Inspiration: Wendell Berry

We all need people who inspire us, whether heroes, models, mentors or friends. During the WordCount Blogathon Speed River Journal will present a special Saturday feature profiling people I admire. These are all living people whose work relates directly or indirectly to the environment. Whether by courageous action or quiet passion, they encourage me to believe in making the world a better place.

Wendell Berry, photo by David MarshallI discovered Wendell Berry during a period when I was writing poetry prolifically, attempting to connect with the world of poets and get some work published. Browsing the shelves of the local independent bookstore, I found The Country of Marriage, one of Berry’s books of poems. I connected immediately with his language and deep reverance for the Earth.

For example here is part of a verse from one of those poems, “Poem for J.”:

In the house of the dead the windows shine
with life. She mourns, for his life was good.
She is not afraid. She is like a field
where the corn is planted, and like the rain
that waters the field, and like the young corn.

So profound was the intimacy of his poetry, I was surprised to discover the multi-faceted nature of his career. He has been a significant environmental activitist His gift as a wordsmith turns just as easily to pithy, controversial statements. Apparently he speaks as well as he writes, and the words are easy to remember.

Asked by a reporter why city dwellers should care about land use issues, he replied: “Urban people are connected to the land by their gastrointestinal tract.”

In the tradition of Henry David Thoreau, he has engaged in civil disobedience taking on a variety of issues. As a champion of the simple life, inlcuding small communities and husbandry, he speaks against the industrialization of farming and of life. I have embraced permaculture and urban nature partly in response to Berry’s challenges. City neighbourhoods can honour the Earth, too. We can grow our own food or reconnect with its production. Slow food and the local food movement owe allegiance to his work.

Besides the one book and my admiration for the man, I have not read much of Berry’s work. He has has a huge body of work: chapbooks, novels, short stories, essays and non-fiction books. It is all open to explore, and that is a good thing.


Food columnist Mark Bittman recently wrote a portrait, Wendell Berry, American Hero, for the New York Times.

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Next week’s inspiration: friend and fabric artist Lorraine Roy

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