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Posts Tagged ‘Wendell Berry’

autumn sunrise window view trees

I say this every year: I can’t believe it’s nearly Thanksgiving. But the weather has turned seasonably chilly, and the signs – including turkey stickers at a wine tasting I went to last week – are everywhere.

Every year mid-November, I perform a few annual rituals: I buy sweet potatoes and chop pecans for the casserole-cum-dessert that is my favorite Thanksgiving dish. (No marshmallows for me, thank you.) I double-check the sign-up list for Turkeypalooza, our annual potluck celebration in the church basement. I shiver as I hurry down the Cambridge streets in my green coat, watching the golden leaves dance and fly off the trees. I queue up the Friends Thanksgiving episodes. I reread W.S. Merwin’s poem “Thanks” and hum Nichole Nordeman’s song “Gratitude.”

This November, I’ve been doing a few new things, like listening to Richard Blanco discuss Merwin’s poem in a recent WGBH segment. I’ve been thinking about how some of my best friends, who moved to Idaho this spring, won’t be with us to celebrate Thanksgiving, for the first time since we all moved to Boston. I’ve been trying to come to grips with the realities of the last year: many things have changed, or been thrown into sharper relief, since the 2016 election. And I’ve been thinking about Wendell Berry.

The title of this post is a line from Berry’s poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” It captures my own struggle over the past weeks and months: how to choose joy, find the silver lining, set my face toward gratitude, while looking steadily at the sobering and often horrifying realities of this world.

It is easy – so easy – to become sad and overwhelmed and terrified by the headlines: natural disasters, infighting and cruelty in Congress, so many stories of horrific sexual violence in this country and elsewhere. Closer to home, I have friends and loved ones who are navigating bad news every day: surgeries, budget cuts at their workplaces, losing beloved pets, struggling through breakups, depression, job hunts. Sometimes it’s a battle to get up and face the day, to consider these facts without becoming paralyzed by them.

ankle boots leaves

I forget, sometimes, that the bright parts of life are just as factual as the tough parts: that the blessings, like my florist’s smile and the taste of Earl Grey (served with good cheer by my folks at Darwin’s) and the arc of a bold blue autumn sky overhead, are as real as the worries that tug at my heart. They are all part of this life, the beautiful and the terrible, the joyous and the disheartening. Sometimes the weight of the darkness threatens to pull me down. But the goodness, the light, is also always there.

“Ask the questions that have no answers,” Berry urges his readers. “Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.” Like all the poets I love, he urges me to pay attention, to keep up the hard and honest work of taking care, to look for and celebrate the sharp, sudden beauty of these days. “Laugh,” he says. “Laughter is immeasurable.” And again: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

This is the challenge, as Lindsey wrote so eloquently last week: to acknowledge the sorrow, sit with the grief, call out the wrongness and work to change what we can, while actively seeking the “glimmers of joy” in our days. To be joyful, though we have considered all the facts – even the ones that make us cringe or roll our eyes or weep. To give thanks for what we have, what we enjoy, what (and whom) we love. For the blessings we have worked for and for those that come unasked, unbidden.

I am finding gratitude, like so many other things, complicated these days. But I also find it important, even vital. This week, before (and after) the turkey and the pies and the hours in the kitchens (mine and others’), I will be choosing to give thanks.

If you’re celebrating, I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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poetry books

Recently, Alyssa tweeted about having “a personal canon of poems” – a few lines or poems she depends upon to be “permanently in [her] head.” Of course, I immediately started thinking about my own essential poems – the ones that rise up to comfort me after a loss, or get me through a tough day.

I stumbled on most of them in college or thereabouts, studying them in classes or discovering them via friends. I’ve quoted some of them here during Poetry Fridays, but today I wanted to gather them up, like a bouquet of words, and share them all with you.

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.” I love Gerard Manley Hopkins’ words about “the dearest freshness deep down things.” In the face of deep and unrelenting darkness, the world is still heartbreakingly, powerfully lovely.

Since I came across it a few years ago, Wendell Berry’s “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” has been saving my life, line by line. I read it aloud from the pulpit in church this summer, and it was as good as any biblical exhortation.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.”

And a few lines down: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” (This is hard but so necessary.)

I am a lifelong bookworm, and I love Wordsworth’s “The Tables Turned” because it pushes me to get out of my head and into the beautiful world around me. The last lines are my favorites: “Come forth and bring with you a heart / That watches and receives.”

