Leavings: Poems by Wendell Berry


Counterpoint, 2010. ISBN 978-1-58243-624-1

Summary, from cover:

No one writes like Wendell Berry. Whether essay, novel, story, or poem, his inimitable voice rings true, as natural as the land he has farmed in Kentucky for more than forty years.

Leavings, Berry’s first volume of poetry since the widely praised Given, offers a masterful blend of elegies, lyrics, and letters, with the occasional short love poem. Alternately amused, outraged, and resolved, Berry’s welcome voice is the constant in this varied mix. As he looks back on his long life, his works resonates with a renewed depth. The book concludes with a new sequence of Sabbath poems, works occasioned by Berry’s Sunday morning walks of meditation and observation.

Berry’s life is a long witness of love and celebration, and he writes as a poet of deep intimacy with the natural world and the lost heart of our country. With his family and friends, he continues the devotion that had him saying almost thirty years ago, “What I stand for is what I stand on.”

My thoughts:

Once you get through that harassing, brown-nosing summary from the cover, the insides of this volume of poetry are equally disturbing and stunning. There are golden drops of printed summer on these pages, and there are black coal-miner’s tears. If you want to stay peaceful, do not read this book. If you want a part of yourself uncovered and heard, read this book.

My favorite poem in this book was poem XVI from 2005. The poem speaks about birds and Berry’s relationship to birds. This was the poem that knocked the collection into place in my heart: I have always had this long-held belief that I don’t belong in a place where I can’t hear the birds sing. I have been to many places in my life and at every single place I didn’t like, I could not hear the birds sing. I feel like Mr. Berry would have a similar sentiment after reading this poem.

Poem VI from 2007 was the hardest poem for me to read. It was not hard because of the structure or sound, but because the topic was intense. This poem is both sobering and renewing- hope is hard, life is dark, but to have hope shines light on life. To struggle through life with a sliver of hope in your spirit is much better than living easily without. This poem persuades you to try- to keep your spirit alive, to keep the land alive, to keep hope alive.

Two poems come in third as my favorites- poem X from 2005 and poem VII from 2007. Both poems are those aforementioned golden drops of summer. As I read them both, the sun was beginning to dip in the sky and the light was drifting along the pages. They make me think of running my hands over goldenrod and having the pollen on my palms- to smell earthy and have grass stains on my knees. Walk, poem. Watch, and make no noise.

Wendell Berry continues to astound me with his writing. He is firmly my favorite poet, right alongside Mary Oliver. His poems are equally brusque and velveteen, making the reader aware of both the beauty and the goriness of our world. Mr. Berry teaches the reader to look past the momentary beauty and see the destruction wreaking havoc on life… and then to resist and have hope. I am not sure what volume of his work I will be reading next, but it will be hard to displace Leavings as my favorite Wendell Berry collection.

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