Sunday, January 24, 2010

"It's a difficult business, being human."

It can be a difficult business being human, as Kentucky farmer/writer/advocate Wendell Berry says in this fascinating interview, but if you have his books as your companion they will make it much more rewarding.

Posting one of Mr. Berry's poems yesterday got me thinking about how much I owe him. In the early 90s I was introduced to his work by a friend who recommended one of Berry's books: The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. Well, I loved it and my memory is that I quickly gobbled up any other essays of his I could find at the BPL. Once I'd exhausted the essays I turned to the Port William novels. Holy moly! That is some of the most soul-nourishing fiction I've ever read. So I devoured those wonderful books. And then there was just his poetry left...

Now, I wrote a little poetry myself as a kid. A very little. And in school I somehow saw the poetry that would show up in my literature textbooks as being optional. Not sure how I justified that. But I really read as little of it as possible. I think my biggest issue was that I would get into the form, the rhythm of it and be unable to connect with the content, what the poem was really saying. De dun de da dunda da da, de dun de da dunda da da... But I really was desperate for more Wendell Berry, so I checked out the library's copy of his Collected Poems. And I fell deeply and irrevocably in love with his poetry and then poetry in general. It totally opened up a whole world to me. I'm still no good with rhyming poetry, but the rest of it seems to me to be the mystical wing of literature. So I have Mr. Berry to thank for enriching my life through poetry. I even ended up memorizing a number of his poems to pull out when my soul needs a little pick-me-up. I highly recommend such a practice if it appeals to you.

I fell so in love with Wendell Berry's writing that it starting influencing the artwork I was doing at the time. I had all these little cigar boxes around that I enjoyed decorating the inside of. And so I found myself filling one of the boxes with a lot of the imagery I was reading about in Mr. Berry's books. When I was done I thought there was only one person who would appreciate this besides me and so I tracked down some kind of mailing address for him, I think through the University of Kentucky? In any case, one of my most prized possessions is this letter (proven by how easily I put my hands on it when I thought to show it here):

I can connect Wendell Berry's influence to my life in two additional ways. While being interviewed for my current job, the topic of poetry came up and my now-boss asked what poets I liked. When I immediately said with great enthusiasm, "Wendell Berry!" he nearly fell out of his chair. Not the answer he was expecting from this transplanted Northerner! I might have gotten the job even if I hadn't given such a stellar answer, but who knows?:)

And in addition to feeding my spirit and helping me secure meaningful work, Wendell Berry's books were an important encouragement to make a connection that has literally fed me, by my becoming a shareholder in a CSA. Several years ago, I was reading an article in the local alternative paper about a new way of getting fresh veggies through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). A bell went off for me that I had to support something like this, that if I'd learned anything from Mr. Berry through the years, I had to join right up. And it has been one of the best things I've ever done. We've been proud shareholders in the Bugtussle Farm CSA since their very first season, back in 2002. It has enriched our lives in so many ways to have this connection to a piece of land and to be friends with that land's devoted caretakers. The website Local Harvest can help you find local farms near you. If you're interested I can't encourage you enough to find a farm near you and make this connection. You'll eat better and it will feed your soul to have this relationship to the land and your farmers.

Thank you Wendell Berry! It may be difficult business being human, but you've made my life so much richer and more meaningful.