Evening Poetry, May 23

Though the air is full of singing
my head is loud
with the labor of words.

Though the season is rich
with fruit, my tongue
hungers for the sweet of speech.

Though the beech is golden
I cannot stand beside it
mute, but must say

‘It is golden,’ while the leaves
stir and fall with a sound
that is not a name.

It is in the silence
that my hope is, and my aim.
A song whose lines

I cannot make or sing
sounds men’s silence
like a root. Let me say

and not mourn: the world
lives in the death of speech
and sings there.

You can find this in The Country of Marriage: Poems.

The Art of Loading Brush (A Book Review)

Every time I finish reading something from Wendell Berry, his words and ideas tumble inside my head for weeks afterward. What a gift he is to us and how much the world needs to listen to what he says.

This is a man who has lived longer than most of us and has seen the devastating changes that have taken place in his community and in rural America over the decades since industrial farming became the norm. He has seen land abused and soil eroded and degraded. He has witnessed generations of farmers go from being able to make ends meet with help from their strong, caring communities to farmland and farming equipment becoming so expensive that hardly any young people can afford to purchase a farm.

Wendell Berry is a farmer so he understands farming and has many farming friends and family members. In The Art of Loading Brush, he advocates returning to a slower pace of living, smaller family-run, biodiverse farms, and farming with an attitude of just enough instead of the “Get Big or Get Out” way of doing things that became popular since the 1970s. He looks at the Amish communities as examples for rural communities that have broken down. He says one question the Amish ask whenever they consider a change is, “What will this do to my community?” Rural America’s failure to ask this simple question has been to the whole country’s detriment.

Another important theme in Berry’s essays, letters, and fiction is having a strong local, food secure economy. What sense does it actually make for agricultural communities to grow crops or raise livestock and then sell them to some far off place so that the people in their own communities have to truck in food from far off places? He says that puts us in a very dangerous place should the supply chain break down. And we’ve seen this happen around the country during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic! The more I read his words, the more I wonder where our common sense has gone to.

Thankfully, I know there are family farms in the Finger Lakes region that read Wendell Berry, align with his philosophy, and are providing food to people in their own communities.

As person living in an agricultural district, (our home is surrounded on all four sides with mostly corn and soybean fields) I cringe at the way the land is treated. Just last night, there was a huge tractor spraying the fields with what I assume is some sort of weed killer, like Round Up. It made me so upset that they aren’t required by law to inform neighbors that they’re spraying! And I think of the harm these chemicals do to the bees, butterflies, birds, land, water, and, of course, to us.

But my true nature isn’t the yelling, sign holding activist–although I’ve done this too! Instead of taking to the streets, Wendell encourages us to actually make the changes that we want to protest about in our own lives and homes and with our own families.

Take care of the earth. Cut out waste–be thrifty and frugal. Love and connect with our neighbors. Slow down and think before we act! (And I recommend reading The Art of Loading Brush and all of Wendell Berry’s other books!!!)

Evening Poetry, May 13

(From This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems)

by Wendell Berry

1981

I.

Here where the world is being made,

No human hand required,

A man may come, somewhat afraid

Always, and somewhat tired,

For he comes ignorant and alone

From work and worry of

A human place, in soul and bone

The ache of human love.

He may come and be still, not go

Toward any chosen aim

Or stay for what he thinks is so.

Setting aside his claim

On all things fallen in his plight,

His mind may move with leaves,

Wind-shaken, in and out of light,

And live as the light lives,

And live as the Creation sings

In covert, two clear notes,

And waits; then two clear answerings

Come from more distant throats–

May live a while with light, shaking

In high leaves, or delayed

In halts of song, submit to making,

The shape of what is made.

You can find this poem in This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems.

Evening Poetry, April 26

1979

I.

by Wendell Berry

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

You can find this in This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems.

Evening Poetry, April 24

The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

You can find this poem in New Collected Poems.

What I’m Reading in April

When I plan my reading for a month, I typically add one too many books to my monthly TBR. And this is fine, unless I have a book review due and miss the deadline, as I’ve done with Netgalley reads. (Anyone else have this problem?) It’s been helpful for me to remind myself when I’m doing my bullet journal planning each week to list the books that have to be read and a review written.

This month I have two ARCs from Celadon Books (Thank you, Celadon!!!) that I’m reading. I just finished the first one, Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs by Jennifer Finney Boylan, and I LOVED it! I actually didn’t think I would because I’m not a dog person, but the main story is about the author with dogs woven throughout. (More on this book when I write the review.) The publishing date is April 21. The second one, Hollywood Park: A Memoir, is being released on May 6, but it’s a longer read, so I will start that one in a few days.

Then I have two books with a focus on sustainability that I’m reading for myself and as part of a community reading initiative for my job at a local nonprofit. The first one is From What Is To What If by Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition movement. I’ve been reading and following this movement for nearly a decade and all I can say is, I wish our town was a Transition Town–we’d have a lot more resilience in dealing with this new economic downturn and food supply disruption. But it’s better late than never, so I’m reading this book to help stimulate my imagination to think how life can be different. The second one is Wendell Berry’s The Art of Loading Brush: New Agrarian Writings. These are essays critiquing modern American culture. In my mind, there is never a better time to read Berry’s words than right now.

 

I’m also reading a novel along with my husband, Alan. It’s called Angel of Darkness by Caleb Carr. Did any of you see the tv series The Alienist that was out a few falls back? It was pretty freaky, and I don’t do scary books/movies/tv shows, but I was able to watch it with my hands over my eyes during some scenes. Actually we both watched it. So when Alan picked up this book, written by the same author, and had me read the first few pages, I said I’d get the kindle version so we could read along together. One chapter in, and I’m hooked.

I’m also reading poetry which I’ll share here, as well as a few other books I’ll get around to sharing soon. So what are you reading this month? Whether you are reading any of the ones listed here, or have a list of your own going, please share in comments!

Affiliate Links: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and purchase a book through a link, I will receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you!

Evening Poetry, January 26

“Sabbaths-1979, IV”

by Wendell Berry

The bell calls in the town
Where forebears cleared the shaded land
And brought high daylight down
To shine on field and trodden road.
I hear, but understand
Contrarily, and walk into the woods.
I leave labor and load,
Take up a different story.
I keep an inventory
Of wonders and of uncommercial goods.

I climb up through the field
That my long labor has kept clear.
Projects, plans unfulfilled
Waylay and snatch at me like briars,
For there is no rest here
Where ceaseless effort seems to be required,
Yet fails, and spirit tires
With flesh, because failure
And weariness are sure
In all that mortal wishing has inspired.

I go in pilgrimage
Across an old fenced boundary
To wildness without age
Where, in their long dominion,
The trees have been left free.
They call the soil here “Eden”; slants and steeps
Hard to stand straight upon
Even without a burden.
No more a perfect garden,
There’s an immortal memory that it keeps.

I leave work’s daily rule
And come here to this restful place
Where music stirs the pool
And from high stations of the air
Fall notes of wordless grace,
Strewn remnants of the primal Sabbath’s hymn.
And I remember here
A tale of evil twined
With good, serpent and vine
And innocence of evil’s stratagem.

I let that go a while,
For it is hopeless to correct
By generations’ toil,
And I let go my hopes and plans
That no toil can perfect.
There is no vision here but what is seen:
White bloom nothing explains.

But a mute blessedness
Exceeding all distress,
The fresh light stained a hundred shades of green.

Uproar of wheel and fire
That has contained us like a cell
Opens and lets us hear
A stillness longer than all time
Where leaf and song fulfill
The passing light, pass with the light, return,
Renewed, as in rhyme.
This is no human vision
Subject to our revision;
God’s eye holds every leaf as light is worn.

Ruin is in place here:
The dead leaves rotting on the ground,
The live leaves in the air
Are gathered in a single dance
That turns them round and round.
The fox cub trots his almost pathless path
As silent as his absence.
These passings resurrect
A joy without defect,
The life that steps and sings in ways of death.

You can find this poem in The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry.

Poetry is for YOU (plus, a GIVEAWAY!)

I know plenty of people who are bookworms but not poetry lovers. Maybe they were forced to read poetry written in archaic language when they were in high school and then asked to write a dreaded analysis. That kills it for so many people!

Or maybe they just think poetry is full of flowery language that they can’t understand or relate to. No one wants to feel stupid, so poetry gets shelved along with old yearbooks. Let me just say, this is not the point of poetry at all! It’s not meant to be only for those “brainy, heady types”. Poetry is for everyone!

For me, poetry is a breath of fresh air. It’s a way to connect emotion, intuition, and mystery with words. It’s fluid and freeing and touches me deeply in a way that prose cannot.

For those of you whose interest in poetry has been blighted by education’s withering hand, I entreat you to try this: Go to your local library or bookstore. The children’s poetry is often an easy, accessible entry point. Pick up a book of poetry and open it. If one poem doesn’t appeal to you, turn a few pages and try another one. If that particular poet doesn’t appeal to you, set that book down and reach for something else. If you feel brave, find the grown-up poetry section and repeat.

I promise: there is poetry for you, for where you are at right now, and for the kind of language your heart speaks. You don’t have to decipher the meaning, write an analysis or attempt to understand every line. You just have to listen with your heart and see if the poet is speaking to you.

If you’re brand new to poetry, head to The Poetry Foundation’s website to read more poetry than you can imagine. Here are a few poets you might want to start with:

Shel Silverstein

Mary Oliver

Jack Prelutsky

Maya Angelou

Ogden Nash

Wendell Berry

OK, about the giveaway! **U.S. Residents ONLY** I am giving away a brand new copy of Plough Publishing’s poetry book The Heart’s Necessities to one reader. Read my review here. To enter: 1. Subscribe to this blog. 2. Follow me on Instagram. I will choose one reader at random on Friday May 31st. Good luck, readers!

Evening Poetry, May 16

May Song

by Wendell Berry

For whatever is let go

there’s a taker.

The living discovers itself

where no preparation

was made for it,

where its only privilege

is to live if it can.

The window flies from the dark

of the subway mouth

into the sunlight

stained with the green

of the spring weeds

that crowd the improbable

black earth

of the embankment,

their stout leaves

like the tongues and bodies

of a herd, feeding

on the new heat,

drinking in the seepage

of the stones:

the freehold of life,

triumphant

even in the waste

of those who possess it.

But it is itself the possessor,

we know at last,

seeing it send out weeds

to take back

whatever is left:

Proprietor, pasturing foliage

on the rubble,

making use

of the useless–a beauty

we have less than not

deserved.

This poem can be found in New Collected Poems by Wendell Berry.

Evening Poetry, May 5

How to Be a Poet

by Wendell Berry


Make a place to sit down.   
Sit down. Be quiet.   
You must depend upon   
affection, reading, knowledge,   
skill—more of each   
than you have—inspiration,   
work, growing older, patience,   
for patience joins time   
to eternity. Any readers   
who like your poems,   
doubt their judgment.   

Breathe with unconditional breath   
the unconditioned air.   
Shun electric wire.   
Communicate slowly. Live   
a three-dimensioned life;   
stay away from screens.   
Stay away from anything   
that obscures the place it is in.   
There are no unsacred places;   
there are only sacred places   
and desecrated places.   

Accept what comes from silence.   
Make the best you can of it.   
Of the little words that come   
out of the silence, like prayers   
prayed back to the one who prays,   
make a poem that does not disturb   
the silence from which it came.

You can find this poem at the Poetry Foundation and in the collection Given: Poems.