National Poetry Month is almost over, and today is Earth Day, so there is no better time to consider some of the thoughts and ideas of Wendell Berry. He is a gifted and prodigious writer of poetry, novels, short stories, and non-fiction. The Los Angeles Public Library's catalog lists numerous works by him (hard copy, audio-visual and e-media), with more of his work to be found in a variety of journals and magazines. His poems are approachable and suggestive; as a cultural critic his work is provocative, philosophical and grounded. Berry is a writer, a farmer, a political activist, and an environmentalist.
This short collection of essays is a good introduction to Berry's social and agrarian thoughts and concepts. The essays and speeches are recent, some are 6 years-old, but are definitely predictive of what is happening now: in politics among the world's populations, specifically the divisiveness that is found in the United States and worldwide. He offers some remedies to consider, and for someone his age, 84 years-old, he has not given up hope, is not a cockeyed optimist, and offers reason and ideas for changes to take place in our country and elsewhere. As an environmentalist he is not likely to hug a tree, instead he will provide concise botanical and ecological information about current and long-term forestry planning. His reverence and love for nature shines through in his language and his practical solutions to help make our world endure.
Among the most provocative and practical essays is the “The 50-year farm bill” (Here is the complete 50-year farm bill.) written by someone who comes from a long line of farmers. At the present time there is concern for mega/industrial farms (for plant and animal production). "This bill addresses ... soil erosion, toxic pollution of soil and water, loss of biodiversity, the destruction of farming communities and cultures ... by invoking Nature's primary law ... keep the ground covered, and keep it covered, by preference, with perennial plants." Not annual plants, which he documents as a problem. Berry's concern, emphasis and thesis are the connections between people and places, in particular those who are farmers and ranchers. His analysis and proposals also cover timely issues: land use and abuse; forestry; agrarian reform; communities and places; political action taken by people and not by bureaucracies; and limitation of all types of growth.
As a native of Kentucky, he states, " ... my thoughts begin with the history of rural Kentucky, which in all of its regions has been deplorable. In my county, for example, as recently as the middle of the last century, every town was a thriving economic and social center. Now all of them are either dying or dead. ...The people in these towns and their tributary landscapes once were supported by usefulness to one another. Now that mutual usefulness has been removed, and the people relate to one another increasingly as random partciles." Those problems are the ones he sees in other parts of our country, where people's lives have been disrupted and torn apart by "job-creating industries" which frequently do not include opportunities for the very people they are supposed to be helping. To resolve this major problem, Berry offers ten suggestions, and one idea is not that new, "The 'leaders' will have to be led," which is a basic tenet of representative democracy. Wendell Berry reminds all of us about living in a democracy, and that is the often burdensome task of being responsible citizens: take the time to voice your opinions and concerns in an open forum; listen to other people in a respectful manner; make every attempt to work on equitable solutions to solve problems.
His more recent book is, The art of loading brush, new agrarian writings. Here are three collections of his poetry: New collected poems; A timbered choir : the sabbath poems, 1979-1997; and Terrapin and other poems