Conversation about the Wendell Berry/Gary Snyder correspondence

Paul Swanson in conversation with Chad Wriglesworth:

Chad Wriglesworth is a professor (at St. Jerome’s University), literary critic, book editor and writer. What most strikes me about Chad is his love of words. You will hear in our conversation how he lights up on the poetic turn of phrase, or a word that is precise enough to communicate exactly what is intended. Chad compiled and edited the letters for Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. This book is riveting and I begged it not to end. The tone, tenor and rhythm of the letters are the manifestations from the lives of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. If you are a fan of this podcast, you are no stranger to hearing about Wendell Berry; Kentucky agrarian, poet, novelist, essayist, to name just a few of his attributes. Gary Snyder is also a man of letters from the same generation and equally as counter-culture but from another slant. Snyder is a poet, Zen Buddhist, essayist and leans into a more hunter-gatherer philosophical stance.

To here the conversation, visit Contemplify.


Wendell Berry on the Farm Bill

Gracy Olmstead: The Farm Bill usually promotes short-term economic gains over long-term ecological health (something the 50-year Farm Bill seeks to fix). How do we get Washington politicians to support more sustainable forms of agriculture?

Wendell Berry: The problem here is not so much that of the shortness of the term of planning or of shortsightedness as it is of ecological and agricultural ignorance and a sort of moral blindness. The problems we ought to be dealing with are not problems because they are going to cause us trouble in the future. They are problems because they are obviously and clearly causing trouble right now. We ought to be doing our best to solve them right now.

If politicians and journalists want to know about the problems of agriculture, they are not likely to go out into “rural America” to observe the condition of the fields and the waterways or to talk to the farmers and the ex-farmers, the ex-merchants of the small towns, or to talk to the mayors and county judges of rural counties. Instead, they are very likely to talk to academic and bureaucratic experts, who are tightly bound within the industrial structure of agriculture, agri-science and agribusiness.

Alan Guebert was right when he said in one of his columns that this farm bill will be much like the last one insofar as it will not address the real problems of agriculture. Those problems, as you know, are soil erosion, soil degradation, the pollution of waterways by sediment and toxic chemicals, various ecological damages, the elimination of small farms, the destruction of the cultures of husbandry and the ruin of country towns and communities. And maybe we should add specifically the curse of overproduction, which at present, as often before, is the major and the cruelest problem.

Those problems could be summed up as the triumph of industrialism and industrial values over the lives of living creatures, and over the life of the living world. The preferences and choices of industrialism do not imply a limit of any kind. They rest instead upon the premises of limitless economic growth and limitless consumption, which of course implies limitless waste, and finally exhaustion.

Nothing can take form except within limits. No cure is possible, either in policy or practice, except within understood limits, which is to say within a correct diagnosis. This requires patience. A good solution has to begin with a description of the problem that is full, clear, and reliable.

Read all of "Wendell Berry's Right Kind of Farming," an interview with Gracy Olmstead at The New York Times.


Wendell Berry in conversation about local economies

Listen to a conversation between two giants of the local economy movement in this extended episode. Helena Norberg-Hodge founded Local Futures, produced the film The Economics of Happiness, and wrote the book Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh. Wendell Berry is a poet and activist, an author of over 40 books, and a lifelong advocate for ecological health, the beauty of rural life, and small-scale farming. Their far-reaching discussion touches on human nature, technology, experiential knowledge, agriculture policy, happiness, wildness, and local food systems.

Listen to "Beautiful Places: A Conversation with Wendell Berry" at Local Futures.


An Interview with Wendell Berry about Education

Berry: I was a very good boy until I was in the third grade. And from then on I hated school. 

David: Because you were forced to stay inside?

Berry: Well, I had experienced freedom in the countryside, and to tell you the truth there wasn’t a lot going on in school that was very interesting. But I didn’t like the confinement. I made a lot of trouble, and I didn’t understand the implication of the trouble I was making. The implication was that I was going to get sent to a military school. At 14 I went away to school with my brother, who was a year younger than I. We went to Millersburg Military Institute up in central Kentucky. And I was about as well-suited to that as I would have been to, I don’t know, an assembly line, which in effect it was. And while I was there I had the good fortune to have maybe three teachers who really did something for my education. I received kindness from more teachers than that, from a couple more. There were two curricula: The first was what they intended to teach you, the second was what they didn’t intend to teach you. I learned something from both. But I had a bad attitude that they discovered early. It was defiance. Also I learned just to slip away and go for a walk somewhere. When I got to college, I liked that. There were, oh, half a dozen teachers I found in college who really did affect me. I respected them. The ones I respected the most were the ones who were hardest on me. But they had something to offer, you see. The teacher I had most often in college was Thomas Stroup. He taught Milton. He started me reading Spenser, although he didn’t teach a Spenser class at that time. He read T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi” one afternoon in his office, read it beautifully. He kicked me out of class one day and told me in front of everybody, “Your arrogance is exceeded only by your ignorance.” 

Read the whole of "Education Is A Dangerous Thing: A Conversation With Wendell Berry" by David Kern at Forma: A Magazine from the Circe Institute.


