Wendell Berry on the late Gene Logsdon

From the garden, we went down to the rockbar by the river, sat down, and talked a long time. Our conversation revealed further differences, for we had grown up in different places and different cultures. But we had grown up farming, and with close to the same old ways of feeling and thinking about farming, ways that had come to Gene, I believe, mostly from his mother, and to me mostly from my father. And so our talk that day was full of the excitement at discovering how well we understood each other and how much we agreed. That was the start of a conversation that lasted 46 years and was for me a major life-support. It involved much talking face-to-face, much letter-writing, and phone-calling. It dealt with farming, gardening, our families and histories, other subjects of importance, but also unimportant subjects, and it was accompanied always by a lot of laughter. I have needed his writing, and have been especially delighted by his late-coming fiction, but I have needed even more his talk and his company. Gene was a great companion.

Read the complete piece at Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.


Review of Wendell Berry's "Andy Catlett: Early Travels"

A particularly notable theme in this book is that of race, discussed more explicitly here than anywhere else in Berry's fiction. It is discussed in Andy's interactions with the black families that live and work on both his Grandparents' farms, and his musings upon the nature of those relationships. The narrator speaks of living in the context of difficult race relations, yet "living as ourselves in it" (57). It is an important distinction--though their time is inescapable, it is possible to be selves that do not condescend to that time. 

The commentary Berry offers on race through the narration of the elder Andy is particularly interesting, discussing racism as a "malevolent convention": "I have learned to understand the old structure of racism as a malevolent convention, the malevolence of which is hard to locate in the conscious intentions of most people. It was a circumstance that was mostly taken for granted. It was inexcusable, and yet we had the formidable excuse of being used to it" (75). The narrator, in grief, speaks more to that "being used to it" on the following page: "What is hardest to get used to maybe, once you are aware, is the range of things humans are able to get used to. I was more used to this once than I am now" (76).

Red more of this review by Joel Pinckney at Goodreads.


A Brief Review of Wendell Berry's "Hannah Coulter'

On the surface it’s a slow memoir-like novel until Hannah’s conversational cadence and the manner in which she describes people, places and events captures you. Surprising and beautiful, the topics and her thankfulness mature with her chronological memories.

She offers sophisticated, insightful reflections about topics including married love; community, specifically a concept called “The Membership” and employment vs. self-employment supported with community assistance; farming – changes, the role of machines, the role of land, modern day techniques with unintended consequences; child rearing and the role of education when pursuing the good life; World War II and civilian costs; as well as, technology and its impact.

Read the complete review at Fuel and Flavor.


Celebrating Wendell Berry in Nova Scotia

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Wendell Berry, sheep farmer from Kentucky, is arguably the poet laureate of agriculture. Seminal writings like “The Unsettling of America”, “The Gift of Good Land”, and “The Mad Farmer Poems” have helped shape a generation of farmers with a philosophy and practice of sustainability. The Just Us! Centre for Small Farms, in cooperation with Gaspereau Press, and The Box of Delights Bookshop look to celebrate the works of Wendell Berry.

Join Andrew Steeves, Shalan Joudry, Ed Belzer, and the folks from Conscious Catering (Roberto Guelli & Anke Kungl) as we celebrate rurality and local economies via music, culture, food and community.

Information on Facebook HERE

Information at Centre for Small Farms HERE


Insightful Review of Wendell Berry Film

Though I’m sure many will miss seeing Wendell Berry filmed by Dunn, there is something of a congruity created by only hearing his voice over scenes both pastoral and horrific. As I see it, his absence accentuates the message his distinctive and identifiable speaking conveys. Berry’s absence is parallel to the vanishing traditional farmer’s voice who we only now hear somewhere in the back of our minds.

That echo is lamentable, for as Berry said in the film, “I think when the traditional people disappear, the traditional values disappear. How could they survive? I don’t think that you can love those values and love what has come to be American agriculture at the same time.” At risk of grossly oversimplifying Berry’s body of work, in that series of statements we have Berry’s lament.

It is poignant then, as Berry is making that statement as one of the last great American apologists against industrial agriculture that a combine is shown harvesting corn leaving a remnant of a row standing as if in defiance and only to have the combine circles around to come back again and cut it off.

Read all of Dan Grubbs' review at Sustainable Traditions.


Nick Offerman reflects on Wendell Berry

In about 1995 I was doing a production of Sam Shepherd’s play “Buried Child” at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago; specifically I was hired to understudy Ethan Hawke. And I was also working as a makeup artist on the show, putting old age makeup on the venerated late American actor named James Gammon. Another actor in the show, guy by the name of Leo Burmester, handed me a book of Wendell Berry short stories and said, ‘I think you’re going to get a kick out of these.’ And, boy, it kind of turned my whole life upside-down. I was really moved by Wendell Berry’s creation, in his body of fiction, of a community that reminded me of the great farming family that I grew up in in Illinois. And then, just devouring all of his writing, then his essays and his poetry further cemented him as, in my opinion, the living writer with the most common sense and the most hard-hitting pathos for the human race. He’s my John Lennon or my Gandhi. I think if everybody would read Wendell Berry we’d have a lot less people shooting at each other.

