Monday, June 4, 2012

Poetry, Place, And The Problems Of Community

Back Road Chalkies to Hurricane Irene; Bob Arnold

We return this week with an update from poet, editor, and stonemason Bob Arnold. As we wrote last year, Mr. Arnold and his wife Susan --  publishers of the internationally-respected Longhouse Press -- have endured the destruction and aftermath of Hurricane Irene from their home in rural Vermont. 

Bob Arnold recently published an update 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. 

"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. In a kind of honest and clear-eyed perspective that we find in Mr. Arnold's poetry, we learn how the elements of "community" can also be both ignorant and menacing, a far cry from our more idyllic conceptions of the word.

Below is a brief excerpt from Mr. Arnold's essay; his reflections are bolstered by the encounters and anecdotes preceding it. If folks have been following the media's coverage of the one-year anniversary of Irene, I encourage a full read of the scene on the ground from this poet's perspective:
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.