Reading Wendell Berry's "Roots to the Earth"

I just read Roots to the Earth, a collection of Wendell Berry’s poetry and prose on American rural life. It is a meditation on living well.

The book first appeared a quarter century ago in a portfolio illustrated with Wesley Bates’ woodcuts. Three years ago, Larkspur Press released a limited edition of one hundred copies. Last year, Berkeley’s Counterpoint Press made the book available to the general public.

Even at one remove from a letterpress printing, this affordable volume is lavish. Bates’ illustrations recall the work of Rockwell Kent, Lynn Ward, and other midcentury traditionalists. However, while Kent and Ward foregrounded their figures against midnight-dark skies, Bates opens his to the light. That echoes the generosity of Berry’s poems and recalls as well some of the cheer found in children’s books, which may explain why Skylight Books displayed the copy I bought in the store’s kiddie section. I think that’s a mistake. True, there’s no reason that older children can’t read Roots to the Earth. Yet it’s adults who are likely most receptive to Berry’s themes of faith, frugality, steadfastness, dignity and humility. Adult experience often teaches something about the cost of abandoning traditional values.

Read the whole article at Left, Write & Centaur


Why We Need Wendell Berry

For a healthy discourse, voices from all across the country are needed. These distinctions occur not just along the lines of race and gender, but class and region as well. Much of literature and cultural taste, like the forces of political change and economics, are dictated by those in the cities, leaving behind those in rural and farming counties. One of the most important literary voices of rural America today, telling the stories and bringing to light the issues of a forgotten region, is Wendell Berry, an author of poetry, fiction, essays, and more.

What distinguishes Berry’s talented, over half-century-long career is his sincere commitment to activism. Since the late '60s, when Berry was a professor and incipient writer, he protested the war in Vietnam. Berry has put his opposition to nuclear power plants, and his support behind small farmers. Berry still lives in Port Royal, Kentucky, on a farm he moved to with his family in the '70s. His experience on the farm has given richness to his vision for a better future and has bestowed authority to his sympathetic calls for an America that stays in touch with the land and agrarian culture that is integral to its character.

As the country’s urban-rural divide has shown itself to have ever-growing and serious consequences, Berry has emerged as a sympathetic, assertive voice for the region. Berry is an especially necessary figure in the current American literary community, in a time when most of the author bios on recent hardcovers seem to contain the sentence “... lives in Brooklyn.”

Read the complete article by Matt Reimann at Books Tell You Why.

 


A Critique of Wendell Berry's Ideas about Gay Marriage

Wendell Berry’s influence has grown in recent years as many people, Christians or not, have found his agrarian vision a compelling corrective to various modern problems. However, Berry publicly took what we might call a “middle road” on gay marriage. This position surprised (and disappointed) many evangelicals that do not agree. But how does Berry’s position on gay marriage stand up to Berry’s own criticism? Does he agree with himself?


In Wendell Berry’s most recent collection of essays, Our Only World, he “risks” arguing that there should be no law either for or against homosexual marriage. This “risk” explains his feeling of being “caught in the middle” (as the essay’s title puts it) of the current political atmosphere. In other words, Berry’s “risk” is alienating both conservatives—who often appreciate his writing but would disagree on marriage—and liberals—who would find his statements not stretching far enough. Berry seems quite comfortable taking this “risk,” since he does not identify closely with either group.

But what else is at risk here? Is Berry not only “caught in the middle” of the typical sides of the debates, but also “caught in the middle” of his own arguments—or, perhaps more bluntly, does he actually risk contradicting himself? How does this position on gay marriage line up with his own earlier essays related to marriage and sexuality?

In this article I explore Berry’s “risk” in connection with specific arguments from his previous essays on marriage, family, and sexuality in order to provide the overall context necessary for making sense of his current position. Is Berry’s “risk” consistent with his other positions? Is it not only consistent but a logically necessary step? Looking behind simple statements to the broader arguments that undergird and support them will help us understand what to make of Berry’s statement as well as Berry’s continued relevance to evangelical discussions of marriage.

