I couldn’t let the month go by without saying something about Wendell Berry, who turned 78 on August 5th. When I first got the idea to do my graduating lecture on poets with double lives, my adviser suggested that I ask around for recommendations of poets who have non-literary careers. Wendell Berry was the first name mentioned. And although he never responded to my kind letter asking him for an interview, I have the utmost respect for this farmer-activist-teacher-poet-essayist-novelist with over 40 works in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
Wendell Berry is truly his own man, living in Port Royal, Kentucky on land his family has farmed since the early 1800s. Berry is well-known for poems and stories featuring the Kentucky landscape as well as for shunning the Internet and email. His essay, “Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer,” is as much a protest against computers as it is a reminder that technology should make our lives better and not “replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.” Even in his late 70s, Wendell Berry has been engaged in civil disobedience for causes important to him. He’s an old-school poet––not because he’s still writing long hand––but because he stands up for what he believes in and asks us to do the same:
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.
~from “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”
Chair Emeritus is a monthly feature highlighting famous poets who have or are living the double life.