Saturday, July 21, 2018
Friday, July 20, 2018
Thursday, July 19, 2018
Clifford and I have been exchanging gifts and poetry hardware
for decades now. He is one of my small press heroes
going back to the beauties he printed
from the Cranium Press.
I have his broadside Star Treatise by Janine Pommy Vega
in our kitchen library.
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
The Vernal Equinox
How important it must be
that I am alive, and walking,
and that I have written
This morning the sun stood
right at the end of the road
and waited for me.
Copper Canyon Press
Monday, July 16, 2018
|A front yard retaining wall and stairway I built at a home one mile down river from us|
A friend asked how long it took to build the stone hut. At a guess I answered 500 hours, and a third of that time was spent in the woods finding the stone to build. We don’t have great stone in this valley, it is old country rock, random rubble, odd shapes of chunk, or smooth river stone. Some call it trash stone. I work with it and make something of it because it is all I have, and it blends back into the rural landscape. I know someone who bought all the stone for a large retaining wall he wanted built, and every stone was delivered in dump trucks — loads of flat, wonderful stone, with at least two good faces on the stone. It was a breeze to set up this wall with a crew of workers, but when finished it showed only uniform structure and no character in the overall expression of the wall. There were no quirks in the stone arrangement, no wisdom of perfect stone meshing with oddball rock. It was boring to look at. It works as a retaining wall, so the money is well spent, but there is no soul. The stone in this valley has a rough look, it takes patience to work and occasionally you turn up the surprise of a flat stone, with even one good face, and save that for a corner stone in the hut, or a stone pad under the windows. I did find quite a few long flat stones that were used in the hut as tie stone: the length of the stone turned inward joining one section of a wall with another. These stones are essential. Though some stonemasons will use the full length of the stone to show off its beauty, this is okay if you have enough to spare, I didn’t. I used all as tie stone and continued to hunt for good face stone. I usually took the Willys into the woods for a few hours in the late afternoon and loaded stone and delivered them back to the hut site. After six deliveries enough stone was gathered for a full day’s work. The stone was spread on the ground — piling shim stones into one heap, saving the face stone in another stack, and basic stone being the largest pile. I would lay the face stone for the outer section of the walls, saving a few for the interior wall, and filling in-between both walls with rubble rock. Each course had many tie stones weaving outer wall with inner wall. I shimmed with the smallest stone as I went along, concentrating on fine shim work at the end of the day…filling gaps, providing extra strength with a two-inch stone. There would be gaps showing daylight, but no gaps in the stonework. There has to be an understanding with the material. It wasn’t the best stone, but it would build, and by the end of the week, mid-July, the hut walls were over four feet high. Gaining.
|Years later, still grubby at stone work|
Maybe it is the work, but stonemasons seem an independent bunch. Most, like myself, work alone. The work requires it — unlike carpentry where a 2" x 4" is used in an obvious job location, nothing is too obvious with stone. It always boils down to a reliance on balance, at what will work and what won’t. There is much picking up of stone, tossing it back down if it doesn’t feel right in the hands, then picking up another stone. Some days everything fits. Work runs smooth. The hands, the eye, the feeling of stone is all netted to a coordination. Nothing feels better on those days. I’ve heard from others that John Regan was an independent Scot stonemason. He lived in southern New Hampshire but did a fair share of his work over in Vermont. I’ve worked at different places and seen his work, both brick and stone. The basic uniform of the brick work never caught my eye but the stonework always had a flavor that stuck. He was a fine dry wall stonemason. Worked the flat and round and oddball stone together into a mosaic of his skill. A retired doctor I once did treework for was still talking about the merits of John Regan ten years after Regan had done work for him. He told me of different places in the area where I could see Regan’s stonework: a chapel he built for another doctor, stone walls, and terraces. I searched the places out and continue to return for longer looks, enjoying new detail in the work at every visit. His style has the charm and strength and body that is built by a man. No tell-tale signature of any heavy machinery at work, and being man-made allowed my appreciation to light all over the work, never tire, really marvel. When I heard about John Regan he was already retired and into his seventies. By now he might not even be around. When workers and customers remember him they recall a tough man of principles — he’d walk off a job if anything crossed the grain of his ideas and all you have to do is visit his work to see the principles are everlasting. John Regan left us that. Awhile back a barn was torched by vandals and it burned to the ground. What was left in the smoking lot was the library of a stone foundation. John Regan was hired to move that stone to the roadside and build a long stone wall two feet thick, with gateways. The property owners were wealthy enough to afford the monumental effort. It was done. I won’t tell you where this happened…driving the backroads of southern Vermont sometime you might see this wall. It isn’t classy work, it’s rugged beauty. Stone talking to stone. I drive by the wall from time to time and always study it closely. That’s John Regan’s signature.
