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Episode #110: An Agrarian Poet

As I write this, I am surrounded by stacks of books on my dining room table, because I want to introduce you to one of my favorite books in the whole world and one of my favorite authors.

The author's name is Wendell Berry. He is a prolific writer and has been a poet since he was a young man. He is in his mid to late eighties, I believe.

He lives in his hometown in Kentucky, and it serves as the model for the town he has created in his works of fiction, both novels and short stories. He and his wife, Tanya, had a good sized family, and they are now great grandparents!

Wendell Berry has been given every prestigious award there is. He has been honored greatly within his lifetime. But he has really been a non-conformist, walking to the beat of his own drum, which is probably why I like him so much.

As I mentioned, he is the author of one of my favorite books of all time: Hannah Coulter.

I'm going to share a description of Wendell Berry's life of writing and what he has done from the cover of a Library of America on the Port William novels and stories:

For more than fifty years, in eight novels and forty-two short stories, Wendell Berry (b. 1934) has created an indelible portrait of rural America through the lens of Port William, Kentucky, one of the most fully imagined places in American literature. The river town and its environs are home to generations of Coulters, Catletts, Feltners, and other families collectively known as the Membership, women and men whose stories evoke the earthbound pleasures and spiritual richness of what Berry has called the three-dimensional life, a time before industrial agriculture, pervasive technology, and unrestrained consumerism began to unravel the deep bonds of community that once sustained small-town America.

Wendell Berry is considered an agrarian poet. He, of course, is very known as a poet, but he also creates a love and an admiration, an embracing of the agrarian life. When other people are trying to get away from it all, he embraces it.

In Hannah Coulter, I wanted to share what Berry says through Hannah as she is talking to her husband. She talks about how their kids went away to college, and they really lost them from being a part of the farm community. She says this,

"We both wanted to send them to college because we felt we owed it to them. It just never occurred to either of us that we would lose them that way. The way of education leads away from home. That is what we learned from our children's education. The big idea of education is the idea of a better place. Not a better place where you are because you want it to be better and have been to school and learned to make it better but a better place somewhere else. In order to move up you have got to move on. I didn't see this at first. And for a while after I knew it, I pretended I didn't. I didn't want it to be true."

Her husband said, "Don't complain. Don't complain."

And she said, "In the same way he used to tell the boys, 'Don't cuss the weather.' Sometimes you can say dreadful things without knowing it. Nathan understood this better than I did. Like several of his one sentence conversations, this one stuck in my head and finally changed it. The change came too late maybe but it turned my mind inside out like a sock."

He is such a brilliant writer! Sometimes when I am reading his books, I just gasp because you think how could someone write this well? Other than Jane Austen! How could someone write this well?