Read the entire article by Jacob Shatzer at Themelios.


Paris Review staffer likes Wendell Berry's work

Personally, I have been very moved by Berry’s writings. He paints a picture of a unified life that appeals to me, arguments for its feasibility today notwithstanding. In all the discussions of Berry I’ve encountered, one element of his writing that frequently gets overlooked is its playfulness and joy, of which I was reminded this past week reading through his collection of poems Given. He takes pleasure in his poetry and prose; it is clear that he delights in the world, even in the brokenness and sorrow of which he frequently writes. The little poem “Why” is a good sample:

Why all the embarrassment
about being happy?
Sometimes I’m as happy
as a sleeping dog,
and for the same reasons,
and for others.

Read the whole brief appreciation by Joel Pinckney at The Paris Review (scroll down).


Reflections on Wendell Berry and Complexity

Reading Wendell Berry is an exercise in cultivating complexity. His love of Nature, the vision of locality, and understanding of the costs of a global economy resonate with what remains of my small-town southern upbringing. I did not live the Hillbilly Elegy experience; instead, my memories of childhood evoke an almost Berry-esque playing by the creekside on our five acres in Montgomery County, Tennessee. Reading Berry calls my soul to abandon the city life I live and move to a mythical farm.

And yet, there are goods the city cultivates which Mr. Berry’s vision would demand sacrificing.

Read the whole article by Josh Herring at The Imaginative Conservative.


On U. S. theatrical premier of "Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry"

Next Friday (June 30) a film featuring the work of Kentucky’s own Wendell Berry will enjoy its U.S. theatrical premiere at the IFC Center in New York City. “Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry” is a cinematic account of the changing landscapes and shifting values of rural America in the era of industrial agriculture, as seen through the mind’s eye of writer, farmer and activist Wendell Berry, an alumnus and former faculty member of the University of Kentucky Department of English.

The first documentary about Berry, one of America’s most significant living writers, “Look and See” was filmed in and around Henry County, Kentucky — where Berry has lived and farmed since the mid-1960s. Filmmaker Laura Dunn weaves Berry’s poetic and prescient words with striking cinematography and the testimonies of his wife Tanya Berry; his daughter Mary Berry, a UK alumna and executive director of The Berry Center; and neighbors, all of whom are being deeply affected by the industrial and economic changes to their agrarian way of life.

Read the complete article by Whitney Hale at University of Kentucky News.


On the Recent Wendell Berry Collection and Conversation

Wendell Berry, an avid environmentalist himself, is not opposed stirring the pot. He just released a book of essays optimistically titled The World-Ending Fire and is the subject of a documentary produced by Nick Offerman — yep, that Nick Offerman — called Look and See, neither of which pull any punches. But any idealistic or rhetorical blow proffered aside, Berry isn’t one to engage eagerly without putting serious thought into solutions first. Something I have been noticing over the last few years of his work, interviews, and lectures is that he seems to be in a sifting, distilling season of his life. Now in his 80s, Berry seems to be even more thoughtful (if that is possible), listening closer, speaking clearly yet humbly. We also do the same with him, increasingly mindful of the shortness of days.

Read the compete article by Josh Retterer at Mockingbird.


On the Letters and Friendship of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder

Say the names Wendell Berry or Gary Snyder in some circles and you will elicit everything from abject worship to ennui. I belatedly came to awareness of both of them in the late Seventies and early Eighties—Berry for his finely wrought essays and stories (I did not have the maturity to appreciate his poetry then) and Snyder for his poems that were so authentically rooted, many of them, in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada. And though I appreciated both writers, and regarded both as exemplars of environmentally conscious writing, it never once occurred to me that they might be friends.

I pictured Berry plowing with mules on his Kentucky farm, and I pictured Snyder in the Sierra, running the ridges like a wolf. I thought of Berry as a student of the Scriptures, working out a biblically based land ethic, and I thought of Snyder as a Beat practitioner of Zen. But in spite of these differences they have been friends for almost half a century, first brought together in correspondence by their mutual publisher, Jack Shoemaker, and kept together all these years through mutual admiration—and sometimes by mutual consternation.

