Forthcoming Book about Wendell Berry

To be published in February, 2017.

Wendell Berry teaches us to love our places—to pay careful attention to where we are, to look beyond and within, and to live in ways that are not captive to the mastery of cultural, social, or economic assumptions about our life in these places. Creation has its own integrity and demands that we confront it.

In The Place of Imagination, Joseph R. Wiebe argues that this confrontation is precisely what shapes our moral capacity to respond to people and to places. Wiebe contends that Berry manifests this moral imagination most acutely in his fiction. Berry’s fiction, however, does not portray an average community or even an ideal one. Instead, he depicts broken communities in broken places—sites and relations scarred by the routines of racial wounds and ecological harm. Yet, in the tracing of Berry’s characters with place-based identities, Wiebe demonstrates the way in which Berry’s fiction comes to embody Berry’s own moral imagination. By joining these ambassadors of Berry’s moral imagination in their fictive journeys, readers, too, can allow imagination to transform their affection, thereby restoring place as a facilitator of identity as well as hope for healed and whole communities. Loving place translates into loving people, which in turn transforms broken human narratives into restored lives rooted and ordered by their places.

Find more information at Baylor University Press.


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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Review of Wendell Berry's "Distant Neighbors"

"I'm not interested in spirituality that is dependent on cheap fossil fuel, soil erosion, and air pollution," writes Wendell Berry in Distant Neighbors, a fascinating collection of letters between the Kentucky farmer-writer and the Zen poet Gary Snyder -- two crucial, if quite different, voices in this perilous ecological age.

"No use talking about getting enlightened or saving your soul if you can't keep the topsoil from washing away," Berry tells Snyder.

Amid the renewed energy generated by Pope Francis' environmental encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for our Common Home," it would be prudent to heed the wisdom of these eco-literary giants, whose poetry, prose and activism over the last several decades have been consistently rooted in their work with and love of the land.

Read more at National Catholic Reporter


Threepenny Review publishes Wendell Berry story

"Dismemberment," a new short story by Mr. Berry, has been published in the current edition of The Threepenny Review (Summer 2015). Here are the opening paragraphs:

It was the still-living membership of his friends who, with Flora and their children and their place, pieced Andy together and made him finally well again after he lost his right hand to a harvesting machine in the fall of 1974. He would be obliged to think that he had given his hand, or abandoned it, for he had attempted to unclog the corn picker without stopping it, as he had known better than to do. But finally it would seem to him also that the machine had taken his hand, or accepted it, as the price of admission into the rapidly mechanizing world that as a child he had not foreseen and as a man did not like, but which he would have to live in, understanding it and resisting it the best he could, for the rest of his life.

He was forty then, too old to make easily a new start, though his life could be continued only by a new start. He had no other choice. Having no other choice finally was a sort of help, but he was slow in choosing. Between him and any possibility of choice lay his suffering and the selfishness of it: self-pity, aimless anger, aimless blaming, that made him dangerous to himself, cruel to others, and useless or a burden to everybody.

He would not get over the loss of his hand, as of course he was plentifully advised to do, simply because he was advised to do it, or simply even because he wanted and longed to do it. His life had been deformed. His hand was gone, his right hand that had been his principal connection to the world, and the absence of it could not be repaired. The only remedy was to re-form his life around his loss, as a tree grows live wood over its scars. From the memory and a sort of foreknowledge of wholeness, after he had grown sick enough finally of his grieving over himself, he chose to heal.

Read more at The Threepenny Review (and consider subscribing to this excellent publication).


Wendell Berry on The Future

So far as I am concerned, the future has no narrative. The future does not exist until it has become the past. To a very limited extent, prediction has worked. The sun, so far, has set and risen as we have expected it to do. And the world, I suppose, will predictably end, but all of its predicted deadlines, so far, have been wrong.

The End of Something—history, the novel, Christianity, the human race, the world—has long been an irresistible subject. Many of the things predicted to end have so far continued, evidently to the embarrassment of none of the predictors. The future has been equally, and relatedly, an irresistible subject. How can so many people of certified intelligence have written so many pages on a subject about which nobody knows anything? Perhaps we need a book— in case we don’t already have one—on the end of the future.