|Susan and Carson having a visit at the stone hut work site|
Five feet high with the front wall of the stone hut I stopped at the end of the work day and jumped up and grabbed the 6" x 6" beam over the doorway and let my body hang, for two minutes. When I dropped back into a stance my back felt better, at least for awhile. I would do the same thing again, this time inside the house hanging from one of the kitchen beams. The back is abused in stonework. It can’t be helped unless you are fortunate to have a pliable frame. Fingers can be busted, thumb nails blackened, toes crushed. I can wear gloves loading stone onto the Willys and then unloading, but often I have to feel the stone I am working with and gloves get in the way. I had two bouts of back trouble while building the hut, but nothing that was serious, I could still work. Both times happened from working too long and stretching the possibilities of the back. And I only blackened one thumb when a stone I was loading onto the Willys broke apart; it dropped my hand down between another stone and the broken stone met it all. Luckily I got away with only a bleeding thumb nail. Of course I wasn’t wearing gloves — not that the gloves would have helped much — but I put them back on. I used that broken stone and know right where it is in the hut, buried between the outer and inner walls. Wrenching the back — and that’s how you feel when it happens — is all part of the work. Since the back is essential for stonework it is best to be conscious of the body that goes into the work. Five hours of hard paced stonework, especially when working alone — performing the pick up of stone and laying down — is almost enough for one day. A good deal is accomplished, the back isn’t beat on, and you can work seven days a week with that treatment. Eight hours a day doesn’t accomplish much more — it abuses the body. Somewhere in those hours, one to two hours is wasted on coffee breaks, talking, and the exhausted pattern of being driven by the work. I would rather work with the work. Enjoy the work with good health and that enjoyment will show up in the finished job. With a driven voice the worker that tells me he works a twelve hour day tells me nothing except that he is stupid, or unlucky. He no longer owns himself, the job owns him. The stone builder should feel the stone on his hands during the day, then other things: someone he loves, firewood to split, music that comes to his ears. Life has to be allowed. All that life returns to the stone he lifts, and with inspirations he has picked up elsewhere, he sets that stone down.
The days away building the Hauptman house were long days. The twelve hour day kind, but I loved it. Nine hours of carpentry and travel between locations, then stonework in the evening when back home. Between the carpentry and stonework I would swim in the river with Susan and Carson, which was icing on the cake for a long day. The river has been for many years our summer bath. We would carry Carson down in a small plastic tub and wade one arm of the river that shallowed to our knees to reach the main flow of the current where it was deeper and private and the sun lasted until late in the day. Carson was now over a month old. We would prop him up in the tub left on the shore while we swam, and he watched us with a steady eye. Nothing got by him. The third day of his life, upstairs in our bedroom where he slept with us, his eyes were already following the upper wall of the room, above the bed, where dark green stencilling trim was laced. I had painted that on three winters ago never thinking a child would be with us to enjoy it. After supper, walking to the stone hut with Carson in my arms, he would open his eyes to the singing robin, and as weeks went by he eventually found that robin and stared up at it, studied it for awhile, then laughed. He was finding things. Other parents warned us he wouldn’t distinguish things for weeks. Whenever he smiled, and he did on his second day, it was chalked up to gas. For some reason people won’t allow anything to follow its own course — everything that happened to them has to happen to you. I stopped reading the childhood guide books the first week of birth. It brought back the enjoyment of learning with Carson, watching him; allowed the delight of surprise to return. Susan read one helpful book on nursing to get the hang of it. Otherwise, it was paying attention to the child and listening to a few friends who realize the commitment to trusting yourself. A plank swing in the backyard, hung from a low apple branch by two chains, something put up awhile back. One evening of Carson’s first week of birth I sat in the swing and moved him gently to sleep. I was learning. Resources around you are the best tools. A swing.
all photographs by Susan Arnold
a builder's notebook
a builder's notebook
Sunday, July 15, 2018
Saturday, July 14, 2018
Donald Hall is gone and he will not be replaced —
trust me. I came for a visit at his home a few years before his
passing and he came to the kitchen door, slowly, on two canes,
and my visit was unexpected, and he brought me in with a smile.