An audio interview with Wendell Berry

Back to the Roots is a podcast that aims "to connect people with organic farmers across the country, from Amish country in Ohio and Indiana to farmers on the West Coast." They have just posted a substantial and wide-ranging interview/conversation with Wendell Berry.

See the list of podcasts HERE.

Go directly to the Wendell Berry interview (mp3) HERE.


Library of America questions Wendell Berry

In advance of the publication of Wendell Berry: Port William Novels & Stories (The Civil War to World War II), The Library of America has posted a Q&A with Mr. Berry.

Library of America: This first Library of America volume presents four novels and twenty-three short stories of the Port William sequence in the order of their narrative chronology—a long arc tracing roughly eighty years of rural American life. What might a reader of your work gain from seeing it laid out in this form, instead of in the order in which it was written?

Wendell Berry: “Might” is the right word here. I know this work from the inside, whereas a reader can know it only from the outside. I know it, or have known it, first in the order in which the parts were written. The whole work “from the Civil War to the end of World War II,” as Library of America has published it, was not written from first to last according to a plan. The order of writing was simply the order in which the parts became imaginable to me. A reader, reading from earliest to latest in the order of history, may know this body of work differently, and even better, than I can know it.

Read the whole exchange at Library of America.


Laura Dunn interviewed about Wendell Berry film

By way of answering that question: what did Mr. Berry think of the film? Has he seen it yet?

He saw a 20-minute version of the film very early on. I was a little worried that once he saw that he was going to shut the whole thing down, but apparently — I don’t know this from him, but from Mary — it really moved him emotionally. But he also wondered, “Is the argument clear? Could it be clearer?” Those were his two responses, and for me that was good feedback.

To my knowledge, he hasn’t yet seen the full film. The indication is that he will eventually. He doesn’t have a TV, he’s not going to go to a movie theater — God forbid he ever set foot in a movie theater — but we’ve provided him with the means to see it, so I hope he will see it. Tanya and Mary and Steve Smith, the farmer in the film, they’ve all seen it many times now. But Wendell did tell me how much he thought the 20-minute version captures something, and how important that is, and so that’s good enough for me.

Read the complete interview by Daniel Clarkson Fisher at NONFICS.


Q&A with Wendell Berry

Your wife says your principal asset as a writer has been your "knack for repeating yourself." Why keep repeating yourself?

Because things aren't improving out here in this newly discovered rural America. Actually, it was discovered a long time ago by the Republicans and the corporations — the Democrats had forgotten it for quite a long time, and they've just rediscovered it. Forty years ago, I wrote a book called The Unsettling of America. The tragedy of that book is that it's still pertinent. If it had gone out of print because of irrelevance, it would have been a much happier book. In 1977, I thought that the farming population was at a disastrous low. Now it's somewhere below 1%.

Your main concern with economists is that they think commodities can always come from somewhere else.

This has been a dominant idea throughout our history: if you don't have it here, you can get it from somewhere else. If you use up this commodity here, you can't produce it here anymore, you've worn out the possibility here, get it from somewhere else. Or if you're short of labor or you're too good for certain kinds of labor, go to Africa and get some slaves. That recourse has haunted us, has plagued us to death.

Read the complete interrogation by Sarah Begley at Time.


Wendell Berry's reflections on the events of September 11, 2001

This film uses an interview with Mr Berry that was apparently filmed in 2006.

In response to the events of September 11, 2001, Kentucky author Wendell Berry wrote the essay "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear". Appalshop filmmaker Herb E. Smith matched his words with scenes of Kentucky and interviewed Wendell years later about the process of writing in response to crisis and the essay's continued relevancy. This is the first time Appalshop has made this work publicly accessible. KET shares this piece each year to commemorate the events of September 11, 2001.

 The text of the essay "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear" can be found HERE at Orion Magazine.


An interview with Mary Berry concerning Wendell Berry and the Given Life

This new book brings your dad’s work to a Catholic audience. What is your opinion of it?

It’s a really good introduction to daddy’s work for people who haven’t read him. I always think when I read what people have written about daddy, it’s very good. But I hope it leads people to read daddy’s work itself.

The book’s chapters cover twelve themes from your dad’s writings: givenness, humility, love, economics, work, Sabbath, stability, membership, the body and the earth, language, peaceableness and prophesy. Could you boil all of these themes down to one sentence?

The importance of daddy’s work, for me anyway, has been to learn to live within the limits I have—to accept the place I have, the work I do, and to be content within it, and not to be always thinking of another place or thing or some distraction, but to always live the life I’ve got. To put it into a sentence: For human beings trying to live sanely and consciously, part of that is learning to accept today, to accept what it offers and be content with the good work it offers.

The book concludes with an afterword featuring an interview of your dad. What did you take away from his words?

The thing I’m most attracted to in what daddy says is that we’re all complicit—I think Thomas Merton says somewhere we’re all part of the giant sham. I think the thing that’s worrisome to me in my travels and talks, as a left-leaning person, is that people think buying some tomatoes at a farmer’s market is enough. But it doesn’t really mean that much: We’ve got some very basic work to do on how we’re living. To understand how we’re all part of this mess involves making a change in how we live.

Read the complete interview by Sean Salai, S.J. at America Media.