Sunday, January 31, 2010

"The business of book publishing is done mainly in restaurants, at lunch and occasionally at dinner. Staff meetings are held, calls are made, and paperwork is shuffled in the office. Lunch and dinner reservations are made there, but the real work is performed with knife and fork."

So says the esteemed book publisher, editor and raconteur Jason Epstein in his new book Eating. This is a memoir of loving book culture and the food that comes with it. The publishing life has made this book-making-genie and home-style chef a charming memoir of recipes, book remembrances and an overall wholesome attention at being alive. We should stop taking this for granted. The fruits. Few books get written this small and this well any longer, and the reading only gets better as you read.

Once upon a time, I guess, Jack Kerouac was wined and dined first by Robert Giroux, but that didn't last, and things improved somewhat for him with Malcolm Cowley at Viking where On the Road and The Dharma Bums were published. Those were the days, my friends. A raw classic formed in the bowels of Manhattan by writer & editor with heads together. I bet it was less knife and fork and fancy prices and reservations and portly calories added on, and more "Just get us the book Jack, in whatever form you have it in." Like the best of books of poems hatched on a brainstorm idea over the scratched hood of a truck or on a Brooklyn stairway stoop; nothing about food, just carrying on. So one must read Epstein knowing you are walking in the shoes of glitter name literati, but it doesn't matter — making words stick is all the same. It's hard work.

I like hard work and the people who have done it and continue to do it. I admire and continue to respect many of those who worked very hard before I got here. Epstein shares a bit of what I am rummaging about in my thoughts, from a section of his book describing some of the history and real estate of Manhattan. To me he could just as well be writing about saving Hetch Hetchy Valley or farmland disappearing everywhere through our fingers. It's all of the earth and fellowship:

"In the 1950s, when I lived on the top floor of an old town house in Greenwich Village, I could still encounter on walks through my neighborhood relics of the old Bohemia: the old wood-frame house on Bedford Street where Edna Millay once lived; Patchen Place, the rickety mews where e.e. cummings rented a house and where Djuana Barnes still lived; the run-down tenement across town, on St. Mark's Place, where Lev Bronstein, who changed his name to Leon Trotsky, once kept a printing press, and where Wystan Auden and Chester Kallman now lived, amid piles of books and manuscripts, and where you had to check before you sat down that Chester, a good if messy cook, hadn't parked a pot of oxtail stew on your chair. On Hudson Street, Dylan Thomas was drinking himself to death at the White Horse, two blocks north of the modest house where Jane Jacobs wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities...It didn't occur to to me—as I walked along these century-old streets under leafy sycamore...that we were at the end of an expiring bohemia, which was even then becoming gentrified..."

and more...

"From my flat on Tenth Street, I liked to walk a mile or so downtown to the old Washington Market, which was razed by 1973 to make way for the World Trade Center. There are still a few old-style public markets in New York's ethnic neighborhoods, where merchants hire stalls to display their meat, poultry, produce, and grocery items, and from May to October the green markets throughout the city are a blessing, but the Washington Market, beneath a vast skylit roof bounded by Fulton, Vesey, and Washington Streets, was special, for it had been established before the Revolution on land donated by Trinity Church and still conveyed a sense of those times. Here you could feel immersed in New York's living past as you wandered from booth to booth, tended by merchants with plump red faces in long white coats and straw boaters beside shambles offering racks of feathered game, fine poultry, sides of beef, whole lambs and piglets, while other stalls featured crates of eggs, tubs of yellow butter, neatly piled eggplants and cabbages and oysters on ice, one of which poisoned me so that I could not look at another for a decade."

A rich creamy wandering mind of imagination and concentration, and one we may be losing in the field of editing and publishing. In fact, I know we are
along with great over-stuffed bookshops and insatiable readers. Now all we have is Twittering twit-twits, rush conversations and screen-eyed wizards selling us toy game hardware. Not hardware like an 8- point handsaw for $15 that can last you a lifetime when taken care of; and, oh yes, it can also assist you in building a house. I'm talking about hardware that goes obsolete in a matter of a year or two. The real stuff of living is going out in the massive flush of steel mills, farms, factory jobs and neighborhoods, corner stores and hardware stores owned by folks who have lived in town for ages. With this in mind, I bless the companionship of my two woodstoves every day.

