Reading Wendell Berry and Bernd Heinrich from an urban p.o.v.

The roots of the two writers’ differences are regional and occupational. Berry is a farmer in Kentucky; Heinrich is a scientist who lives in Maine. Accordingly, the former writes about cultivation and conservation while the latter writes about discovery, the process of going from question to answer. But centered in the work of both men is the value of practice, study, and devotion. Their essays demand that attention be paid to what is around and underfoot, what is all too easily taken for granted. Berry says this explicitly and often. Heinrich implies it. Each of their essays, by virtue of its attention and clarity, says, look at this, how could you not?

Though Berry’s essays are often knotty moral arguments and Heinrich’s educational, reading the collections side-by-side felt like a kind of escapism, if not in the way that word is usually applied. They are not, strictly speaking, relaxing. However, when so much of what I read, think, and talk about on a daily basis is directly wrapped up in whatever fresh crisis our president has precipitated, reading deeply considered work that is focused on the world as it grows from the ground is a genuine respite. Both Heinrich and Berry require my full attention long after I’ve finished reading; like the practices of cultivation and scientific study they write about, reading their essays is a slow process that rewards focus and patience.

Read all of "I Don't Spend Much Time in Nature, But I Love Reading About It" by Bradley Babendir at Literary Hub.


Review of new Wendell Berry collection

The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry is a selection of 31 essays spanning five decades of his works, and it could not have come at a better time as our nation thrashes about in search of a voice of reason. Who better than Berry to explain to us “who we are, where we are, and what we must do to live” (“The Way of Ignorance,” 2004)? The essays are not presented in chronological order, nor even in any kind of thematic progression; rather, the collection, arranged by Paul Kingsnorth of County Galway, Ireland, rhapsodizes in a kind of orchestral composition of rhetorical movements – from ethos to pathos to logos and back again.

Berry is not confined to the subjects related to his bailiwick i.e., agrarian culture, and is utterly unafraid of any topic that sticks in his craw, as only a humble “apprentice of creation” and a writer without institutional affiliations can be. He lays into quite an assortment of subjects from economics to feminism to education to civil disobedience, and a whole host of topics in between, each one a treasure of insight and strategic action.

Read "'The World-Ending Fire' collects 31 essential Wendell Berry essays" by Richard Horan at The Christian Science Monitor.


New study of Wendell Berry due in January 2019

In Virtues of Renewal: Wendell Berry’s Sustainable Forms, Jeffrey Bilbro combines textual analysis and cultural criticism to explain how Berry’s literary forms encourage readers to practice virtues of renewal. While the written word alone cannot enact change, Bilbro asserts that Berry’s poetry, essays, and fiction can inspire people to, as Berry writes, “practice resurrection.” Bilbro examines the distinct, yet symbiotic, features of these three genres, demonstrating the importance of the humanities in supporting tenable economies. He uses Berry’s pieces to suggest the need for more robust language for discussing conservation, ecology, and the natural—and regenerative—process of death. Bilbro additionally translates Berry’s literature to a wider audience, putting him in conversation with philosophers and theologians such as Ivan Illich, Willie Jennings, Charles Taylor, and Augustine.

See complete information at The University Press of Kentucky.


Nick Offerman on Wendell Berry's new Library of America volume

Wendell Berry’s works are, perhaps, the literary equivalent of one of the farm tables from his own stories, laden with robust dishes of every stripe, from savory to sweet to salty, all to be washed down with spring water, lemonade and buttermilk, or perhaps a little firewater if our luck holds. And the analogy doesn’t end there, either, because that multi-plattered feast is surrounded by smells, by raucous laughter and talk, roosters and roof-drumming raindrops, or at other times by silence, solemn and gravid.