He wrote until the very end and this book of many dozens
of short essays will show forth. His generosity was of
Friday, July 13, 2018
A strong collection of Beat Women Poets
with some surprises: Denise Levertov
is at the front of the parade; finally
someone recognizes Mary Norbert Korte,
and all the other poets are dear
essentials: ruth weiss, Anne Waldman,
Janine Pommy Vega, Joanne Kyger,
Lenore Kandel, Hettie Jones,
Diane di Prima, Elise Cowen
all for you in French
[ BA ]
Thursday, July 12, 2018
Building a new woods hut under the ash trees and white pines
each day, every day, I thought of Keith Lampe, a troubadour
for Mother Earth heralding back to the 1960s.
( Ponderosa Pine )
Wednesday, July 11, 2018
The Purple Stain
Day after day I inflict upon myself
the grievous penance of not seeing you, so when finally
my eyes behold you they are flooded with you essence,
as if drowning in an ocean of purple,
of music, of deep passion.
Monday passes, Tuesday, Wednesday . . . I suffer from
the eclipse of my sun, but as I mourn
the desire to see you rises up like
a prophecy, it opens like a slowly parted
veil, it grows pure, like honey, precious
like the heart of a stone,
it is honed like the key
to the cell of love in a ruined monastery.
You cannot know the exquisite bliss
I find in fleeing from you, the furtive gratification
of furtively adoring you, of paying court to you
beyond the shadow, of once a week removing
the blindfold and exposing my eyes,
for a deceptive moment,
to the purple stain of your fascination.
In the forest of love, I am a stealthy hunter.
I stalk you through dense, dormant foliage
as I would hunt a brilliant bird, and from these forays
among the thickets, I bring back to my isolation
the most brilliant of all plumage:
the purple plumage of your fascination.
SONG OF THE HEART
Ramon Lopez Velarde
translated by Margaret Sayers Peden
U Texas Press
Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Monday, July 9, 2018
|Bob's toolbox and in the background|
the Stone Hut and Faraway Cottage —
one built for Carson, the other built
Carson was now a week old and the 6" x 6" hemlock beams were delivered to the hut site. With the help of David Emmons, a carpenter friend, we lifted the sixteen feet of beam over our heads and where it was notched to fit over the doorframe posts, we placed it down. It balanced nicely, with two feet extended on either end of the hut width to be trimmed off later. For the time being a 2" x 4" brace was nailed under each end of the beam showing the exact width of the hut — I would use the brace as a guide when laying up stone for the corner walls. When the walls were six feet high and the window frames boxed within stone, the other two beams were notched together. They would be the top plate for both side walls and carry the rafters for the hut. The trick now was how to attach to the ledge since the rear of both beams would die into the ledge. My friend David had ideas and being builders together we talked, and I like David because he isn’t pushy and he admits his knowledge is limited working wood with stone. He is New England stock, born in Danville, Vermont, where water-witching is big. He can perform it. He also likes to see stone worked. We met in the middle 1970s when he moved to this river valley and rented a small cabin on a knoll where he kept himself, a dog, and lamplight in the window. We used to scheme things together — how we would knock out a few bridges on the road to keep this valley wild and the river would be the roadway — goodwill ideas like that. Since then David has married twice, had a son born, done a lot of different woodworking: some menial, some of proud joy, and moved around from Tucson to New Hampshire. I stayed here and watched his cabin go lonesome, saw the snow pile on the roof, paint peel. Then the cabin and land was bought by someone who didn’t know what to do with a cabin, so it was torn down. I still feel it up there when passing by. Its lumber was salvaged for a high school bonfire rally. Up in smoke. When I told David about it he became quiet and then slyly whispered “shit” with a grin. It was a 12' x 20' cabin and under it was a full cellar of dry stone. One time when I was visiting, David lifted the trap door in the floor to take me down in the cellar to show me the stone, because he knew I would like to see it. We ended up building a few houses together. No matter what was going on, if I gave David a call for a helping hand he would be there. Itinerant. Poor. Continues to rent because banks don’t trust guys like him that move from job to job — so David dreams about the land he wants to build his house on. While jokers that own 100 acres don’t know where half of it is. When I needed an extra hand to lift that 6" x 6" beam David was out here. I watched him lift the beam into place with all the care as if the place was his own.