None of us knows the future. Fairly predictably, we are going to be surprised by it. That is why “Take...no thought for the morrow...” is such excellent advice. Taking thought for the morrow is, fairly predictably, a waste of time.

Read an adaptation of this essay from Our Only World at Yes! Magazine


Wendell Berry's "Our Only World" Considered

When readers of Wendell Berry see that he has a new book coming out, we tend to read it on reflex. The themes are seldom new; that’s part of the appeal. We read because it means immersing ourselves once again in a particular mind and set of values, expressed with clarity and conviction.

In that sense, this book met expectations. It travels familiar ground: farming well, ecological responsibility, neighborliness, love for one’s place and community, and everywhere a desire to think through even complicated issues systematically, with hope.

Yet I felt a sadness too. There is a pervasive sense of loss in this book — of a culture impoverished of important knowledge, of ties to locality, of vital connections with one another, of basic virtues that once informed our care of “our only world.”

Read more at Across the Page


On a broadside of Wendell Berry's "The Wild Geese"

This past year, 2014, was the 30th anniversary of Lexington’s Black Swan Books. I recently wrote a feature article at KYForward about Michael’s commemoration of the event with a new Larkspur Press letterpress printed broadside of a poem by Wendell Berry.

A broadside is a single sheet of paper printed on one side and meant for framing. The anniversary broadside features a poem by Kentucky writer Wendell Berry whose works are a specialty of Courtney. Black Swan’s broadsides are printed using century-old equipment by Gray Zeitz of Larkspur Press in Monterey, Kentucky. The work of Berry and Zeitz is in such demand that half of the copies of the anniversary broadside were sold within the first two weeks.

The broadside edition of ‘The Wild Geese’ is limited to only 150 copies, each of which is signed by Wendell Berry and numbered. Broadsides also serve as celebration of letterpress printing itself. You can see and feel the texture of the mouldmade paper, the bite of the type in the dampened printed paper.

Read more (and see pictures) at The Pinstripe Pulpit


Black Swan Celebrates with Wendell Berry Broadside

Even in the era of Kindles and the “cloud,” Lexington’s Black Swan Books is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a limited edition poem letter-pressed with handset type on handmade paper. It’s a statement symbolic of owner Michael Courtney’s commitment to the printed word and real, physical books. 

“We’ve done eight or 10 of these broadsides over the past 20 years,” said Michael Courtney amidst stacks of books in his shop on Maxwell Street, vintage posters framed on the walls. “These are selling fast.”

A broadside is a single sheet of paper printed on one side and meant for framing. The anniversary broadside features a poem by Kentucky writer Wendell Berry whose works are a specialty of Courtney. Black Swan’s broadsides are printed using century-old equipment by Gray Zeitz of Larkspur Press in Monterey, Kentucky. The work of Berry and Zeitz is in such demand that half of the copies of the anniversary broadside were sold within the first two weeks.

Read more at Kentucky Forward


Essay Collection by Wendell Berry Set for February Release

In February 2015, Counterpoint will publish a new collection of essays by Mr. Berry entitled Our Only World: Eleven Essays.

The planet’s environmental problems respect no national boundaries. From soil erosion and population displacement to climate change and failed energy policies, American governing classes are paid by corporations to pretend that debate is the only democratic necessity and that solutions are capable of withstanding endless delay. Late Capitalism goes about its business of finishing off the planet. And we citizens are left with a shell of what was once proudly described as The American Dream.

In this new collection of eleven essays, Berry confronts head-on the necessity of clear thinking and direct action. Never one to ignore the present challenge, he understands that only clearly stated questions support the understanding their answers require. For more than fifty years we’ve had no better spokesman and no more eloquent advocate for the planet, for our families, and for the future of our children and ourselves.

(From the description found at Amazon. Please pardon the link to Amazon. It is just about the only online place for information about this title. A gentle nudge to Counterpoint: you could do some better to promote Mr. Berry's upcoming work.)

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