So here we have in the enriched hands of one Jason Epstein — essentially a literary inventor — how Anchor Books was created, which pretty much launched the paperback revolution. I well remember joining the Anchor Doubleday Book Club for these stylish and well built paperbacks in the 1960s and to this day own all my copies, some neat as a pin. Epstein would go on to be a co-founder of The New York Review of Books, and in 1980 he created The Library of America...followed by The Reader's Catalog. In the hallways of Random House, Jason Epstein is there with James Joyce, Bennett Cerf and many others. What he may now do with Google is a mystery. He could go foolish.

And I want to think it all started, and will end, with Epstein's vivid childhood memories from rural Maine, warmed by a wood cookstove in his grandmother Ida's kitchen. A woman from Russia who liked cold houses with warm kitchens. Think about that — cold houses with warm kitchens, what a feast of patience, understanding and endurance. Mothers, bring your intellectuals up this way! To enjoy forever the books they may still leave us, and if they've got the knack — the food they might serve.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


I got that funny feeling watching Obama's State of the Union speech last night, and I forgot about it and didn't much care until 10 minutes into it and I remembered to turn it on. We were working! And there he was —noble, smart, teasing, trying to draw in two crowds of the liberals and the conservatives that just have no idea how to work with one another. This country is cooked. It's now owned by the business interests, lobbyists, bankers, and that's the worst lot on earth — they think money first, people second. I also pick up a remorseful and ugly racism, lined with contempt from the Republicans to everything about Obama. The same feeling I picked up all my life from watching and working with regular joes who just won't budge off a dime. It's sickening. The face of McCain captures it all. On the other side, the liberals clap and clap but don't have half an iota of the strength and dream that Obama has. He's a poor fucker in the wrong place at the right time. Michelle's face tells it all — she's already weary, patient and angry at what she sees, and it's what I see. When Obama goes to her during the speech, and the camera sinks in, one sees the tragic captivity of a woman, a spouse, an intelligence that just can't hide the fact she is sickened by what she has been watching: one great idea after another, idea for all people and causes, and there's the Republicans sitting on their hands in contempt. The liberals clapping, splashing like fish in the sea. Obama tries to laugh it off and say, almost rudely, "she's shy". No, she isn't shy; she knows shitheads when she sees them.

Howard Zinn just died. Here's what he had to say that sums up his life work, right out of Thoreau, as you well know, and just sent out to me and others by my high school teacher from 40 years ago: “Democracy doesn't come from the top. It comes from the bottom. Democracy is not what governments do. It's what people do.”—Howard Zinn

The problem is, the people are now so broken and spoiled and disillusioned they don't know what is what. Right where the bankers like them — maxing out their credit cards and so they're owned, beautifully owned.

Let it snow let it snow let it snow, since it is, here in Vermont.

"wobbly rock" built by Bob Arnold for Lew Welch, photo © bob arnold

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I've been listening the past few weeks while working outdoors to the titmouse coming closer and closer. Just before the New Year the bird call was just a hint of a sound. Titmouse? is what I asked myself, when breaking a snow trail between the studio and the cottage. Stop the stomp of boots sound. Wait. There it is, yes, the titmouse. The first thing on my mind is an overpowering feeling of Spring. I'm not inexperienced or nuts enough to think spring is due any moment now. By near February there are at least one or two layers left of winter. Maybe a blizzard to fit in. Definitely mud season and heavy snow to whip us around or break the backs of some folks having both deep mud and deep snow all at the same time. Like a circle of dogs biting and fighting and storming right for you and rolling right over you. Poor you.

So instead, be comforted by the titmouse, the winter sound of spring, since spring is only and always around the corner.

Today as I lugged armloads and armloads of split black birch, oak and rock maple from one stash pile to another stash pile which is only little pit-stops to an overall huge woodshed of wood, the titmouse seemed right on the edge of the woods. Nearly behind my ear. Looking westward, see the hillside actually showing some bare ground under the tallest trees and softwoods. That's what comes after two days of rain and then more sunshine. The dooryard where we live still has over a foot of snow.

Yesterday when Sweetheart drove to town to do errands it was sunny and benign, almost boring. Wait five minutes. Here comes a snowfall out of who knows where, with snowflakes as large as tree leaves it seemed. Quite ephemeral, willing to pass-on at any second. I picked up our kitten Cutie-Pie and carried him out in my arms to let him have a look and feel of it all. And all & all.

photo © bob arnold

Monday, January 25, 2010


I’m so happy you liked the little children's tale of More Questions. Only a dozen people own this little one (so far). This is the sort of children's book I write.

