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March 2015
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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

Wendell Berry cited on particularity of community

Sports spectating arguably provides the most tangible, culturally familiar form of participation in our culture and offers us association with a particular people in a particular place.

Our culture has largely lost its sense of “particularity.” Too often, we claim participation in a community of strangers spread over social media or other non-physical spaces. While there’s nothing wrong with identifying with sports teams across geographic boundaries—as a Kansas City native, I will always be a Royals and Chiefs fan, even here in Kentucky—and we have a great opportunity to maintain friendships across geographic barriers. But is this really community?

Sports offer something for this sense of particularity: real people in a real place. The great poet and essayist Wendell Berry has written that there should be no concept of community apart from a particular people and a particular place.

Read more at Christ and Pop Culture

Mary Berry Speaks to Global Leaders

Remarks Presented by Mary Berry
The Louisville Harmony and Health Initiative Convening of Global Leaders In Honor of His Royal Highness Prince Charles of Wales Louisville, Ky.  March 20, 2015

The Berry Center is putting my father’s writing to work by advocating for farmers, land- conserving communities and healthy economies. Food is a cultural product and we must work on a culture that supports good farming, one that allows farmers to afford to farm well. We must institutionalize agrarianism. That involves some practical, slow, tedious work. It also involves the most necessary life affirming work I can think of except for the work of good farming itself.

The Berry Center is working to create an economic sector in which small and medium size farms can compete, make a decent living, and build thriving rural communities. We have many projects and partners including The Berry Farming Program at St. Catharine College where we address the desperate need for more farmers. Two of our projects seem to me to fit the purposes of this meeting very well. 

Read Mary Berry's complete statement HERE (pdf)

Wendell Berry, Almonds and Rugged Individualism

To be sure, Berry’s “rugged individualism” is simply a more poetic term for our common complaint of “entitlement” — an accusation usually aimed at the young, which upon closer inspection reveals itself as a major undercurrent of capitalist society itself. Contemplating how we got there, Berry points to the aberrant evolution of property rights — something that originated as protection of the private individual and mutated into destruction of the public good:

Rugged individualism of this kind has cost us dearly in lost topsoil, in destroyed forests, in the increasing toxicity of the world, and in annihilated species.

When property rights become absolute they are invariably destructive, for then they are used to justify not only the abuse of things of permanent value for the temporary benefit of legal owners, but also the appropriation and abuse of things to which the would-be owners have no rights at all, but which can belong only to the public or to the entire community of living creatures: the atmosphere, the water cycle, wilderness, ecosystems, the possibility of life.

 Read more at Brain Pickings

Shifting Toward Wendell Berry

I’ve been reading Wendell Berry’s wonderful collection of essays, Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food. He engages questions of community and fertilizer and diversification and animal husbandry and solitude in a balance that I can only hope to achieve in my words . . . and my life, too.

I used to scoff at Berry, his unwillingness to own a computer, his insistence that he hand-write his manuscripts (which his wife then types.)  But the longer I live and the more pervasive information is, the more I feel the weight of “being informed” and “involved” in every pressing question of life on earth, the more I get Berry’s choice. The more I shift that way, too.

I’m not going to be discarding my laptop or severing the Internet connection to the house.  But I am slowly beginning to let go of the idea that to be uninformed is to be uncaring, to let something go by is to say that something is unimportant.

Read more at AndiLit

On Wendell Berry, Spirituality and Agriculture

I found a possible answer to this question while reading the words of farmer and philosopher Wendell Berry in The Unsettling of American Culture and Agriculture. To examine how people act in the world Berry puts forward the ideal types of “ the exploiter” and “ the nurturer.” An exploiter prioritizes accumulating wealth and acting efficiently, and has a tendency towards specialization. The nurturer thinks in terms of the overall health and longevity of the system and is prone to holistic thought. Berry explains:

“The exploiter is a specialist, an expert; the nurturer is not. The standard of the exploiter is efficiency; the standard of the nurturer is care. The exploiter’s goal is money, profit; the nurturer’s goal is health – his land’s health, his own, his family’s, his community’s, his country’s.”

The main thrust of Berry’s argument is that American society has swung towards the exploiter side of the spectrum and that environmental degradation, poor health, and over specialization has resulted.

What is relevant here in regards to spirituality is the idea that every person has characteristics of the exploiter and the nurturer inside of them.

Read more at An Unexpected Excursion 

Side by Side: Julian of Norwich and Wendell Berry

Both Julian and Berry transform our relative smallness into a position of vital import. Through the love of God, we find our meaning, place, and purpose. When we ignore that, it is almost as if we tear a hole in the fabric of Creation. As small as we are, our lives are not without meaning. With the psalmist, we can stand amazed at how God has included us.

To read two rich passages, visit God's Weaver.

Concerning the Christianity of Wendell Berry and David Brooks

If I were one of a homosexual couple — the same as I am one of a heterosexual couple — I would place my faith and hope in the mercy of Christ, not in the judgment of Christians.  – Wendell Berry
A few years ago I realized that I wanted to be a bit more like those people. I realized that if I wanted to do that I was going to have to work harder to save my own soul. – David Brooks

Two links about morality appeared on my twitter feed this week.   One describes David Brooks’s “moral bucket list.”  The other is on Christianity and debates about homosexuality in the United States, by Wendell Berry. People within a select demographic were sharing David Brooks like caramel popcorn. While I washed the breakfast dishes, NPR announced they would be visiting with Brooks about his new book on morality. Even though this is WUNC (NPR in North Carolina) I do not remember hearing them run a piece featuring Wendell Berry, well . . . ever, even though Berry is a celebrated scholar, environmental activist, novelist, and poet from our near cousin, Kentucky. Granted, I do not listen to WUNC every waking moment. But, during the time I do listen to WUNC, I hear more from David Brooks than I think it helpful to hear.

Read more at Marginal Christianity

Wendell Berry on Floating Baskeballs

There’s always something new headed your way, especially if you live beside a river. I visited Wendell Berry recently and we had the most marvelous time just sitting on his porch watching the Kentucky River flow by. The whole state had been experiencing serious flooding at that time and the river was way out of banks, licking up against his garden. Not as high as the “Thirty Seven Flood,” as it is referred to in Kentucky, which covered what would become his garden. (Everyone along the river knows exactly how high that famous flood rose, either in memory and with in-land markers.) We were discussing the awful erosion this part of Kentucky has suffered because of last few years’ corn and soybean craze that suckered landowners to once again cultivate land that their ancestors had learned the hard way should be kept in pasture. We had seen lots of gullies newly gouged out the rolling landscape on our way to Wendell’s farm. I was wondering how much mud would be deposited in the Gulf of Mexico just from this flood. Then Wendell said, in that tone of voice he assumes when he is about to say something droll: “But I haven’t seen any basketballs float by for an hour or so.”

Read more by Gene Logsdon at The Contrary Farmer