Monday, November 21, 2016

Book Note: Wendell Berry's "Clearing"

Wendell Berry, Clearing (Harcourt Brave Jovanovitch, 1977):  52 pp.

I picked up a thin paperback collection of poems by Wendell Berry titled Clearing at the Gordon Avenue Library fall book sale last week for fifty cents.

The work consists of seven non-rhyming poems focused on the author’s Kentucky farm. Berry is well known for his critique of disconnected urban and modern complexity and his praise of rural simplicity.

Reading his poems makes you want to sell your house, buy some land, and start homesteading.  Then, you remember how tired you’d probably be.  How little time you’d have for the modern pastimes and conveniences you actually enjoy, like picking up a cup of coffee, surfing the internet, or writing a post for your blog.  And how you’d probably starve yourself and your family to death, because you don’t really know how to farm. I also recall Joel Salatin’s response when asked about Berry.  He essentially said he liked Berry but whereas Berry made a living writing and farmed on the side, he made his living farming and only wrote on the side.

It also made me think of the dairy farm off Byrd Rd. in Morganton, North Carolina where my grandparents had their place and where my father and his brothers and sisters lived and worked.  They had their clearing, eked a simple life out of it, but hardly would have thought to have written poems about it.

Best new word learned from Clearing:  “Reverdure” the title of the final poem.  The word means “to cover again with verdure [greenness, fresh vegetation].”

Best section of a poem:  stanza 8 in “Reverdure”:

            One thing work gives
            is the joy of not working,
            a minute here or there
            when I stand and only breathe,
            receiving the good of the air.
            It comes back.  Good work done
            comes back into the mind,
            a free breathe drawn.

Clearing makes you want to work on the farm.  Or, just sit on you porch and look at the farm across the road and enjoy their labor.


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