Can I make it onto the "Today Show" showcasing this sort of book? — the camera pulling in for a Hitchcock closeup of my hand opening (ala Ingrid Bergman and the key-in-her-hand scene from "Notorious") and inside my callused palm is the book.

"Oh gee", Matt Lauer whims, "there's the book."

I nod with one of those backwoods slightly demented grins.

"It looks like it is short enough for you to read it all to our viewers right now Bob, would you?"

I do. It takes about a minute, and when I'm done, off-camera (but it quickly shoots to him), the weatherman Al Roker can be heard quipping, "That's it? That's it?!" Obviously sugared up on his bolt of morning java and not ready for rural dreamy ABCs.

The second camera stays on me as I hear the Roker dismissal and I'm now with a look of a bothered owl, not a good sign.

Matt Lauer is holding court and the tension at bay between the weatherman — a sassy and quick-witted black guy and not a sixties radical contingent busted off from the SDS — and the backwooded and patient children's book author me.

This always happens when books are read aloud these days. Someone out there just has to have a complaint.

Whatever happened to getting everyone in a cozy circle and just listening awhile? The campfire light dancing our faces.

Bob Arnold says, it's great to have recognition, even better to write the book you always wanted.

photo © bob arnold

Sunday, January 24, 2010



(February 6, 1946 ~ January 18, 2010)

Friday, January 22, 2010




To have every bird in the woods

Finally sing and I am known to it

Is all the morning I ask

To see the flower garden

Move as a dress on your body

Is all the day I wish

To have the stars rise from the river

And you think of me not as crazy

Has to be the night ahead


I’m on the roof today cleaning the chimney

Without a sound a bicyclist floats by on the

Dirt road along the river and spots me and

Shouts, “Your house looks great!”

I’ve never seen her before

I look twice to make sure I haven’t


Don’t know her

But she’s happy


Imagine —
hiking at

the end of
the day up

through the
woods and

into a
room of



She has been sick for a long time
a year growing into two

not debilitated, just sick
not herself

I ask her if she ever
feels like
why me?

why can’t I be normal
like everyone else?

never, she says

unlike most every
one else


By truck we were

Heading home the same

Time we saw fox heading

Home by the side of the road

Muddy legs like quick

Moving boots he made

His way and I swear

We looked at him

And he looked at us

And the Earth was whole


It’s a good day —

my work boots are off

socks too

I have rolled up

5 inch cuffs

on my jeans

I’m in a short sleeve

green shirt

no belt

we cut the grass

now heavenly


my love is naked

except for the red

dress she’s thrown on

waiting for a rain

that never does


we draw buckets of

water for new plants

from the farm pond


we cut crackles dry

in all this sun

let the satellites that

circle the earth

try to find this

photos © bob & susan arnold

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

. . . IN A WOOD



Long before the great ships at sea
There were the deep inland forests

I stand in one today knee-deep in snow
10 degrees with a wind

My saw shut-down
Oil freeze to bar and gloves

Listening awhile to the ships at sea
The long groaning waves

High high
Above me


There's a stink in the old farmhouse

Maybe a dead squirrel or rat or could it be a cat?

We've a hot water kettle on the woodstove

With apples and cinammon


Be patient with it

It takes a long time for a life to disappear


It'd be
so cold

we'd warm
our clothes

right on the

not near
the stove

on the

be quick
about it


He said he’d be right down to

Buy the VW pickup truck two

Weeks ago and never has shown up.

Two days ago the same. Yesterday the same.

The same today. Tonight as we supper

Soup and sandwiches around the fire

He left a slow mumbling message how

He would be out here tomorrow but

We were already past that in mind. I

Could see that as I looked over to you

Who looked over to me. The truck

Down in the field still in the rain.

A quarter-century old and barely any rust to it.

Never ever had to buy a new a muffler.

Made in Germany.

When we started it after two years stone cold

A rat ran out from his home around the engine.


