A review of Wendell Berry's Sabbath Poems

We learn in the preface and introduction to these poems that they were composed by Wendell Berry during his Sabbaths, which he observed each Sunday. He tells us that many of them were written out of doors. Some of the poems even record Berry reclining in the woods near his home and falling asleep. Some, as the introductory poem suggests, were written looking out the window from his study, looking down the sloping property that is his farm to the river that flows into the Ohio.

He records the work of caring for the healing of his sloping lands. He writes in the introduction of having hoped the pasture would revert to forest, but rather his ewes ate the tree saplings. Instead, he tends the pasture in 2005, X “Mowing the hillside pasture–where.” He describes the Queen Anne’s lace, the milkweeds, butterflies, voles, and the contours of the healing slopes for which “He sweats and gives thanks.” In the next poem he speaks of imparting these experiences to his grandson, remembering when he was the young boy waving to an old workman in a pasture.

Read all of "Review: This Day" by Bob Trube at Bob On Books.


Thoughts on Wendell Berry's new story collection

Had Berry left it at elegy, this book would not be all it is. But he did not. He is as urgent as ever in insisting that we again grasp the truths of the lives and communities whose passing he mourns. He doubts we can survive without them. True, we bandy around the word “community” in every sort of context, knowing it has signified something important we would like to have, or have others imagine we actually do have. But community as written of in this book and remembered by Berry is an all-encompassing reality that shapes our every action with consideration of those around us and the land upon which we depend.

Berry warns us: we cannot survive the absence of living and working as a community.

Read all of "Wendell Berry, Temple Grandin, and the Idolatry of Abstractions" by Shmuel Klatzkin at The American Spectator.


Another review of Wendell Berry's The Need to Be Whole

The Need to Be Whole positions itself as a spiritual descendant of two of these standalones: The Hidden Wound (1970), in which Berry took up the damage wrought by slavery and racial prejudice, and The Unsettling of America (1977), in which he considered the death of the small farm, and more generally the continual destruction of land that was settled even before Europeans arrived in the New World. The new book braids these concerns together, but it lacks a clear rationale: Berry attempts a summing up, but in the process spins out so many arguments and sub-concerns and asides (some of them in this 500-page volume long enough to be books on their own) that his reach towards comprehensiveness risks overwhelming his purpose. Furthermore, some sections, particularly those broadly concerning the Civil War, Robert E. Lee, and Confederate monuments, seem almost designed to spark controversy, though I take Berry at his word when he maintains his sincerity and abiding faith in love as his preeminent value. At the same time, Berry’s writing is marked by a strain of defensiveness I have not previously encountered in his essays, and while this does not necessarily mar the book, it renders it less than what it should be.

Read all of "Wendell Berry’s Peculiar Patriotism" by Benjamin J. Wilson at The Bulwark


Another review of Wendell Berry's The Need to Be Whole

The association between wholeness and the love of a place is at the heart of Berry’s decisive contribution to our national conversation about race in his new book; The Need to Be Whole, Patriotism and the History of Prejudice. In his characteristically prophetic style, Berry delivers a message of biblical simplicity: black and white Americans will remain estranged so long as our lives remain enslaved by an economy which forbids the love of a place and rewards abusing the land and our fellow human beings. But despite an entire economic organization of our society constructed upon rootlessness and the relentness destruction of communities, we must continue to hope, because “[l]ove of country is not yet a possibility foreclosed.”

Read all of "Rage Against the Machine" by Renaud Beauchard at his Limits and Hope/Substack.


On Wendell Berry's economic writings

What would a fair and just economy look like? This isn’t a new question. It isn’t even new since the Great Recession, when reckless speculation proved much American economics was founded on air. People of wisdom and learning have asked that question since at least Adam Smith and Karl Marx, and come no closer to an answer that satisfies everyone. Poet and farmer Wendell Berry suggests we’ve been looking in the wrong direction.

Berry, who has worked the same stretch of Kentucky highland his entire life, grounds his economy in judicious management of resources; and for him, the foremost resource is land. His use of “land” broadly encompasses water and air, forests and pastures, which humans must manage, not merely use. Humans arise from land, and humans create money; any economy that places money first inverts, and thus destroys, the natural order.

America, and the world generally, has fallen under sway of “autistic industrialism,” in Berry’s words, a laser-focused belief that man-made technologies will solve everything. This finds its apotheosis in a financial services industry that sees its dollar-sign output as superior to whatever it places a price on. And it works exclusively through creating ever increasing demands: Berry writes, “Finance, as opposed to economy, is always ready and eager to confuse wants and needs.”

Read all of "Building an Economy From the Soil Up" by Kevin L. Nenstiel at hs blog, WordBasket.