In Distant Neighbors, Chad Wriglesworth has done us the service of collecting and selecting forty years of their correspondence, from 1973 to 2013. In the fall of 2015, I was asked to introduce and interview Gary Snyder at a reading, and I told him before we went on stage that I was halfway through this book. “Wendell and I argued about two things for forty years,” Snyder declared: “Buddhism vs. Christianity, and wilderness vs. agriculture.”

That pretty much sums it up.

Read the whole article by Paul Willis at Education & Culture.


On Life, Silence, and Wendell Berry

I read this poem of quiet—of communicating without screens, of living without air conditioning and technology, in order to “make a poem that does not disturb the silence from which it came”—to my husband in our bed at home and we nod and say, “hmmm, yes,” together.

Berry often writes of loss and the quirkiness of community, but his writing spins visions of a world long past: one that is idyllic, beautiful, and ultimately fulfilling. In those moments of reading his poetry, I find Berry’s words affirming of the life we’ve chosen and pushing us to even more difficult choices.

But after nearly a decade of attempting to eschew some of the attractions and amenities of urban life, I’ve also begun to wonder if Berry’s pure ideals are feasible, if this idyllic long ago that he writes about ever really existed at all.

We moved to our farming community on the wings of a Wendell Berry novel eight years ago, hoping for a simpler life, and even taking a brief detour to visit his home in Kentucky as we drove from Washington, D.C. to the rural Midwest. For eight years, we gave all we were able to give to the ideals of sharing our lives with our neighbors, worshipping together, eating together, and growing good food.

Eventually, we decided to leave, not because we didn’t believe in the ideals of hospitality, simplicity, and love of neighbor anymore, but because the community began to crumble under the weight of flailing leadership, clashes of vision, financial strain, and broken relationships.

Read the whole article by Christiana Peterson at Image.


Bees, Wendell Berry and Christian Life

As many of you know, I like quoting Wendell Berry and I think he is very pro-bee.

“The word agriculture,” Wendell Berry writes in The Unsettling of America. “After all, does not mean ‘agriscience,’ much less ‘agribusiness’. It means ‘cultivation of the land.’ And cultivation is at the root of the sense both of culture and cult.   The ideas of tillage and worship are joined in culture. And these words all come from an Indo-European root meaning both ‘to revolve’ and ‘to dwell’.   To live, to survive on the Earth, to care for the soil, and to worship, are all bound at the root to the idea of a cycle.”

Bees network with flowers and with the hive. This network creates better plants, better harvests.   The better plants wither and die, turning into better soil. The soil then houses better plants. The cycle continues.   The bees network seeks to co-operate with the local good and make it better; if the bees were ever to rob, exploit, cut-off, or steal then the honey would be threatened.

“If we corrupt agriculture we corrupt culture,” Wendell Berry adds. “For in nature and within certain invariable social necessities we are one body, and what afflicts the hand will afflict the brain.”

            A network of bees-when doing what is good- will bring good to the neighbourhood, the land.

A friend of mine once borrowed her teenage sons’ car and it smelled like a sick boy’s locker room.   When the boy came home, she insisted on why he never cleaned it. He insisted he did but there was another reason for the smell.   A quiet fellow, he simply apologized and went to his room.

The next day, she saw her son driving out of his school and she unintentionally followed him home (you do this, at times, as a parent of a teenager).   She watched him make several stops, all to people who were digging in trash cans along the way.   Her son would go in the back of his car and offer bags of recycled bottles (Or “empties” as we call them in Alberta) to these folks. He would talk to them, listen, and in one case, he prayed with them.

When they both got at home, she confronted him and he confessed that he was collecting all of the recycles from his church, school, and work for the purpose of getting to know the homeless population of his neighbourhood. “They’re invisible,” he said. “And I think it’s best for everyone if they weren’t.”

Her son was acting like a bee.

Read the whole article by Eric Kregel at ericjkregel.