Tonight —
because of her

because of me
& the telescope

I bought for her
birthday and she

has become so adept
she calls me out into

the chill spring eve to
look straight up

through lenses to a
miraculous visitation

with Saturn, of all places


We carried the saw and ax to the top of the hill

Hop-hornbeam logs waiting dry off the ground

I cut the logs into firewood size and split each one

You do the ground work, keep everything in order

We stack the splits into heavy canvas sacks

Carry it all down a trail under trees of meadowy leaves

I’m in love with you who is love with me

The woodshed at home is filled to the brim

I’m in love with you who is love with me

photos © bob & susan arnold

Friday, January 15, 2010




from SABBATHS (2008)


After the bitter nights
and the gray, cold days
comes a bright afternoon.
I go into the creek valley
and there are the horses, the black
and the white, lying in the warm
shine on a bed of dry hay.
They lie side by side,
identically posed as a painter
might imagine them:
heads up, ears and eyes
alert. They are beautiful in the light
and in the warmth happy. Such
harmonies are rare. This is
not the way the world
is. It is a possibility
nonetheless deeply seeded
within the world. It is
the way the world is sometimes.

My sense of Wendell Berry — farmer, author, family man, teacher and poet, is this is almost the culmination of the farmer and the poet come to rest in one late in life poem. It seems it just had to take a farmer and a poet to see this image magnifico: lying in the warm
shine on a bed of dry hay. The sight, the texture and the sure-step sound of it all.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


for Susan,
& Annie Wyndham who writes —

"Almost all the houses around here have clotheslines and people use them, even if they have dryers, from early Spring to late October but there are some who continue to hang their clothes outside all winter long. I tried that once one November. The sun was out, the air was brisk and since the neighbor over on rue St. Jean-Baptiste had her clothes hanging out, I figured heck, why not. Everything froze, of course. At the end of the afternoon I unclipped them, stacked them up, stiff as a board, and brought them inside. It took two days to dry, but only because they needed thawing out first."

Annie writes from the brave hinterlands of Quebec and keeps a tidy and invigorating blog: Jottings of an AmeriQuebeckian where I'm slipping some of the above from. I'm also asking my own readers indulgence as I repeat a poem of my own, and likewise add a photograph of Susan, busy at work and high noon.


Finally a blue sky day
And you do the wash!
Then you go and hang everything
Out on the line, a place reached
Through two feet of snow, rotten
Ice and a pathway I shoveled

Colorful wash all day
Blowing in the wind

At dusk you go pick
Dry clothes off a rope —
For a moment your billowy
Red skirt, violet sweater,
Bright long hair blowing
In the same breeze

I come to help as
You hold one garment up to
Your face breathing in the
Fresh wash and all you
Say with a smile is

photo © bob arnold

Bob says: move to the woods, get yourself a toboggan

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Riprap by Gary Snyder
Origin Press, Kyoto Japan, 1959


Down valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain
Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rock and meadows
Swarms of new flies.

I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.

Riprap by Gary Snyder
Counterpoint, 2009

[click on image above for film ~ 1-1/2 hours]

Dear A —

Many thanks, again, for putting into my hands this You Tube on the Gary Snyder ~ Riprap 50 years happening at Berkeley. It wasn’t the one I had thought I might have seen earlier last year, when Snyder did read during the Lunch Poems series. A fine reading from a brilliant man and storyteller.

Of everyone involved in this one-and-a-half-hour ceremony, Robert Hass and Lyn Hejinian seemed most with-it for an audience. Hass traipses through his thoughts like some hobo, but I like that about him, a befuddled thoughtfulness. I’ve watched him do this with an Amiri Baraka introduction and others in this same Berkeley location. I believe he is a fine teacher, still a teacher. Lyn Hejinian is refreshing, spry, girlish, erudite, humble and nicely playful with all themes she touches onto in her own talk. She makes Snyder’s prehensile approach to nearly everything, seem more like she is the dharma bum.

This is to take nothing away from Snyder's overall fellowship and willingness to be involved with a gathering — he comes to play. His chuckle throughout his reading and remembrances is endearing and almost the final sign of a benign hermit senility — he who laughs at his own jokes. He's now old enough and wise enough and embraces that devil-may-care enough to be meeting his young trail guide self and summing it up with a grin and one more chuckle. He's as sharp as any watchdog, as cunning as any stellar jay.

But not one mention to Cid Corman from Snyder on the 50th anniversary of Riprap? That's unfortunate, maybe even personal. Not that I'll lose any sleep, but it would have been both professional and historical to give a wave to its original publisher, who made this small book and all his small books out of small dreams and probably some begging. Again, Hass knew how to take care of this oversight. And when Snyder spoke of how much more “famous” he is in China than in America, well that was about enough for me. Likewise, having endured the sad and quite unprepared Michael McClure offering. Ah showbiz.

