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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

Bob Dylan and Wendell Berry: An Imaginary Conversation

Wendell Berry: What? What'd you say, Bob? I can't hear you. That annoying high-pitched screech, that loathsome drone.

Bob Dylan: Ha, jeez. From you, too? Yeah, I get that all the time. My voice, or what's left of it. I don't try to make it sound like this, like a scratchy, squealing.

Berry: No, no, my friend. That's not (he pauses, raises his voice) what I'm talking about. I love your voice — it's so pure, so ... Dylan. I love its gravel-road gravity, its tenacity. Your vocal cords are like these here hands (shows his huge, wrinkled hands) out digging in the fields. When you sing, it's like a hard-honed tool, a work instrument — there's beauty in its cragginess, its rough edges. No, my friend, it's those damn leaf blowers I'm talking about. I can't hear you over that goddamn gas-guzzling leaf blower brigade over at the Gaillard Center grounds. What were you saying? 

Dylan (waiting for the blowers to abate, for a quick interlude): Ah, yes, the gas-guzzling locusts. And it's doing nothing but just blowing in the wind. The dust, the leaves, the Starbucks trash tossed on the street. What's wrong with a rake? A broom? 

Berry: I've used the same broom for the last 25 years. The handle is worn so it fits my hands just right. Handmade corn broom, people think it's made from corn, but the fibers actually come from sorghum grown on a nearby organic farm. 

Dylan: My granddad Zimmerman had a cousin who made brooms. Hadn't thought of that in years. The times, they are a changin', and my voice, well, yeah, it's sure as hell changing too. People think I do it on purpose, exaggerate its eccentricity. Shit, I'm ragtag enough. Glad you like it, Wendell. I wish I had your Southern pipes. I've heard you give readings on YouTube. Your voice is like an audio version of George Clooney's looks — gilded, sexy — even for an old man.

Read more at Charleston City Paper

Wendell Berry cited for clarification of agrarianism

Agrarians from the Twelve Southerner of I’ll Take My Stand to Wendell Berry identify a fundamental tension between agrarianism and industrialism. According to Berry, these are the only real options, and the differences are profound. “I believe that this contest between industrialism and agrarianism now defines the most fundamental human difference, for it divides not just two nearly opposite concepts of agriculture and land use, but also two nearly opposite ways of understanding ourselves, our fellow creatures, and our world.” Where the model for industrialism is the machine and technological invention, Berry notes that

agrarianism begins with givens: land, plants, animals, weather, hunger, and the birthright knowledge of agriculture. Industrialists are always ready to ignore, sell, or destroy the past in order to gain the entirely unprecedented wealth, comfort, and happiness supposedly to be found in the future. Agrarian farmers know that their very identity depends on their willingness to receive gratefully, use responsibly, and hand down intact an inheritance, both natural and cultural, from the past. Agrarians understand themselves as the users and caretakers of some things they did not make, and of some things that they cannot make.

Read more at Front Porch Republic

[Just noticd that this post at FPR is about two years old. Oh well, it's a pretty good one and worth a revisit. TM]

On Wendell Berry on Solitude and Creativity

“One can’t write directly about the soul,” Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary. Few writers have come to write about it — and to it — more directly than the novelist, poet, and environmental activist Wendell Berry, who describes himself as “a farmer of sorts and an artist of sorts.” In his wonderful and wonderfully titled essay collection What Are People For? (public library), Berry addresses with great elegance our neophilic tendencies and why innovation for the sake of novelty sells short the true value of creative work.

Novelty-fetishism, Berry suggests, is an act of vanity that serves neither the creator nor those created for:

"Works of pride, by self-called creators, with their premium on originality, reduce the Creation to novelty — the faint surprises of minds incapable of wonder.

Pursuing originality, the would-be creator works alone. In loneliness one assumes a responsibility for oneself that one cannot fulfill. 

Novelty is a new kind of loneliness."

Read more at Brain Pickings

Reflecting on Wendell Berry, Christianity and Peace

I decided since the phrase ‘Prince of Peace’ most often shows up at this time of year, trotted out for Christmas, it might be worthwhile to reflect on the meaning of being a follower of the Prince of Peace, especially while we have this year been in the process of bombing the daylights out of Iraq and Syria.