I found the Willys jeep a few years before the hut was built balanced on a pallet of hardwood lumber down at Russell’s sawmill. It was in the back of the mill, around the woods edge, where they stick green planks to dry. I had been looking years for this exact jeep and there it was all the time right under my nose. The 4WD spider gears were stripped (joyriding by teenagers in the winter) but I didn’t care, it was a jeep, rugged, animal looking. One of the workers raised it off the pallet with a forklift and after playing with the battery I drove it home. I wanted it that bad. I paid Russell for it, who was away at the time, a few nights later. Now it has to be understood I know little about mechanics, and have brief use for most machines but do have a companionship with a pair of Swedish chain saws and this jeep. I once owned a 1950 Dodge pickup (same age as Susan) but traded the truck to Mike Aldrich, who is a Willys man, for the repair work he could do on the jeep. Susan and I had good times with the Dodge, a backroad dusty pickup, but it wasn’t a woods-buggy or stone-hauler like the Willys. A tag scribbled 1957 was tied to the hood brace on the jeep — that’s its birth. I can’t remember the true name for the model, Mike tells me and I forget, but it has been chopped down in the rear for a flatbed with side panels; all oak, a six-foot bed. Carries cordwood like a dream. I watch the rear springs when loading stone — after twelve years loading stone into a wheelbarrow I was moving to the Willys but loaded it like a wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow technique would never leave, and neither would the wheelbarrow — it still performs short hops. But on our land all the available stone had been hauled with the wheelbarrow into rambling roadside walls, garden walls, retaining walls, and terraces. I had to now scout the woodlot for stone. Mike repaired the 4WD gears and beefed the rear springs. I did body work on the cab. Larry Crosier — another Willys man and our postal carrier — sold me a non-spitting carburetor for five dollars. Five dollars! — that is unheard of — and so is a guy like Larry. After a few years using the jeep I was teaching myself the rudiments of its mechanics; I could hum or growl with it, but if it flat broke down, I would return to the wheelbarrow for stonework while waiting for the right hand to turn the correct valve. The Willys is a luxury. Without it the hut would have taken two years to build, instead of a part-time labor of six months. So I treated it good, didn’t abuse it, talked to it, took Susan and Carson on rides with me up into the woods to find stone. And we brought back plenty.
Books. I’ve never met a stonemason that learned his trade from reading a book. There are a handful on the market that are interesting to page through, but most are written as a “How-to” method. Working with stone is a sensibility and handcraft, you don’t sit and read a book about it and then do it, you are doing it. A book on the work might inspire someone to take it up, and it certainly will guide the ignorant not to hurt themselves, but the one who wants to work with stone finds the stone and lets the stone teach. In a day you should know if you are cut out for the work. I’ve seen curious displays of stonework — for instance, stone piled on stone for a corner footing on a porch; juggled looking, but somehow lasting 100 years. Someone came around and laid that. Showed that balance. Look for the stonework foundations beneath the old covered bridges — high square banks of stone beautiful in their strength and most likely hauled to the job by horses and oxen and unloaded by man. Books will provide the photographs of stonework but it is another thing to perform the work. The hands must get dirty. The book is left behind. It gets too confusing and becomes an interruption having the worker attempt his job while referring to the book. Make mistakes with the stone and repair those mistakes and the mistake won’t happen again. You have to arrive at a feeling where from the hands to the stone become one. A gathering of experience, attention, and pride in the work helps. One book that will inspire — I think it’s the bible to stonework — is Werner Blaser’s The Rock Is My Home. The title alone is definite. His premise is the stone we build with — be it a hut or a castle — compacted together makes the structure a rock. That’s what you have. And the book outlines European communities that have preserved a domestic stone architecture. The photographs in the book are numerous, detailed, and gorgeous. It doesn’t set out to teach, since it can’t, but to enlighten. The layman will look through this book viewing the bulk of the architecture, whereas the stone builder will zero in on detail, the balance of heft, immense concentration of work, the elegant rudiments. I’ve only seen this book in two bookstores and both owners had a keen interest in primitive architecture. Susan surprised me with the book as a gift one year. She bought it from Charlie Miller’s Worldeye Bookshop in Greenfield, Massachusetts which was a haven twenty years ago (Charlie has since sold the shop) for books on architecture, and not the pretty books only, but the nuts-and-bolts books. He would have them wedged in his small shop with Thoreau, Melville, and poetry. I usually reread The Rock Is My Home every winter when the stone is buried under snow. It keeps the appetite whet.