The gift of Mr. Berry’s yarn-spinning is in how his work delves deeper and deeper, proceeding to tell you about the origins of the table itself, complete with the details of its earnest maker, as well as which joints are sound, and which might eventually give out due not to any fault of the craftsperson but to an unseen pitch pocket hiding inside one of the large stretcher tenons, weakening the joint with a natural, hollow cavity. And he’s still not done because he will then proceed to delineate the history of the oak tree from which the table’s boards were hewn, decades ago, and what was going on in that particular corner of the woodlot the day that tree was felled.

The table linens get the same treatment, as does the salt cellar, and . . . well, I imagine I’ve made my point. Attempting to apprehend the scope of his vision leaves me literally slack-jawed, tuckered out, and dumb.

Read all of Mr. Offerman's thoughts at Library of America.


Review of UK selection of Wendell Berry's poetry

Wendell Berry was born in Henry County, Kentucky nearly a hundred years after the publication of Emerson’s Nature in 1836. He has lived, farmed and written there for more than half a century. Berry’s poems, novels, and essays examine this same question of place, of what it means to live deep-rootedly, a question that returns, time and again, in The Peace of Wild Things, a new selection of his poetry published by Penguin earlier this year.

The book runs roughly chronologically, beginning with poems from Berry’s first collection, The Broken Ground, published in 1964, through to poems from the early 2000s. There’s also a generous selection of “Sabbath Poems”, tied to Berry’s ritualistic Sunday morning walks, which he began to write in 1979, and the most recent of which in this selection is taken from A Small Porch, published by Counterpoint in 2016. The Peace of Wild Things opens with “The Apple Tree”, a poem that establishes a number of Berry’s poetic and conceptual traits, which have remained fairly consistent across his career. As he puts it in “Damage”, an essay from 1974, “If I live in my place, which is my subject, then I am ‘at’ my work even when I am not working. […] When I am finished writing, I can only return to what I have been writing about.”

Read the article by Rowland Bagnall at The Oxonian Review.


Concerning new Wendell Berry collection, "The World-Ending Fire"

It would be as reductive to call Wendell Berry a conservationist as it would be to call him an essayist. In the 31 pieces collected in The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry, the National Humanities Medal-winning poet, novelist, essayist, conservationist and farmer expounds on topics that range from farming, technology, economics, man’s proper relationship to nature, government, and social movements, to industrial disasters, marriage, the human acquisition of knowledge, drowning, labor, animal husbandry, eating, education, the Bible, Huckleberry Finn, and pleasure. Written between 1968 and 2011, all of the essays are ultimately about the same thing: how to live a rightly-ordered life.

Berry is not the type of chipper environmentalist who believes that capitalism can persist unabated as long as we install more solar panels. Nor is he the type of cerebral climate catastrophist who considers all action futile, opting instead to mutter into his wine glass about the anthropocene. In his view, the rightly-ordered life respects nature’s ability to give us sustenance and to destroy us, as it brings both the yearly flowering of bluebells and the deadly currents of the flooded Kentucky River. Topsoil is “Christ-like in its passivity and beneficence.” Nature is, in the words of the poet Edmund Spenser, “the greatest goddesse… the ‘equall mother’ of all,” who “knittest each to each, as brother unto brother.’” She operates as God’s deputy to mete out earthly justice. And she has a warrant out for us.

Read "What Wendell Berry Wants" by Colette Shade at The New Republic.

The World-Ending Fire will be published on May 8, 2018 by Counterpoint.


Read the Introduction to "Telling the Stories Right: Wendell Berry’s Imagination of Port William"

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks. These are the instructions for telling our stories right, and stories told in this way compel us to tend the splintered light of goodness that shines through the cracks of our wounded world. But even as Hannah [Coulter] so beautifully comes to terms with the limits of her only life, she yet worries. She is unsettled by the thought that she and Nathan may have narrated their seemingly simple lives in a way that encouraged their children to leave: “But did we tell the stories right? It was lovely, the telling and the listening, usually the last thing before bedtime. But did we tell the stories in such a way as to suggest that we had needed a better chance or a better life or a better place than we had?” Hannah is unwilling to answer her own question, though she must ask it of herself—she must live in her uncertainty. She ponders what would happen if someone, “instead of mourning and rejoicing over the past, [said] that everything should have been different.” In the end, she knows that such a line of thinking is the “loose thread that unravels the whole garment.” And so Hannah resists a reductive story; she refuses to tug at the loose thread. Instead, despite the imperfect nature of her life’s garment, Hannah learns to weave her narrative in gratitude.