In a better world I would wish kudos given to all golden California boys and girls and especially spreading attention back onto Kenneth Rexroth and Jaime de Angulo, the forefathers here of any deep ecology movement.

The poems are beautiful, blue-skyed, and complete. The less said the more said. Or as Ornette Coleman once put it: "You feel this, you play this."

Sunday, January 10, 2010



[please click image to make larger]

Available from Longhouse

Daniel Smith's family began farming the Smith home farm in northwestern Illinois in 1938, where for more than 50 years they shipped milk from the dairy herd without missing a day.
Daniel began operating the farm with his father in 1978, eventually owning and operating the farm with his wife, Cheryl and sons, Austin (published Longhouse poet), Ryan and Levi.

In the mid-1990's, the Smith transitioned the farm to a grass-based dairy utilizing sustainable farming practices. In 2008, with their sons grown and decades of dairying behind them, Daniel and Cheryl sold their farming operation and relocated to a small farm in southwestern Wisconsin where they pasture-raise poultry and beef along with hay and organic vegetables.

Smith's poems have chronicled his decades on the farm, and more recently his emotional detachment from it and into a new life on new land. His book, Home Land, was published in the collection Human Landscapes by Bottom Dog Press in 1997. His essay, An Honest Living, which dealt with his decision to sell his dairy herd, appeared in On, Wisconsin, the alumni magazine of his alma mater, The University of Wisconsin - Madison.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Turn off everything —

Hear all the animals


photo © bob & susan arnold

HEY YOU. . .

Friday, January 8, 2010

I wish when I was born my first word had been "quote" so my last word could be "unquote".

Steven Wright


The other day in town I watched a snappy and cheery kid working in a used record store (where our son was once manager) making up used DVDs into 3-packs and putting one of his catchy label titles onto each packet. After he tied them up in a red ribbon. It's the day after New Year's.

As I was watching I was wondering how long a person could get away doing this. What age? At 40 it would start to look a little grim.

Earlier, while making the rounds of the store I had noticed these spiffy packets and leaned in to read the label titles and they were humorous and touching.

He was now done with his ribbon decorating and had the label on and looked stumped as to what to write. Everything is an advertisement.

I asked, "What are the films?" This is how I introduced myself to the youngster. He looked up and smiled and he had that look of patience-impatience in all of his expression and face and skin color and even the slender body. I had briefly interrupted a mind in challenged thought.

He was still smiling when he said "
Rush Hour"...and that included a bunch of the sequels. Dopey stuff for sure, but appropriate for sometime in any life.

I suggested, "How about: 'It's A Rush!' "

I could tell from times with my once teenage son I had hit a mark. He liked it. He started to write the magnificent words down onto his very small white label.

I wanted to give him a little bit more since I wasn't keen on being thought of as some guy who just interrupts label thinkers. I said, "That's what I do."

The kid was still looking down writing and said, " Do
what, write labels?"

I loved that comment! — the jolly nerve of it all.

I smiled and said, "No. Write."

He looked at me sideways and purred, "Ooohhh".

That's us. Writers.

After we got this all out of the way we both started to banter about my suggestion "
It's a Rush!". I said we could have gone with "Such a Rush" which has that Suchy "Such" to it, something that slows the tongue and mind down just a hair, just enough to make it not even close to the "It's" in: It's a Rush!, which is more definite and sure and barreling right at you so you had better duck.

Bob Arnold says: go for the mundane, relish it, preen it, gobble it up with both hands!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

HOW TO . . .



Forget tv
& newspapers
silly phones
& “what’s important”
watch the sky, the trees, the tide

animals don’t care much about you until you look like them

when rolling the car
bang back the roof
knock smooth the doors
find new glass
don’t lend the car again

cover the tomatoes for as long as you can
the morning ice is in the work pails
rake the yard by hand
leaf all garden beds
it’s time to say goodbye

do this with someone you love or who is your thoughts

watch for fools —
they act &
like you

photos © susan arnold

Friday, January 1, 2010



MARCH 7, 1944 ~ JANUARY 1, 1997


& Hank Williams
( September 17, 1923-January 1, 1953 )

townes van zandt photo copyright Christopher Felver
Credit: The Hank Williams Museum