The Craft of Nailing

Nick Lindsay was a poet, carpenter, boatbuilder, union organizer, playwright, translator of Gullah oral history, and raconteur. He died earlier this year. A chronology of his amazing life is here. I was lucky to have studied poetry with him in the 80s, and he left a huge imprint on my life. Rest In Power, Nick!

During a Goshen College Mennonite Church sermon in the 70s or 80s, Nick Lindsay told a story about watching and a roofing nailer at work, steadily zig-zagging up a roof. It was not something many of us had thought about at the time. He could hear the Craft of nailing in the sound of nails firmly hit and driven flush with three well-placed blows.

Words, wood — everything , really — he infused with Craft. Three was the most powerful number in his cosmology, imbued with numinous power; “thrice is true” as Lewis Carrol earlier said. I interpreted his conception of Craft as similarly tripartite: understanding the nature of a material worked, knowing the tools to shape it, and skillfully performing the of technique of making.

Nick’s workshops were a masterclass in teaching. He would always have us close our eyes when a fellow student read their poem aloud, to help the audience enter into the world the poet crafted. Poems were an aural dreamscape for him. He often talked about dreams, once where his famous poet father Vachel Lindsay’s death mask was placed on him. Where did Vachel stop and Nick start? Nick often sang and chanted Vachel’s poetry, mixing it up with his own. It troubled some people, but, in the end, it really doesn’t matter. Craft was something bigger than himself.

I don’t drive that many nails these days, but when I do Nick comes to mind. And I strive to drive the them home in three sweet blows. 

A version of this remembrance originally appeared in the Center for Mennonite Writing Journal, Vol. 12, No. 2, 2020.

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