By Gerald Hausman
On The Road
I have known Bob Arnold for about 35 years. His wife, Susan, a little less than that but not much. As a poet he is known by a circle of worldwide friends and readers. But not all, or many, of these have been to his house in Vermont to see not one house but a good half-dozen that he has built over the years.
It is like a little mini-gingerbread revolution going on there in the clearing in the woods. Not unlike his poetry. Stone walls reveal that hands know where stone goes even when eyes and minds do not. So the stone in Arnoldia is lovely to look at. You can feel how, when winter comes and holds the ground hard, the stone walls are ready for it; they breathe cold and warm as the season turns.
The houses, full to the brim with thousands and thousands of books are literally lived-in by literature. I went from stone house to wooden house, all of them peaked and pretty and seeming to have been born in a day instead of having been borne over time, as Bob and Susan had the time to build them. I felt I was walking in someone's mind. A place as uncluttered but as naturally shaped as a drift of snow or a tuft of fern.
I think I knew when I saw Bob Arnold's handmade houses and hand-crafted (or lifted) stone walls that his poetry came from the same source. He has written dozens of books and one of my favorites is Stone Hut. There is isolation in the book. Isolation of season and temperament; isolation that makes for poetry and stone cairns and people like Henry Thoreau, Emily Dickenson and Mercy Otis.
While Bob writes, Susan weaves. Their temperament is the same from years of loving one another and also being one with the woods. But mostly with the way things are. They would be the same in a city if cities were made one stone loaf at a time. One iron nail, one inward turning window, one gabled roof at a time. But when I say this I see Arnoldia, not Manhattan.
If you want to know what Zen is, don't go to a book with that word in the title. Go to a book about stonework by Bob Arnold. You will find his sense of stone in every book he has written. It is permanence we are talking about: things that last because they were built that way.
I guess that is why neither Bob nor Susan ever talk about fashionable art or the mass marketability of books. For, in their view, books, like people, last forever. All you have to do is reach for a certain stone and it is there. Read Stone Hut and you will see what I mean. The words are stones. Oh, yeah, you'll be able to lift them up. Don't worry. Some rocks are light as a feather.