Poet Recommendation: Wendell Berry
Given the environmental theme of this week’s comic, and the fact that it’s Earth Day, it seems like it might be a good time to recommend to you the work of Wendell Berry. Mr. Berry, like Mr. Alexie, is a living writer, and still active today, even at the age of 80. He also wears many hats: “novelist” and “activist” tend to be applied most frequently, but he’s also known as a farmer, at least by vocation, if not occupation.
For me, a large part of Mr. Berry’s work resonates with me because I feel echoes of it in my own story. He too had a rural upbringing in a landscape known more for resource extraction and agriculture than for intellectual and cultural pursuits, and I find his themes of balance and connection to be very similar to some of my own ambitions and theorizing. In many ways, Mr. Berry evokes the porto-environmentalism of a figure like Aldo Leopold. It’s easy to envision either of them strolling from his home in the early morning, before the sunrise, smelling the morning air and listening to the bird song as he heads into the woods to chop down a tree.
Mr. Berry is thoroughly modern, of course: he’s installed solar panels on his farm, and is concerned with contemporary issues environmental issues like mountaintop removal coal mining, but he’s also pragmatic enough to recognize that nature isn’t sacred because it’s nature, it’s sacred because it’s a resource. In what might be considered a bit of a contradiction in modern jargon, Mr. Berry is a conservative environmentalist, because he believes in actual conservation: holding things in reserve for future generations, managing land responsibly and ethically, and making sure that relationships between everything– people, nature, the community, are healthy, rather than merely profitable.
But, perhaps I’m applying too much of my own history and philosophy to this. Perhaps you should just seek out some of Mr. Berry’s work and read it yourself, and form your own opinions! There’s no shortage of his writing out there– he’s had a prolific career, and chances are you’ll find something in your local library. I’m most familiar with his essays and poems; and the poetry is probably a good place to start. Sometimes the essays can be a little bit of heavy reading (although very interesting), and if you’re looking for something to contemplate in a hammock, poems may prove more emotionally satisfying.