The Natural History of a Blade by Philip Arnold


The Natural History of a Blade portrays a life among the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. At a meeting place of landscape, language and memory, the poems of this collection articulate liminal spaces—where animal and human, the wild and cultivated roam and rustle. Broadly, the poems explore the origins of the word, blade, with meanings of leaf, blossom and sharp edge. From this approach—new growth and old, the forms of nature and the tools by which we mark the natural world around us—are the poems’ chief interests. This debut work by Philip Arnold enacts experiences within a wider pattern of ritual and lore, where older rhythms may possibly enrich the circulations of the present.


  • Kind: Perfectbound
  • Pages: 80
  • Language: English
  • Date Published: August, 2019
  • ISBN:  978-1-948017-48-0


“Philip Arnold’s wonderful collection of poems, The Natural History of a Blade, is set in and inspired by the North Carolina Mountains. In it exists the luminous intersection between the earth the speaker treads and a vanished world he longs for. This is a contemplative volume: hushed, solemn as vespers, yet jubilant with “the tossed / and restless earth, pouring out / its life through the difficult / and miraculous growth.” Arnold reckons this mysterious earth, parsed out in splendid language, and reimagines it as his holy plat of remembrance.” —Joseph Bathanti

“The intellect is a cleaver, Thoreau wrote when the creek pebbles turned astral. If the Walden dweller had read Philip Arnold’s The Natural History of a Blade, he would have appreciated how the axe-sharp words open soil, tree-rings, shadows. Arnold penetrates the surfaces in order to build. A house, yes, but more subtle structures: thresholds, peripheries, these very poems. The elegist’s question always is: what remains behind in the passing? Arnold is not afraid to watch his well-wrought designs decay. He knows that the verse, if pitched right (his is), will always alert us to storm light, and the morning star that is the sun.” —Eric G. Wilson


Counting the Rings

He knew
the way a horse can feel
a storm coming
an hour away

so it was no surprise
when he cut down
the old black oak
and counted the rings

to be sure
he had now been cheated
a single year.

In the evening’s silence
his hands,
empty for the first time all day,

opened into valleys
as he listened

for the coming snow
hidden in wings.

He waited for it to fall
before he let his horses
go free, which is what a man
about to kill himself
will do.


Philip ArnoldPhilip Arnold has lived a life in the long shadows cast by the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. He holds a B.A. and M.A. in English Literature from Appalachian State University. His poems have appeared in Rattle, The Iowa Review, Midwest Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, Café Review and Sequestrum. His poetry has received an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. His creative non-fiction has appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, The Olive Press and apt, from which his piece, “Stereoscopic Paris,” was selected as a notable essay in the Best American Essays series.

Additional information

Weight 5.9 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .25 in