Berry begins with the following salvo— “Especially among Christians in positions of great wealth and power, the idea of reading the Gospels and keeping Jesus’ commandments as stated therein has been replaced by a curious process of logic. According to this process, people first declare themselves to be followers of Christ, and then they assume that whatever they say or do merits the adjective ‘Christian’….From this accommodation has proceeded a monstrous history of Christian violence."

Read it all at The Bible and Culture

Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5

Just Found: March 2014 Review of Wendell Berry Opera

It’s not often that Modern Farmer is the magazine of choice for a preview article about an opera, yet there’s no question but that Payne Hollow, composed by Kentucky-born Shawn Jaeger, was an excellent fit. The opera is based on a verse play by Kentucky poet Wendell Berry about Harlan and Anna Hubbard who, for thirty-five years, lived lightly on the land in their small home along the Ohio River. In keeping with the subject matter of the opera, Berry responded by handwritten letter to Jaeger’s request for permission to use the story and handed Jaeger a completed libretto while they sat together on Berry’s front porch.

Payne Hollow tells a quiet story, limning two quiet lives. The Hubbards lived at once alone and together, alone in their solitary worlds, and together to play Brahms, she on piano, he on violin. There is no powerful dramatic arc. Rather, the story flows along like a river, with occasional turbulence, but also with a steadiness akin to that of companionable lives well lived.

Read more at Prufrock's Dilemma

Wendell Berry interview at Earth Island Journal

Having been one of the early inspirers of the now evolved organic farming movement in the US, what is your feeling about the state of the sustainable food movement today?

“Organic” is as “organic” does. The word has often been too negatively defined: a list of things not to do. And it has always been too useful as a label, attachable to farms too industrial or too big or too simply structured, or (more and more) to products made or sold by corporations. “Sustainable” is better, but who in the US has sustained much of anything for very long? So let’s call it the “local food movement,” even though “local” is a term easy to abuse, mainly by stretching. 

I think one can be honestly encouraged by this movement. It has come along at a rate certainly surprising to me. It has been genuinely instructive to a significant number of producers and consumers. It appears to be soundly based on good agricultural practices and on the preferences of informed consumers. And it is preserving the health of some land.

The problem is that the land so far under the influence of this movement is still pitifully small. A vast acreage in this country is still planted in annual monocultures that involve obviously unsustainable toxicity, erosion, damage to nature and human communities, and the destruction of husbandry – all as acceptable “production costs.” This way of production-by-destruction is apparently of little interest to conservationists, environmentalists, politicians, intellectuals, professors, journalists, or “the public.”

Why do you think that, especially in the last 10 years, we’ve seen such a blossoming of interest in organic and sustainable foods and a renaissance of craft foods?

Some people still have enough independent use of their minds to know, from good evidence, that industrial food production or “agribusiness” has failed – has failed conspicuously and flagrantly – to meet its responsibilities to the land, to the land communities, to the primary producers, and to consumers.

Read it all at Earth Island Journal

Offerman notes Wendell Berry interview

Nerdist: Well, that sort of ties into something that I really loved in American Ham, when you talk about the Internet and social media. It’s funny how those technologies feel like medicine — they feed into our desire for something more and better, for that sort of relief. But if you take a deeper look at it, it actually gives us this false sense that we’re being active in our lives rather than what we’re really doing, which is being distracted by a passive, disposable environment.

Nick: I mean I can’t take credit for it, that comes directly from my favorite writer, Wendell Berry, who I just interviewed recently for my new book, which was so gratifying. We talked about this subject, you know? And it is something that started long before the Internet. This sense in American society — and now it’s become global — that the corporate interests, the one percenters, are whispering to us “things will be better for you somewhere else,” and that’s what keeps us buying things. It’s like, “Well, my life is pretty OK, but maybe if I bought those shoes my life would be better,” and we’re made to feel like everything could be better: clothes, home, kids, wife, career, life.

Read more at Nerdist