Friday, January 1, 2021
for Olga Cabral and Ann Perkoff
Here we are now 50 years old at Longhouse. Someone asked me
recently, "you must have been very young when you started?"
I was, but also draft age. I had been drafted into the Army in 1971,
resisted that war, as I already had years before, but it becomes a whole
other animal when they come for you. So my draft board put me
in Vermont as a C.O., but I was coming anyway, being a kid
raised in the neighboring Berkshire hills.
All it took was a mimeograph machine, as some of the finest small press
publications of the 1960s had already taught me but it would be many years
before I ever saw a copy, being a country boy. My roots were in the woods
and I would go (by correspondence) to many poets around the United States,
who lived a similar discipline and almost all were friendly. Nothing's 100%.
The first press I had was called "One Night Books" (1971) and I handmade two
anthologies from that imprint — both titled "Remember the Time in the Tent"
and a sheaf of small booklets
of my own work. A friend at the time even cut out a woodblock
I still have with the press name on it.
a week poetry gathering at a local unaccredited college fitted smally
with misfits and marvels and each week I brought poets work
in for everyone to read and the first poet was Cid Corman.
By 1974 Cid and I were in direct contact from Kyoto to Vermont
and that relationship would go strong until Cid's passing in 2004.
By 1974 I was moving "Our Poets Workshop" to simply "Workshop"
and rolling out issue after issue, all on mimeograph and everything
was sent away free. Robert Bly wrote me back to say, "Put a price on it, even a dollar."
Noel Young from Santa Barbara cried, "Staple the sheets!"
Poets sent me their work, their postage stamps
and if they had any money, they were generous. How does one
keep things going at such an adventure stuck out in the woods
without a vehicle, without a driver's license, without private income?
I arrived to this location along a wood's river with a backpack on my back
and a minister friend who read Thomas Merton as I had, deeply, and he
told me he had just bought an old hunter's cabin ten miles out of town
in the woods — no heat, no running water, no plumbing at all, no nothing —
renovating that cabin, and his own house on the land, plus his long roadside
of stone walls, I could have the place for free. I had never touched stone walls
in my life. I had worked all my teenage years as an apprentice carpenter
for a long standing lumber family, but doing what you're told and knowing
what to do when you're not being told are two different worlds.
I began my carpentry tearing out all those sixteen bunk beds
and the lumber would have to become
my firewood for the start of a long winter. In the spring I would begin rebuilding
stone walls and fifty years later I haven't stopped. I took to those walls and
many soon took to me and began to hire me to repair and build and
also lay up stone walls. When a farmer hires you to build his stone walls
you've sort of passed whatever test is out there.
It's now 1976 and I'm changing
all the press name to "Longhouse." I'm working as a builder, I'm publishing poets
regularly in all handmade journals, booklets, postcards, broadsides, sheafs,
and my first book of poems has been out two years. A lovely young
woman has also been with me those same two years after my first two
years alone and living and working as a hermit. I'd seen her in passing
after my long hikes or hitchhikes into town, but she's the one who
bicycled out those ten miles to find me, to see me, to land me.
Now there's a Longhouse to become something — love, very hard
work, writing, publishing, corresponding by mail (which was everything),
friendships, co-building workers, the river, the woods, and never stop at
least every week or every month, every season, right up to present time
publishing someone, and giving it away free.
The church where I worked as sexton had a mimeograph machine.
The law office where Susan worked had a photocopy machine.
Say no more.
Libraries pay. Collectors pay.
Readers on the search pay, and eventually (by then, 40 years) we would direct the
Longhouse into publishing full size books, establish a bookshop, and for the
last ten years I have whittled down all my building and stone work away
from customers for pay, allowed the bookshop to work for us, and put
all my building trade into cottages and huts built on our property. At last
count there are nine. Ten may be enough.
During the pandemic of 2020
more and more passers-by could be seen on our back road on bicycles, on-foot
slowing down in vehicle after vehicle and if they could catch us out there
at work they'd shout up, "I love your place" and we'd wave back, and some
would walk up and politely ask, "what is this (pointing to the forest buildings) all about?
Were they for rent? Was it a writer's colony? Was this an institution?"
All logical questions. I guess it could be called a sort of institution:
It doesn't cost a thing. Just a certain love.
[ BA ]
(it's an even longer story — a son was born, there are
granddaughters — but for another time)
photograph above by bob arnold:
after all our woodsheds are filled to the brim
finding the very back door to the kitchen
fits in as an ideal woodshed all its own.
Close by, handy.
December 25, 2020