A review of Wendell Berry's How It Went

If you’ve not read any other Berry, or any of the other Port William books, you may be tempted to conclude from what I’ve written thus far that How it Went is so many layers of navel-gazing. Not so; narrator Andy Catlett is a faithful witness of a treasured place and beloved persons. Like all faithful witnesses, he is aware of and accounts for himself, but that is not his object. His object is to convey the essence of the lands and persons he loves. 

And that brings us to the why of his remembering. Port William, its membership, and the nearby countryside and farms are beautiful and fragile. In them, we see the fragility of beautiful things, and the beauty of fragile things, especially when those things are under threat from the acids of modernity and postmodernity. Keeping the memory of them alive is their only protection, their only hope of forming sound human affections and commitments.

Read all of "The Vocation of Remembering: Wendell Berry’s How It Went" by David Mitchel at The Rabbit Room.


More thoughts on Wendell Berry's The Need to Be Whole

While Berry says the reaction so far to The Need to Be Whole, out Oct. 4, as opposed to the blowback he got from early readers, has actually been mostly positive, the book is decidedly not an exercise in public relations. Berry decries slavery while arguing that the motivations of the South were not all malevolent, just as those of the North were not all noble. (To wit: Lincoln's 1862 admission: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.") He posits that the term "slavery" is equally applicable to the life circumstance of some people today, including "highly paid professionals who cannot escape work they consider demeaning or destructive."

Berry stakes out these positions defiantly and with conviction, shrugging off the possibility of a hostile, maybe even legacy-damaging response. As he remarked when my wife, Linda, and I visited Wendell and his wife, Tanya, on their Kentucky farm last fall, "It's too late for it to ruin my entire life." He gave Tanya credit for this witticism.

Read all of "Beyond Good and Evil: On Wendell Berry's Brave New Book" by Bill Lueders at Common Dreams.


A look at Wendell Berry's new story collection

How It Went: Thirteen Late Stories of the Port William Membership is a collection of short stories covering the long life of Andy Catlett, one of the most enduring members of Port Williams. Through these thirteen stories, Berry covers the life of Andy from his youth to his preparation to join the whole Membership of Port William. Covering the years 1945-2001, Andy comes of age and experiences the post-World War II reality and the changes that followed, first as a naïve youth and then with the earned introspection of age. In this way, Andy serves as a kind of bridge, experiencing in himself the challenges that pull at the very fabric of life in Port William and by extension our own world.

Read all of "A Wandering Review of Wendell Berry's How it Went" by Ryan Hanning at Change & Challenge.

 


A Review of Wendell Berry's The Need to Be Whole

For more than six decades, a steady breeze of earth-scented essays, novels, poetry, and short stories has tumbled from a small farm in Kentucky’s Bluegrass region, where the writer Wendell Berry, now 88 years old, has made his home. As comfortable with a hoe as with a pen, he has been one of the few intellectuals reminding us that country life is far more complex than its caricature, that industrial progress is nothing of the sort, that living in the country and working with the land can be a path to redemption, that living in the country and working with the land is the path to redemption. His latest book, The Need to Be Whole: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice, is the culmination of a lifetime of thinking and writing, and it is by turns infuriating, brilliant, lazy, startlingly radical, deeply disappointing, and filled with love, even as it seethes with resentment.

Read all of "One of Our Most Beloved Environmental Writers Has Taken a Surprising Turn" by Daegan Miller at Slate.


Thoughts on Wendell Berry's new book

The Need to Be Whole elaborates on themes Berry explored in his 1970 book on race, The Hidden Wound. Both argue that racism has a damaging effect on both white people and black people, and that injustices to both races have a deeper cause. He likens the "decline of a small black community in Chicago" to "the decline of the now nearly all-white small towns in my rural county." If both these things are occurring, he says, "then the problem cannot be race prejudice, or only that, but a prejudice of another kind."

He counts Martin Luther King Jr. as an ally in this analysis, saying the civil rights leader's own impulse toward wholeness moved him "from concern for black people to concern for poor people to concern at last for all people, their land and culture." Berry also pulls in the perspectives of others, including writer Ernest J. Gaines, whom Berry knew well, and bell hooks, who visited him at his farm. And while making his definitive life statement on the issue of race, he also explores all of the other issues—including the importance of community, localism, and physical labor—that run constantly through his work. ("Tanya," he relates in the introduction to his 2017 essay collection, The Art of Loading Brush: New Agrarian Writings, "says my principal asset as a writer has been my knack for repeating myself.")

Read all of "Beyond Good and Evil: On Wendell Berry's Brave New Book" by Bill Lueders at Common Dreams.