Monday, September 13, 2010

Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is a Kentucky farmer — a man of deep insight, renowned for his essays on agricultural issues, and ecology. He is the author of more than forty books, known as a religious thinker, and for his resistance to computer technology (He would not be interested in websites or blogs — even this blog — no matter how fascinating the topic). His poetry and fiction reflect his love of creation, of God and of rural life. Although he has taught at New York University, among others, and lived abroad in Italy and France, when we read Wendell Berry we are immersed in his connection to rural Kentucky; such connection to place is important in his work.

He’s been writing his rural novels of the fictitious town of Port William, Kentucky for half a century; the earliest, Nathan Coulter, was published in 1960, and one recent installment, Andy Catlett: Early Travels, appeared in 2007.

My connection to Wendell Berry is through his poems. They are simple, honest and profound — permitting us to reflect along with him, on the things that matter to him. He often speaks of faith, as in the following brief poem:
(IX from “Sabbaths 1999”)
--------The incarnate Word is with us,
--------is still speaking, is present
--------always, yet leaves no sign
--------but everything that is.

In his poetry, Berry reminds us of the issues that concern him — issues that concern us all. The following poem is from his collection Entries:

Air

This man, proud and young,
turns homeward in the dark
heaven, free of his burden
of death by fire, of life in fear
of death by fire, in the city
now burning far below.

This is a young man, proud;
he sways upon the tall stalk
of pride, alone, in control of the
explosion by which he lives, one
of the children we have taught
to be amused by horror.

This is a proud man, young
in the work of death. Ahead of him
wait those made rich by fire.
Behind him, another child
is burning; a divine man
is hanging from a tree.

In Rock & Sling (Volume 3 Issue 1 Spring 2006), you can read my review of Wendell Berry’s poetry collection Given.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca