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. 

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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


On Wendell Berry on Poetry and Marriage

I often think that literature is the original internet, each footnote and citation and allusion a hyperlink to another text. I was reminded of this recently, while devouring Anne Lamott’s superb book on imperfection, grace, and belonging, where she quotes an instantly enchanting passage by poet and environmental activist Wendell Berry. Compelled to find its origin, I was led to a beautiful 1982 essay titled “Poetry and Marriage: The Use of Old Forms,” found in Berry’s altogether magnificent collection Standing by Words: Essays ... Berry explores the unexpected but profound parallels between poetry and marriage — or, more broadly, union — through the lens of form as both a hedge against and an embracing of the unknown. It is at once a celebration of the idea that life is not a straight line but a zig-zag and an insightful look at how form and structure — often expressed today through our fascination with daily routines and our constant quest to perfect our own — ground us into more liberated lives.

Read more of this by Maria Popova at Brain Pickings


A Review of Wendell Berry's "New Collected Poems"

As the contents show, the collection consists of a banquet of books beginning with The Broken Ground in 1964 and continuing through the 2010 book, Leavings. Reading the poems along this timeline can be especially instructive if you’re a poet in search of a mentor, which the poetry itself can be.

Wendell Berry, however, won’t be likely to read the poems with you. As the opening poem, “The Country of Déjà vu,” explains: “My old poems – I like them all/ well enough when they were new,” but now “I have no need to go back to” them. This doesn’t seem to express dissatisfaction but rather declares no particular need for living in or revisiting the past. 

Although written as a tribute to a fellow poet and Kentuckian, “A Man Walking and Singing” shows “His singing becomes conglomerate/ of all he sees,/ leaving the street behind him/ runged as a ladder/ or the staff of a song.” And then in “The Design of the House,” we see “the flower/ forgets its growing,” which the very timeline in a collection of memorable poems might be less inclined to let a poet do.

Read more by Mary Harwell Sayler at Poetry Editor & Poetry


Reflecting on Wendell Berry's "The Vacation"

Wendell Berry has written a poem that haunts me frequently. As a creative writer, the act of paying attention is both a spiritual and professional discipline. But far too often my aspirations for paying quality attention to everything dissolves into something more like attention deficit disorder. As it turns out, it is quite possible to see and not really see, to hear and not really hear. And this is all the more ironic when my very attempts to capture what I am seeing and hearing are the thing that prevent me from truly being present. Berry’s poem is about a man on holiday, who, trying to seize the sights and sounds of his vacation by video camera, manages to miss the entire thing.

Read more at Daily Devotions, News and Information