against risks
he looks across dry fields
already harvested
and at a hill on fire
with autumn flame, 
the panic in the leaves
infects his reverie
with worse
than the old fear :
the inferno in his brain
this year
will it winter
spring again
and summer
to a new


He makes
no mistake
about his great
not loss of life;
everything else
depends on
that going-on,
that little
of pulse and nerves
scarcely deserves
fretting over,
rather he dreads
to discover
he must not expect
a reincandescence of words
during the agony
of every new day
a rebirth


Walking the brown and gold
October swamp
in search of a stray he
stirs the curiosity
of a pastured bull
and comes back laden
with orange ferns
and from a ruined wall
a lichened rock
suitably flat for one
more stepping stone
across the incipient lawn


Deep in the swamp
maple and tamarack
birch and pine
give way to feathered ferns
above the glittering stream
whose murmur here
speaks to no ear
year after year
till now
I come and stay
a moment
and as softly go


How unexpectedly
he misses the coercion
of all those years
of rows
of students driving him
to fresh discoveries,
now books become
the pets of idle hours
fret his mind
mildly, lack
the irritant
of panic, what
can I say
today to stir
their apathy
look, see
the poet self-
amazing drew
aside a curtain
on his hell
or heaven
for you


On the high hill
above our house
November winds
obliterate the view
which wide and far
beyond the Monument
contracts in chill
of shoulderblades
too hunched too narrowed
to permit
for inward sight
an outward slit


Two Continents
Vermont Poetry Chapbooks
The Stinehour Press

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


It's always a good sign when someone not American — Jean Renoir, Wim Wenders, Holly Golightly — come to America and show us what Americana is all about. Nevermind that the name Holly Golightly was played by Audrey Hepburn in the film Breakfast at Tiffany's, loosely based on the novella by Truman Capote. The English singer-songwriter was born Holly Golightly Smith and today lives on and runs a farm in rural Georgia with Texas musician Lawyer Dave, who pretty much makes up the "Brokeoffs." When not making home recordings (many), 
the musicians care for rescued horses.

Monday, April 21, 2014


Here's the new order of business in case you haven't been paying attention — "get reading!"  The Guardian after the death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez lists five books you must have under your belt if you wish to proceed onward toward the inevitable end of the earth since, supposedly, the oceans are dying. When they go — we go. I do pay attention to that. But I was reading, madly, before this announcement of doom. 

Get cooking because Marquez wrote long journey books. I'll go back and maybe even reread one of the Marquez classics. I read all the books when they first appeared, but News of a Kidnapping (1996) dealing with Colombian drug dealer Pablo Escobar's Medellín Cartel in the 1990s, is beckoning in these times. Proceed and read all your Kafka, Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Bernhard, Flannery O' Connor. It's Julia Roberts, who blurts out of the blue, in character, in the much under appreciated film August: Osage County, the name of Carson McCullers. One more little-read author to make a second coming. Take note that Sam Shepard is the troubled alcoholic poet in the film, and of late, Shepard has been showing up in a bit longer cameo portions in films not adding all that much but he's used wisely, like tinctures of seasoning, in this film. Time to re-read True West, Buried Child, the man's singular travel essays? He likes to travel solo, on the ground, with wheels.

While you pencil in names to get-reading with, don't balk or hesitate or think you're slumming it with Donald Westlake. You should already be on the road to ruin having read all his novels and chief character "Parker" through the Westlake penned "Richard Stark" novels. I've lost count now who has been re-issuing what and when after Westlake's death a few years ago. The first time published The Comedy Is Finished (2012) was written but not published around the same time Martin Scorsese released his black comedy The King of Comedy (1982), starring Jerry Lewis and Robert DeNiro, an unlikely pairing that works wonders. Read your Westlake (drink your milk) although I prefer Richard Stark.

Also read W.G. Sebald, Ron Rash, and how'd you get this far not reading Brigid Brophy? I was at a fine and meaty book sale yesterday where two book dealers, jokers, clowns really, circled a poetry table grabbing every known name (what "names" are there in poetry? Yeats, Heaney, Ashbery it seems to these dervish dancers), shouting out their devilish skills at being pests, which they are, leaving behind, at least, hidden treasures of great poets and titles and "no-names" in their game and pursuit at being irritating top-feeders, and then hightailing it away. Going for the gold! It's all about revenge and spite. But I've noticed, when traveling between book sales, small towns where the white man has failed in New England — the Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Moroccan, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese etc., are doing pretty darn well for themselves. Making do and revitalizing a broken down business left crooked and busted by the white man's spite; er, I mean spirit.

It's not the oceans that will die first. And if and when they do, we'll know who had their hand in on it.

Of course it's not just the mafia of pesky book dealers that mount a book sale — there are the readers here as well. Some quite devoted. I watched two women work as a team on a dozen heavy boxes of carefully chosen garden and landscaping books. This took hours of their labor. Afterwards, by chance, we would meet up on the curb outside the book sale with our gleanings piled up in boxes ready to load for the ride home. They were loading their booty up into the back bed of a red Toyota pickup, Vermont plates, and I asked if they had a shop. They must have been prepared for me because the taller of the two, with the longer hair and the big smile said quickly, "Nope. We're just obsessed." I nodded with a smile and said, "Good for you." And they knew what I meant.

A moment later while they still worked at their loading I heard one of the woman say to the other, "It's okay to have a house filled up with books, isn't it?"

Sure it is.

[ BA ]

Sunday, April 20, 2014



is when


feels oddly

too new

[  BA ]

Saturday, April 19, 2014

SPRING 2014 ~

In our spring rounds — hiking and brushing off the mud — we happened to try our luck at the end of the day at one of those modern grocery stores that act fully as a casino — loud lighting, terrible music littering the air space, something about "gold coins" which we didn't have, people in a mad dash with carts! and found for ourselves what we had been hoping to find after a very long winter: strawberries, not from New England yet of course, but shipped from Watsonville, California, which I can't help but think of John Steinbeck's East of Eden, each strawberry deeply red and ripe for eating on the half hour drive on the backroads to home. And that's what we went and did.


drawing © bob arnold