The essays that follow are our giving of thanks, our collective attempt at telling the right stories about life and its fictional representations; they are our efforts to trace some of the narrative threads that hold together Berry’s Port William stories. We have written in hope that our words can elucidate the workings of Berry’s fiction, which makes goodness compelling to so many of his readers. What does it mean to “tell the stories right?” This is a question that haunts not only Hannah and the authors in this collection, but Berry himself.

Read the Introduction in Jeff Bilbro's post at Front Porch Republic


Book Reviews: Wendell Berry and others criticize the environmental movement

As Berry states from the outset, this book, like so many of his others, centers on "the relationship of our lives, and of our communal and economic life, to the lands we live from."

Looming over this relationship is what Berry calls "the ecological, agricultural, economic, and social catastrophe of industrial agriculture." We are still suffering, he argues, from the effects of the mid-20th-century "Get big or get out" agricultural policy.

With the author now in his 80s, a sense of wariness and sadness pervades Berry's writing. Of the healthy agrarianism of Port William, the fictional town about which he's written for nearly 60 years and which is based on his own home, Berry writes that it is "past and gone."

Weighing in on the environmental movement's focus on climate change, Berry is troubled. Though no "climate denier," Berry worries that the single-minded focus of this global crusade has the potential to become a fad, and to overshadow the very real need to stop other forms of environmental destruction on a local level. While Berry of course sees the need for averting climate change, he contends that the effort will little impact the life of rural land and people, which will continue its rapid decline.

Read the whole article by Eric Anglada at National Catholic Reporter.


On Wendell Berry's "The Art of Loading Brush"

In the end, Berry’s mournful story teaches us that it is not utopian, not ridiculous, to insist upon a different economy than a profit-driven capitalism, a different community than one separated by an industrially determined notion of individual freedom from a sustainable and local engagement with the land. It will take time to do, it will be complicated, it will probably not last forever, it will not satisfy everyone, and in the meantime it will have costs. But to take those caveats as proof that a thing cannot be done, that the economic and technological logic of growth is simply and always inevitable, is to blind oneself to a deeper set of possibilities: the possibility of taking collective responsibility for one’s place, emphasizing provision over profit, prioritizing public goods and public safety over corporate balance-sheets, and working out, one bit at a time, in Berry’s words, “a harmonious balance among a diversity of interests.” When it is done right, he concludes, for however long it lasts, “it is a grand masterpiece to behold”

Read "What Wendell Berry’s Brush Teaches Us About Capitalism, Community, and 'Inevitability'" by Russell Arben Fox at Front Porch Republic.


Review of Wendell Berry UK poetry collection

This column is usually reserved for new collections, but there is a reason to break this rule for Wendell Berry. It is extraordinary that he is not better known. I was on the verge of saying he should be a household name, but households have never been his thing. His selected verse, in a new edition by Penguin, is the work of an outdoorsman; it aspires to Gerard Manley Hopkins’s idea that nature is, for all the depredations, “never spent”. This is poetry to lower blood pressure, to induce calm.

Berry’s gift, as a Kentucky farmer and as a writer, is to root himself as a tree might – not to commandeer nature but to cherish it. I do not think it fanciful to see these poems as a form of manual labour – of necessary work. The title poem – his best known – is, at the same time, a secular prayer. The language is slightly churchy, which might not be to everyone’s taste, although there is pleasure in seeing church and meadow come together harmoniously. Berry repeatedly finds a remedy in nature, yet never comes to it in quite the same way.

To read the whole review by Kate Kellaway, go to The Guardian.