|Bob in the roughed-in door frame of the stone hut|
and strings are drawn ~ here you get a good
look at what will be the back wall of ledge
Carson was a month old when the stone walls of the hut were three feet high. I spent a few days away from laying stone nailing together boxed frames for the windows. Plywood 5/8" thick was used since the thickness of the walls was two feet and the frames would be set within the stone. Stone laid next to each panel of the window frame. The header for the windows was the top plate 6" x 6" beam. The window frames were treated to protect them from the moisture of stone and each window was painted light blue. I set all the frames by nailing the top of each frame into the 6" x 6" beam. There is one large window for each side wall and two barn sashes for the front wall. Another pair of sashes would be divided between both gable ends, but I would wait until stonework reached that height before deciding how to set them. Every step of the construction was an event, some of it I had never done before. Most of the time I let common sense and instinct take over and what naturally looked right to my eye. With the window frames nailed in place stone could now be laid under and around each frame. A week earlier I had notched the two side wall top plate 6" x 6" beams and our neighbor Mike came over to lend a hand fitting them. The question still remained how to attach the beams to the ledge. Of course the ledge was rock and rough and creviced enough to balance the two beams temporarily. I decided to build up the beams level with stone shims where it met the ledge, and by the time the side walls of stone were two feet wide underneath, that would be plenty strong for the downward support. The outward push of the beams was solved by drilling two holes in the rear of each beam, then dropping re-bar down three feet into the stonework and curling the stone around the bar as I laid it and thus holding each beam solid. The front butt ends of the side wall beams were notched by the strength and balance of the front wall sixteen-foot beam, and the thick stone corners of the hut were slowly making their way up to sit underneath the beams where they met with a notch. The top plates were in. Window frames hung. Stone was building up. All the beams were stained a smoke color to blend best with the stone. The higher the stonework, the slower it went. I was working off a step ladder in places, conscious all the time how the stone was chosen: clean strong edges to the corner stone, picking both for looks and strength. When in the woods with the Willys hunting for stone I was always keeping in mind what was needed back at the hut site — a special stone for the corner, a slab stone for under the windows, thin flat stone to cap the top of the walls when the top plate beams were reached. In the woods I was taking from walls other men built.
Sunday, July 8, 2018
Saturday, July 7, 2018
Nearing his eighties this might be Edmund White's
finest book. It's a little over 200 pages
and you would swear you've gone through
600 pages, thoroughly enjoying yourself.
As he closes one of the chapters,
"There is great imaginative energy in Malaparte, as there
is in Gabriel Garcia Marquez; everything is compact,
eloquent, and endlessly inventive."
White just described his own book.
Relish the essays on Jean Giono and Malaparte
since few readers today take the time
with these lively authors.
[ BA ]
Friday, July 6, 2018
New Directions 2007
In the house the house is all
house and each of its authors
passing from room to room
Short eclogues as one might
say on tiptoe do not infringe
I want my own house I'm
you and you're the author
You're not all right you're
all otherwise it appears as
if you don't care who you
are — if you count the host
Don't worry I go with the
house your living's where
you walk or have walked
I'd rather read than hurt a
hair of you listen to me
Premeditated twilight this
house a nearest wrapped
bundle of belonging idle
slip back through grasses
dabble our bare feet in
Poets have imagined you
whoever you are implicit
melody familiar metaphor
bawdy tapestries archaic
pillage love patience the
scales the dogs the boots
( a selection from
"118 Westerly Terrace")