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The Poetry of Bob Arnold
13 Jul 2012
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(Audio for this story is related to the final paragraphs only thematically. Singing "Fleeting Days," the recording features Sacred Harp singers at Hopewell Primitive Baptist Church near Ephesus, Georgia on June 20, 2010.)

From "Poetry, Place, and the Problems of Community":

"Community" is often a gilded word, a kind of academic-pastoral term we use to analyze, and in some cases romanticize, the real workings of people in a place. It is an honest and clear-eyed perspective that we find in the poetry of Bob Arnold, a voice reminding us how the elements of "community" can also be both ignorant and menacing, a far cry from our more idyllic conceptions of the word.

Mr. Arnold, an editor and stonemason, and his wife Susan are publishers of the internationally-respected Longhouse Press, and have endured the destruction and aftermath of Hurricane Irene from their home in rural Vermont. Mr. Arnold published a piece on the state of his region's environmental (and cultural) recovery in his excellent blog A Longhouse Birdhouse. What's striking about his essay is what it reveals about how this disaster and its disruptions have opened up a window through which to view decades-long social transformation in Vermont. These lessons, as he eloquently writes, reveal elements of a larger cultural malaise, but also speak volumes about a kind of Vermonter that is passing from view, and the newcomers who have very different senses of entitlement in regards to history, place, and community life. What follows is a brief excerpt from Mr. Arnold's essay

"We are now in a world that can be easily driven out of hand. There are no more wise and wily grandmothers and grandfathers pivoting in a neighborhood their sound tidings and ample advice. No matter how we turned out ourselves, we had our grandparents, or someone's, to show us the difference between good and evil.

"For the forty years I've lived here, I've run into much more dicier and heated problems and disturbances on this road with neighbors and others with differing minds. The difference is they were country folk who walk with an ethic and almost a code as to manners and outcome. The majority don't wish to cause trouble. The majority know conservation and conversation; they work with tools, land, wood, stone, and principles. Animals. It stands to reason to listen to reason. So I've always been able to talk together with others and smooth things through, often compromising an idea or a plan.

"No longer. The new rural country is filling fast with know-it-alls and big talkers behind your back. They take sides. They move only with their self-appointed desires. 

Community Culture Environment History Recovery Rural/Regional Books/Writing Challenges Northeast Poetry Vermont
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