Read more at Los Angeles Times


On Wendell Berry and "The Seer"

I first came across Wendell Berry a couple of years ago when I started reading The American Conservative and Front Porch Republic on a regular basis. After spending a night or two digging around in the ‘bowels’ of each website, I soon realised that the octogenarian Berry is a figure of great importance to Burkeans and counter-cultural conservatives in North America, and I could see why.

Berry is a rare-breed; a person who actually practices what he preaches. Yes, he’s written and continues to write novels, novellas, short-stories, poems, and essays, all dealing in their own way with the toxic impact of the industrial revolution on community, agriculture, and work. But he’s also spent the best part of fifty years running the family farm with his wife, Tanya, in Henry County, Kentucky. That lends a certain authenticity to his words; an authenticity that’s often lacking when the pen is in the soft hands of an academy-bound intellectual.

Read more at Atlantic Bulletin.


On Wendell Berry's "Way of Ignorance"

Novelist, poet, farmer, and environmental activist Wendell Berry (b. August 5, 1934) is the closest thing our era has to Thoreau — a magnificent writer whose poems and essays remind us, over and over, what it means to be awake to the world, inner and outer. Whether he is contemplating solitude and the two great enemies of creative work or examining how poetic form illuminates the secret of marriage, Berry breaks through even our most hardened ego-shells and beams into the cracks enormous warmth and wisdom.

That’s precisely what he does in The Way of Ignorance and Other Essays (public library) — a masterwork of luminous lucidity on our civilizational shortcomings, delivered with the intelligent hope necessary for doing better.

Read it all at Maria Popova's BrainPickings.


Two Recent Reviews of the Wendell Berry Film

We have lately seen two new reviews of The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry, directed by Laura Dunn.

John Murdock at First Things writes in part,

Dunn’s film is not your run-of-the-mill biopic, and how could it be? Berry, though very much alive, agreed to participate in the project, but with the complicating condition that he would not appear on camera. The viewer sees recent interviews of his wife Tanya and daughter Mary, but the man himself is present only as a voice and in images from the past. With their differing views of progress, both fans and critics of this farmer/writer, who has done his varied work with draught horses and a 1956 Royal typewriter, will likely see his elusiveness as fitting.

The Seer centers on Berry’s debates in the 1970s with Earl Butz, the Secretary of Agriculture under Presidents Nixon and Ford. Butz had rural roots that rivaled Berry’s, but he came to see a decline from 45% of the population working the land at his birth to some 4% at the time of their encounters—what Berry labeled The Unsettling of America—as a positive development. “Butz’s law,” which he formulated, was “adapt or die,” and its measure of success was “P-R-O-F-I-T.”

Berry is seen by many as a prophet of a different sort.

Joe Leydon at Variety enjoyed much of the film, but had some reservations,

“The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry” contains some interesting testimonials from Kentucky farmers, most notably Steve Smith, who admits he was ready to abandon his lifework until he switched to organic farming. And Lee Daniel’s exquisite cinematography cries out to be savored on a big screen; an opening montage of urban chaos, accompanied by Berry’s reading of his visionary poem “A Timbered Choir,” is as powerful as any similar sequence in Godfrey Reggio’s “Koyannisqatsi.” More often, however, the documentary is too tepid to generate anything like excitement or outrage, and elicits admiration more for its intentions than for its execution.


A New Book by Wendell Berry

Counterpoint has recently released Wendell Berry's A Small Porch. This new volume is wildly but accurately subtitled "Sabbath Poems 2014 and 2015 together with The Presence of Nature in the Natural World: A Long Conversation."

Originally listed for publication with 80 pages back in April, the process was presumably held up (correct me if I'm wrong) to allow for the inclusion of the long essay, which doubles the book's length. In his closing Acknowledgements, Mr. Berry notes, "The making of this book has extraordinarily burdened the patience of Jack Shoemaker of Counterpoint, my friend, editor, and collaborator for forty years."

There are nine sabbath poems from 2014 and sixteen from 2015. I am a little surprised that the sabbath poems for 2013 (so far published only in the limited Larkspur edition of last year) are not included here. This Day: Sabbath Poems Collected and New 1979-2013 contains only the first two of twenty written in that year. I will settle for the possibility that a future revision of This Day will contain all of those poems.

In the meantime, we have the yet-to-be-explored riches of the actual book before us. 

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