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.

Tearing Up Books

A client of mine, who is a rare book dealer, pulled a paperback out of his coat pocket.  It had the covers torn off and a number of pages removed. Slightly puzzled, and before I could start my “This is going to be very expensive” speech, he explained.

“When I’m finished reading a page, I tear it off and throw it away.  The book is much lighter and easier to carry.  I just do it with worthless paperbacks. Look, it is already half the size!”

I doubt any of us would have a problem with discarding an unwanted section of a newspaper.  Or a notebook page.

But a book! Symbol of permanence, order, fixed sequence and immutable fact. His action was as strong of a comment on the nature of books as many destructive and altered artist books I’ve seen. Or is it a manifestation of our single use, disposable, throw-away culture?

I couldn’t do this to a book. Could you?

 

 

Upcoming Event: Time and the Book, Yale University, September 12 and 13, 2014

Next week, on September 12 and 13, 2014, I will be participating in a symposium sponsored by the Yale Program in the History of the Book.  Registration for the symposium is full; however, Kathryn James’s lecture, “Time in Place” is open to the public.  It is great that academics are becoming interested in the book as a material object; I suspect there will be some fascinating discussions.

symposium