Marie Howe’s poem “What the Living Do” stopped me in my tracks the first time I read it, on Sarah’s blog. I later read it aloud to a roomful of college freshmen one Sept. 11, as a way of paying tribute to those who died. The last lines still choke me up: “I am living. I remember you.”

I first encountered W.S. Merwin’s “Thanks” as the epigraph to Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies. It speaks powerfully to the beauty and the difficulty of life, and the continued impetus to keep saying thank you.

Mark Strand’s poem “The Coming of Light,” discovered years ago in a rickety cabin at a camp tucked deep in the hills of northern New Mexico, always reminds me how magic lives in the everyday.

“My work is loving the world.” Mary Oliver’s “Messenger” reminds me of this again and again.

These poems have worked on me in different ways through the years. Sometimes they comfort me; sometimes they wake me up, through rhyme and rambling meter and startling images. But they all do what Seamus Heaney talks about in the last line of his wonderful poem “Postscript“: they “catch the heart off guard and blow it open.”

What poems have made it into your personal canon? I’d love to hear.

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empty tomb oxford easter

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

green blooming tree appian way spring

This Good Friday, as we prepare for both Easter (on Sunday) and the 2014 Boston Marathon (scheduled for Monday), seems a fitting day to practice resurrection.

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the bookstore lenox ma

Lots of reading happening this month – I’m blazing through quick YA novels and mysteries while working more slowly through a few longer, more contemplative novels. Here’s the most recent roundup for you:

The Apprentices, Maile Meloy
This sequel to The Apothecary (which I loved) finds Janie Scott and her small band of unusual friends scattered across the world. When Janie gets wrongfully expelled from her boarding school, then kidnapped, her friends Benjamin and Pip team up to save her and prevent nuclear activity on a remote Pacific island. I enjoyed seeing these characters again, but the plot often felt disjointed and crowded (too many subplots). Not as good as its predecessor, but I’d read a third novel just to see what happens to Janie and Benjamin.

A Royal Pain, Rhys Bowen
Lady Georgiana Rannoch (aka Her Royal Spyness) is asked to entertain a visiting Bavarian princess, while moonlighting as a maid and trying to build an independent life in London. When three dead bodies turn up within a week, Georgie starts sleuthing, trying to figure out how the deaths are related and who’s responsible. Fun and frothy, like its predecessor (second in a series).

Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry
Orphaned as a child, Jonah Crow (known as Jayber) lived first with relatives, then in an orphanage, where he began studying and trying to “make something of himself.” But he found his way back to his home county, where he became the barber of Port William, Kentucky, and also became inextricably tied up with the life of that small community. This quiet, wise, gently meandering, melancholy book was a pleasure to read, and a loving portrait of a vanishing time and place. I’m glad I finally picked it up.

Sunshine on Scotland Street, Alexander McCall Smith
Our friends on (and near) 44 Scotland Street are dealing with the usual problems (crying babies, overbearing parents, baffling relationships) and several new ones (Danish filmmakers, Scottish doppelgangers). I missed Angus and Domenica, who were honeymooning in Jamaica for most of the book, and Pat, who appeared very seldom. But I always enjoy spending time with these characters, particularly Bertie (so wise for a six-year-old) and Cyril (the world’s only gold-toothed dog).

Royal Flush, Rhys Bowen
After a disastrous attempt to hire herself out as a dinner companion, Lady Georgiana Rannoch flees home to Scotland, where she must deal with a large, unruly house party (those gauche Americans!) and do a spot of sleuthing for the British government. A series of unfortunate accidents, including a near-death experience for Georgie, makes her wonder if someone isn’t trying to kill her or her brother – or if the real target is closer to the throne. The dashing Darcy O’Mara reappears, as do several other recurring characters. Great fun – these books are highly enjoyable brain candy.

The Sisters Weiss, Naomi Ragen
Rose and Pearl Weiss grow up loved and sheltered by their ultra-Orthodox parents in Brooklyn in the 1960s. But when Rose discovers a love for photography, she is shamed and sent away. Though she agrees to an arranged marriage, she flees before she reaches the altar, breaking off all contact with her family. Forty years later, when Rose’s niece (Pearl’s daughter) learns the truth about her aunt, she embarks on a reckless, rebellious journey of her own. A fascinating portrait of an ancient, insular community, and a sensitive look at a painful dilemma: the choice between freedom and family, loneliness and an often stifling community. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 15).

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

What are you reading?

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