Poetic Response to Wendell Berry's Mad Farmer

Jason Rodenbeck has begun a challenge to readers to compose poems as responses to Mr. Berry's "Mad Farmer." His poem begins like this:

I saw the Mad Farmer
outside the city
standing defiant
at the treeline;
I heard his voice
crying out for the wilderness

from the false security
of my sanitized room
I witnessed his
lonesome prophecy
and I felt myself then
for the first time hollow
as I always had been
chasing dreams of
greatness and
manufactured purpose,
empty distractions and
greedy comforts

I heard his voice calling me,
“Forget those! Know your smallness!
Inhabit your incompleteness!
Embrace your partiality, your
connections to this earth and
your neighbor!”

Read all of "for the Mad Farmer" by Jason Rodenbeck at his blog,  Thinking Peacefully.


French reflection on Wendell Berry's thought

Car Berry n’est pas un simple défenseur des intérêts matériels des agriculteurs, ni ne croit naïvement – comme Jefferson – qu’ils sont des citoyens plus vertueux parce que propriétaires ; il défend la qualité du travail des paysans, parce que c’est leur travail qui les rend susceptibles de devenir plus vertueux pour la société. En effet, ils sont intrinsèquement les intendants (stewards) de la nature, cela très précisément parce que leur rapport à la nature n’est pas contemplatif, voire touristique, mais instrumental. Ils sont à la nature ce que pour Péguy les artisans étaient à la matière : ceux qui expérimentent, dans leur travail et pour leur survie, la résistance, la logique propre de ce qui est en face d’eux, de ce dont ils dépendent pour vivre. Un artisan apprend qu’une simple erreur, un petit coup de travers dans son bout de bois ou sa pierre peut rendre caduque toute son œuvre ; il apprend donc à s’adapter à la matière elle-même. Il en va de même pour le paysan qui ne peut pas faire de la glèbe ce qu’il veut, comme il le veut et quand il le veut. Péguy opposait le travail de l’artisan à celui des fonderies, soulignant (peut-être avec un peu de légèreté, d’ailleurs) que lorsqu’une pièce de métal était mal faite, il suffisait de la fondre à nouveau et de la remettre dans le moule.

Read all of “Wendell Berry: paysan, poète et penseur de l’écologie” by Frédéric Dufoing at L'inactuelle.


Responses to FPR's "Legacy of Wendell Berry" conference

In the wake of last weekend's (September 14) Front Porch Republic 10th anniversary conference on "The Legacy of Wendell Berry," some who attended have offered their reflections.

Scott P. Richert, publisher of Our Sunday Visitor, wondered about the affinity of Catholics for Wendell Berry's thought in "Incarnation and human scale."

The principle of subsidiarity — that everything should be handled at the lowest level possible — lies at the heart of Catholic social teaching. It’s what attracts Catholics who understand it to the work of localists like Mr. Berry and the Front Porch Republic. In order to accomplish anything, we must first realize that we can’t do everything. We’re called to make disciples of all nations, but the first step in doing so — and possibly the last — is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Russell Arben Fox considers the tendency of Mr. Berry's thought to run across a range of political/ideological categories in "A Socialist on the Porch."

This gathering--the largest which FPR has ever organized, and one of their best--had Berry's life and work as its centerpiece. The 85-year-old novelist, essayist, poet, farmer, life-long Democrat, supporter of same-sex marriage, self-described "mad farmer," and all-around contrarian was interviewed by his daughter Mary and spoke with the audience at length. He is no socialist in any formal sense, that's for certain. But he is a man who, from his pastoral place in rural Kentucky, has articulated one of the greatest and most persuasive critiques of capitalism, and its ruinous environmental effects, in all American history.


Mary Berry interviewed by Library of America

Library of America: In practical terms, how do you see the work you do at the Berry Center extending or perpetuating your father’s legacy?

Mary Berry: I started the Berry Center in 2011 to continue the work of my family for small farmers and land conserving communities, and to improve the culture of agriculture. My father says that his father, John Marshall Berry, did the important work and he and his brother, John Marshall Berry, Jr., just took it up. We have now taken it up at the Center, advocating for ways to put a stabilizing economy under good farming and to foster a culture that will support it.

We started with an archive of my family’s papers, papers that tell the story of how the agrarian mind works when put into service of a particular place. My grandfather, John Marshall Berry, was a lawyer, farmer, and principal author of the only farm program in the history of our country (the Burley Tobacco Growers Co-Operative Association) that served the people it was supposed to serve—the small family farmer. His papers highlight the program and a way of life that he honored. We have to change the way we judge and understand the history of agriculture in this country. These papers give us a way to do that.

Read all of  "Mary Berry: Extending Wendell Berry’s legacy is 'the most hopeful work I can think of'” at Library of America.


Review of Wendell Berry's Collected Essays in The Nation

Over the years, he has called himself an agrarian, a pacifist, and a Christian—albeit of an eccentric kind. He has written against all forms of violence and destruction—of land, communities, and human beings—and argued that the modern American way of life is a skein of violence. He is an anti-capitalist moralist and a writer of praise for what he admires: the quiet, mostly uncelebrated labor and affection that keep the world whole and might still redeem it. ...

