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 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.


Wendell Berry on BBC Radio 3

Ian McMillan celebrates the rural in Reformation poetry and in contemporary work, with a new commission by Luke Wright (inspired by Hans Sachs' 1523 poem 'The Wittenberg Nightingale'). He is also joined by the poets Wendell Berry, the Jamaican Poet Laureate Mervyn Morris and art historian Rosemary Shirley.

Poet and theatre maker Luke Wright's new poetry collection 'The Toll' is published by Penned in the Margins, and he is also touring a show based on the book. Luke's first play 'What I Learned from Johnny Bevan' won The Saboteur award for 'Best Spoken Word Show', and his new play 'Frankie Vah' will have its premiere at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival (26-27 May).

Mervyn Morris is the Professor Emeritus of Creative Writing and West Indian Literature at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. His collected poems, 'Peelin Orange', is published by Carcanet.

Rosemary Shirley is a lecturer in art history at the School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University and her work focuses on contemporary rural contexts. Rosemary has curated the exhibition 'Creating the Countryside' which is at Compton Verney Gallery until June 18th.

Wendell Berry is a poet, novelist and farmer who has been awarded The National Humanities Medal and the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. 'The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry' is published by Penguin.

Listen to the program (which vanishes 29 days from now) at BBC Radio 3.


Wendell Berry's poetry in ordinary time

I took a job last summer because my bosses loved poetry. They were looking for a nanny for their three-year-old son. When I came to their house for an interview, expecting questions about past childcare experience and summer availability, they sat me down and asked if I’d ever read Wendell Berry.

The 82-year-old Kentucky native is a poet, farmer and environmental activist. My bosses were so inspired by his words, they explained, that they’d named their son after him.

I was sold. A summer of fruit bars, long mornings in the park, lunchtime tantrums and toy cars commenced. Coming out of a disorienting spring semester, in which I had mostly eaten quesadillas and cried every Sunday, I found it reassuring to be in the presence of a tiny human who felt so many things: wonder at every passing garbage truck, betrayal when I flushed the toilet without asking him, unadulterated despair when woken up from a good nap.

Read the rest of Abigail McFee's brief piece at The Tufts Daily.


On Reading Wendell Berry's "A Meeting"

But the poem I like to recite the most is Berry’s “A Meeting”:

In a dream I meet
my dead friend. He has,
I know, gone long and far,
and yet he is the same
for the dead are changeless.
They grow no older.
It is I who have changed,
grown strange to what I was.
Yet I, the changed one,
ask: “How you been?”
He grins and looks at me.
“I been eating peaches
off some mighty fine trees.”
It’s a poem that everybody can recognize and interpret on several levels. It’s about death obviously, but it’s also about memory and belonging, about how we grow older and estranged to what we once were. It also confronts how death may take away a lot of things, but it will not take away your stories. It’s about permanence, then, and joy, even in the face of death. It does all this in such a simple, powerful, direct manner that it always takes my breath away. The poem reminds me of two rivers meeting each other: These two friends have gone long and far, and yet somehow they have come back together in a landscape of imagination.

Read the entire piece by Colum McCann at The Atlantic.


On Poetry, Angry Rhetoric, and Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is a Kentucky farmer, author, poet, essayist, and activist. My high school English teacher and track coach, who is now retired, has said Wendell Berry may be the sanest man in America. I agree. Wendell Berry is a modern wise-man, a rare American sage, who speaks with the authority of the aged. I have benefited greatly from his essays, novels, and short stories. His poetry is a good introduction to his work. 

He wrote “To A Siberian Woodsman” in the late 1960s during the cold war when we were taught to hate the Russians. This poem carries the weight of a societal elder who brings insight and counsel from another world. Berry is a prophet. He is both a poet and a farmer, which offers credentials much more substantial than those so-called “prophets” with self-appointed titles, blogs, and  YouTube channels. These lackluster “prophets” are lost in a mixed-up sea of conservative politics and a doomsday eschatology. Berry isn’t like that. He is a prophet like Amos, the fig farmer.

Read the complete article by Derek Vreeland at Missio Alliance.


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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Wendell Berry Farming Program featured on PBS

Wendell Berry, the 81-year-old award-winning poet, fiction writer and essayist, has continued throughout his life to care for the Kentucky farm that generations of his family have tended. Seeking to pass on their farming legacy to a new generation, Berry and his family have formed an alliance with Saint Catherine College, a small Catholic liberal arts college run by the Dominican Sisters of Peace. Correspondent Judy Valente talks with Mary Berry, Wendell Berry’s daughter, and with nuns, students, and faculty members at the college about the lessons and values that spring from having a spiritual kinship with the land.

View Judith Valente's report at Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly on PBS

Also HERE.


That Poem by Wendell Berry

"When despair for the world ..." launches what is almost certainly the most popular poem (on the internet) by Wendell Berry. I tested this out back in 2009. A quick re-check today produces "about 82,900 results" for "Peace" and "about 18,700 results" for "Manifesto." So it looks like "The Peace of Wild Things" holds an unassailable dominion.

What brought this to mind was a tweet I just found of an Instagram illustration of "The Peace of Wild Things" by Raquel Martinez. I think it is particularly well-done as a triptych. 

Raquel-martinez-WB


Wendell Berry's "Manifesto" Inspires "16 Thoughts"

2.
Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
 
In the steamy summer of 1948, E. B. White, on guest assignment for the New Yorker, spent a few days strolling his former hometown. The essay was released in 2000 as the slim volume, Here is New York, which The New York Times calls one of the ten best books ever written about the city.

One of White’s most perceptive observations, in my opinion, is this:

New York is peculiarly constructed to absorb almost anything that comes along…without influencing the inhabitants; so that every event is, in a sense, optional, and the inhabitant is in the happy position of being able to choose his spectacle and so conserve his soul… I sometimes think that the only event that hits every New Yorker on the head is the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, which is fairly penetrating — the Irish are a hard race to tune out, there are 500,000 of them in residence, and they have the police force right in the family.

I wonder if an unintended progress, of sorts, resulting from an event like the terrorist attacks on 9/11 — an event which penetrated every New Yorker so completely they’re still looking at the skies for wayward aircraft and checking skyscrapers for fire exits — is neighbors noticing each for a literal fear of dying.

It may be that the only good to come from each wave of tragedy we experience is the way neighbors share a conversation. Boston, West, Newtown — neighbors experiencing the same story. Neighbors making certain someone’s going to notice if the ground opens up beneath their feet.

Read all of Tamara Murphy's reflection at This Sacramental Life