Why Wendell matters

"In the 1970s, [poet-essayist Wendell Berry] made new-guard environmentalism look aged by marrying it with traditional agrarian sentiment. Then he made 'conservatives' look like reckless futurists by pointing to the threat that unchecked market growth and technological expansion pose to both community values and ecological well-being. In a nation ostensibly locked into a well-defined political divide, he represents an American voice that avoids easy classification." If you've been reading Eyeteeth for awhile, you'll expect the occasional surfacing of a Berry poem or essay. And as another poem cycled to the top of the self-turning compost pile that is my desk recently, I realized Berry truly is "the" poet for these times. As Mark Engler wrote in the essay quoted above, Berry's independent path--neither modern, postmodern, nor traditionalist, not really left or right, his NYU-meets-Henry County, Kentucky pedigree--presents a third way in these polarized times. No one can make issues of community, responsibility, and environment resonate so deeply. But beyond these content areas, his spiritual work is what ends up being a balm when I'm agitated about the world or my circumstances within it: it's a Christian perspective, I suppose, that doesn't bonk you on the head, a Buddhist perspective that seems perfectly at home here in the US of A.
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill -- more of each
than you have -- inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

--Wendell Berry

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