I've just finished reading an excellent little book by Wendell Berry titled "Given." Berry is in his early seventies and has published over forty books of poetry, fiction, and essays - "Given" is his first collection of poems in ten years.
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He writes, farms, and lives with his family in Henry County, Kentucky. Berry's poems are to nature and ecology what Charles Bukowski's poems are to whores and booze. After reading this book, I not only wanted to go out and hug a tree...I wanted to marry one and make mad passionate love to it.
I'm rather a late-bloomer: I'd never heard of Wendell Berry until I read one of his earlier poems on a website called "American Life in Poetry." The site is one of the projects of the current Poet Laureate of the United States, Ted Kooser. Each week a different American poet is featured. I read Berry's poem and decided to look deeper into his work.
I knew from the very first poem in "Given" that I was going to like Wendell Berry:
The dust motes float
and swerve in the sunbeam
as lively as worlds,
and I remember my brother
when we were boys:
"We may be living on an atom
in somebody's wallpaper."
I love the fact that he writes with compactness and condensation. His poems are at once simple and complex - I found myself reading and re-reading many of the poems, trying to squeeze as much understanding as I could out of them. Elegant is another way to discribe Berry's poetic voice.
It's a small world: Not long ago I wrote a poem that had something to do with Ben Shahn drawings. I discovered recently that in 1964, Berry and Shahn collaborated on a book (Berry a poem, Shahn a drawing) about the assasination of Presedent Kennedy (I saw a copy for sale on eBay).
And there you have it - my review of a wonderful new book of poems. I'm now begining to read Wendell Berry's book of essays, "Standing by Words." It's dedicated to Gary Snyder. I'll also keep checking Ted Kooser's website for the latest offerings there.
(summer- san francisco)