Bob Arnold: This Romance
This Romance by Bob Arnold, Origen Press, 1992 available from: Longhouse / Jacksonville Stage / Green River / Brattlboro VT / 05301, $8.00.
Bob Arnold is a poet whose prose is marked by value and measure, two elements missing from most of the poetry praised by critics weaned on the narcissistic psycho-babble that passes for poetry. Arnold’s This Romance is a journal of this poet’s daily life, documenting what essential in a life lived close to the elements: stone work, carpentry, parenting, loving. As Janine Pommy Vega states on the back cover, it is “a love song to the whole of it—fruit, bowl, rim, table, and watcher, jealous of the details.” And it’s more. It’s how all the details, life and writing, are measured; you’ll have to go back to Thoreau’s Journals to find a better user of the semicolon. It’s how we, readers and writers, value anything, especially our work, the work of writing.
In the midst of his observations about building with stone, Arnold briefly mentions a highly praised book similar to the one he has written: John Jerome's Stone Work. It’s the book I thought of when I opened Arnold’s to the first page. And after reading the first page, it was obvious to me that his book is infinitely more valuable to writers than Jerome’s. Jerome writes of work as someone on vacation with the work of masonry, and he writes of writing as being on vacation from life (pages 65-68 if you want to check on me). Arnold begins his book with an image of himself reading in the midst of work, splitting wood for other people unwilling to do such labor. It is an image that proclaims this book and this writer as willing to measure himself against all writing as an accomplishment within nature rather than a refuge against it.
Another reason to love Arnold’s book is that he is a real stylist. Unlike Jerome who writes with the internalized style manuals required of someone with his “credentials” —Esquire, Playboy, The New York Times Magazine —Arnold hasn’t got a paragraph in his whole book. And the book is stylistically perfect.
Unlike the poets who call themselves worker-poets, striving for tenure by writing about the work their parents or grandparents did in mills, mines, and factories, Arnold works. He knows the value of work; knowing it he places his life in perspective, in balance, with his writing and his love of wife and child, hence: This Romance. The inclusiveness Pommy Vega mentions. His prose becomes a manual—a genuine hand book—for poetry. Throw out the how-to-write books and replace them with this how-to-live book.
Arnold takes his place with the small band of other poets I can think of —Sue Doro, Ted Enslin, Sharon Doubiago, Janine Pommy Vega—who are marked by their integrity, which is but other way to say “measure and value.” It’s $8.00 for the book. How long do you have to work to pay for it? It’s only a wild supposition, but I’ll state it anyway: if you know exactly how long you have to work to pay for the book you’re more likely to buy it than if you haven’t a clue about what that book and your own labor is really worth.