Berry defined his themes in the years when environmentalism grew into a mass mobilization of dissent, the civil rights movement confronted white Americans afresh with the country’s racial hierarchy and violence, and the Vietnam War joined uncritical patriotism to technocratic destruction—and stirred an anti-war movement against both. He was part of a generation in which many people confronted, as young adults, the ways that comfort and seeming safety in one place could be linked, by a thousand threads and currents, to harm elsewhere—the warm glow of electric lights to strip mining, the deed of a family farm to colonial expropriation and enslavement, the familiar sight of the Stars and Stripes to white supremacy and empire.

 


Wirzba on Soil, Garden and Wendell Berry

Among contemporary writers, few have understood and articulated these insights as well as Wendell Berry. Whether in the form of poetry, story, or essay, Berry has argued that apart from a people’s commitment to repair and nurture particular places and communities, the world comes to ruin. His call to “return to the land” is not the expression of some romantic yearning to relocate urbanites within an agrarian arcadia that never existed. The issue is not relocation, but the development of the sympathies and skills that make for an enduring, responsible, and beautiful livelihood. One doesn’t need a farm to do that. All one needs is a place within which to learn to exercise care and commitment. He knows it won’t be easy, especially in cultures characterized by speed, rootlessness, and a spectator approach to life.

Read all of "The Ground of Hospitality" by Norman Wirzba at Plough.

 


Wendell Berry interview in The New Yorker

A lot of people now come of age in places that feel like no place—a kind of vague American landscape, sculpted in part by corporations—which occasionally makes me wonder if homesickness, as a human experience, is itself on the verge of extinction.

Well, part of manners used to be to say to somebody you just met, “Where you from?” And I quit asking it, because so many people say they’re from everywhere or nowhere. I’ll tell you a little bit of my history that may be pertinent. My mother was born and grew up in Port Royal, my father about four miles south. Both of their families had lived here since about the beginning of the nineteenth century. When I came to teach at the University of Kentucky, Tanya and I thought we would live in Lexington, and we would have “a country place.” And we hardly had laid our hands to this house, which needed some preservation work, when we realized, we’re not going to have a country place, we’re going to live here. And so we have. We bought this home and twelve acres in the fall of 1964, and moved in, in the midst of renovations, in the summer of 1965. That put our children here, and now we’ve got grandchildren who are at home here. That comes from a decision that we made to be here, and to be here permanently.

See all of "Going Home with Wendell Berry" by Amanda Petrusich at The New Yorker.


September Conference on The Legacy of Wendell Berry

Front Porch Republic is hosting a one-day conference on The Legacy of Wendell Berry at The University of Louisville - Belknap Campus.

Join us in Louisville on September 14 for FPR's annual conference. This year our focus will be the life and legacy of Wendell Berry. Speakers include Wendell Berry, Mary Berry, Kate Dalton, Jason Peters, Bill Kauffman, Caleb Stegall, Gracy Olmstead, and Susannah Black.

For ticket information, go HERE.


NY Times reviews Wendell Berry essay collection

Now this estimable nonprofit publisher returns with two slablike volumes of his nonfiction in a boxed set, “What I Stand On: The Collected Essays of Wendell Berry 1969-2017.” Together the books weigh in at a forest-pulping 1,674 pages. It’s a lot of Wendell Berry.

It’s vastly too much Wendell Berry, a determined reader soon discovers. Counterpoint Press delivered a saltier introduction to this writer’s work last year with “The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry.” It’s one-fifth the size and, in paperback, about one-fifth the price.

The numbing length of these two new collections do Berry no favors. From the start, he bangs the same themes so relentlessly — the perils of industrial agriculture, the decimation of rural life, America’s blind faith in technology — that one’s eyes begin to cross.

It’s not that Berry isn’t correct to be desperately concerned about these issues, and about the loss of old ways and fine workmanship in general. You can be right there alongside him, at least on the big points, while still being driven to madness by repetition. It’s as if someone has put a bag over your head.

Read all of  "In Wendell Berry’s Essays, a Little Earnestness Goes a Long Way" by Dwight Garner at The New York Times.


Wendell Berry on computers, again

What made you want to publicly declare your intention to abstain from the computer bandwagon?

It seemed to me that everybody was jumping into this as if it would save the world. And that was really the way it was being advertised. “This is the solution to all our problems. This is going to speed things up.” And so, I made a little dissent. It’s really a tiny little no that I said.

While you were staging that “little dissent” President Ronald Reagan declared the computer revolution “the greatest force for the advancement of human freedom the world has ever seen.”

The idea that you’re free if you buy everything that’s marketed to you is absurd. You’ve become free only when you begin to choose. Take it – or leave it. That’s our freedom, that’s real freedom.

The way the human race practically bought into this computer sales talk was just contemptible. You come on the market with this thing. It’s exactly the way they marketed television. “This is the answer. Everybody’s going to be smarter now. Everybody’s going to be in touch.” Same line. And they don’t anticipate any negative result. Never.

Read all of "Why Wendell Berry is still not going to buy a computer" at The Christian Science Monitor.