Photographs of Back Road Chalkies by Susan Arnold
Last week we shared the work of Bob Arnold, a poet, editor, publisher, stonemason (among other skills) who lives and works in Vermont. The clean-up from Irene is going to take folks in the area a long time--far longer, unfortunately, than the national media will keep their satellite trucks in the state. True to the aesthetic and work ethic of Mr. Arnold, his excellent Longhouse Birdhouse blog is documenting the convergence of the community clean-up effort with an eye for how the arts can aid in understanding and consolation.
Amazingly, Mr. Arnold and his wife Susan have continued to fill orders for their Longhouse Press; as power and phone service have been cut out from Irene, they have had to travel between three states to find resources and internet service. When Amazon asked retailers to "take a vacation" post-Irene, many booksellers in the area may have heeded the call, but not the Arnolds.
It's that kind of resourcefulness and improvisation that's also on view in Mr. Arnold's Back Road Chalkies project, which, long before the term came into use, is a model for a kind of "rural poetry bombing." This, however, is an exemplary model -- as Mr. Arnold possess a deep and multicultural grasp of poetry, and has cultivated an engaged relationship with his place. "Poetry Bombing," with its references to military campaigns, and its hipster provenance, may be the wrong descriptor entirely for the Back Road Chalkies; those working on that kind of public art, though, could take some inspiration from Bob Arnold's work.
Here's the poet offering an introduction to the project:
With chalk in hand, Back Road Chalkies is a landscape anthology I selected and gathered up over one year from 2007-2008. The chalkboard stanchion took a day to build and move on a wheelbarrow to its perch. Built from old lumber I took apart from an outdoor bookstall I had designed years earlier. The chalkboard was bought from a family of home schoolers for $5 ... For awhile I was chalking up poems or sayings once a day, once a week, every few weeks, and over the long winter maybe just Thoreau would hold the fort. Jack London soon with him. A friend might write and tuck in a poem of their own and I’d share it immediately, or something in the world called for a line or two on the chalkboard, or the season asked for a poem, or the slant of light.
Below I'll offer a few selections from the Back Road Chalkies. Folks can find the full pdf (with the images in full, high-resolution detail) by visiting the Longhouse Press site and scrolling down to find the link along the right hand column. No one will be disappointed with the range of reference and image contained in this series -- hopefully it will inspire more Chalkies in more places.