|| Home | Menu | Poems | Poets | Reading | Theme | Biography | Articles | Photo | Dictionary | Chat | Video | Shop | Extra | Jokes | Games | Science | Bio | বাংলা|
Words torn, unseen, unseemly, scene
some far suburb’s mall lot
Summer’s theme: this year’s humid
—to sweat is to know—
pen squeezed too tight yields
ink as blood or pus
so the phrase scraped, removed
offending thine eye: “Outsource Bush”
Against which, insource what? Who
will do it? Most terrible
predicate—high above mountains snow-capped
even in August in-flight motion
picture Eternal Sunshine of the
Spotless Mind infuriates many No
action, no funny, plot too
dense to follow, unless (unless!)
mind’s eye gives attention First
blackbird signals many (synecdoche)
Bumble bee wonders am I
his flower? One hour shopping
& the vandal’s fled—him
we’ll know not, never confront
so recall the next day
that anger directed at complexity
as we deplaned in Seattle
old battle never won, never
gonna—sit now still beside
Dungeness River to spot quail
hopping about this untrimmed garden
as dog walkers circle back
jet trails in dawn sky
thread cloud wisps, shadows sharp
in the mountains
* * *
I pause two poems, three
pages before book’s end, first
growl of plane’s motor, sun
higher now contracts shadow, dandelion
froth blows over cut grass
spotted white tops of clover
something deep purple, bell-shaped, nameless
at least to me, iamb
what iamb, chewing endlessly until
I realize I’ll never swallow
whatever—jays bark: first fog
is deepest when trail ends
at first bend in the
river—“this in six weeks
will all be swollen, salmon
frantic in their competition,” men
also—on the wire-grid doorscreen
various bugs alight at dawn
drawn by the interior light,
something long with wings, something
no more than a speck
with legs, I scream, you
scream, we all scream for
that which is unnamable, unquenchable,
inconsolable (deep in one’s chest
surrounding the heart) art is
a mode of stalking, balk
at any configuration, at what’s
inescapably omitted, at Monticello I
very nearly wept, to imagine
just once the president as
the smartest, most questioning, most
rigorous of all, no, that’s
not it either—seeing (hand
shielding brow) the trail ahead
is empty, the man stops
to unleash his dogs, mist
rises from the river—bland
competency distributed equally among hundreds
begets only rebellion, what winnowing
from the first book to
the next, the nest, mountainside
garden fountain, yellowlegs & killdeer
searching the mud for tasties
* * *
Who here speaks English? Who
hear hark loud as grackle’s
incessant laugh battle after math’s
ironic sum—economy trumps all
history where now teens cluster
to mock tourism’s earnest gape
“It looks so small” because
it is—Trucks evacuating quarry
beep in reverse, diner’s posture
alert awaiting omelet, sausages, toast
behind whom the sun arises
white light o’er Morningside Heights
cook hollering to the cashier
in Spanish, then English, then
a third language I don’t
understand, cringe before that glare
until muted by cloud wisps
monastic NY hotel room deep
within shadows—What music mocks
its maker? The rope’s tug
as Dad shakes his beard
lost daughter found, then sold
into marriage—in walks Burt
again, crossing into language, subway’s
stairs become waterfalls under Ivan
until flooding halts commute, what
Milton sees the deaf hear
or knot, cashews, pretzels, honey—
roasted sesame sticks, the earth
below flat & checkered, not
yet autumn (dry desert heat)
Heart races art’s phases (hard
faces) heard in place in
pink marble plaza beyond which
red dirt surface of Mars
is not more barren—
* * *
. . . or .
you are being driven, along
an unfamiliar route, through streets
of your own former home,
whole neighborhoods tinged with emotion,
one still dreams of jets
sliding into houses, apartment complexes
gone, one millisecond of stillness
then the heat & burst
an orange ball of flame
explodes in the mind’s eye
anxious in your hotel room’s
great raft of a bed,
for days the networks discover
new amateur videos, waves far
greater than one can imagine,
on the beach bathers not
even thinking to run, buses
floating through streets of debris
Banda Aceh, this week’s geography
of the public imagination, Phuket’s
stream of tourists washed away,
bulldozers scooping corpses, our newscaster
alone in an empty village,
only the battered mosque remains,
where are the people, how
does this outer life, apocalypse
reported, penetrate my dreams, Three
men on the street walking
discussing who will reach 60
when, the way as teens
we spoke of 20, not
even seeing the homeless woman
asleep beneath the newspaper racks
at Mission & Fourth, fifth
of bourbon warms, warns, passed
between three beneath the bridge
day is done, day is
the ever-present challenge, wake
or not, the painter Jess
simply stays asleep, paint hardens
even cracks o’er decades, browns
grow muddy, greens mute, sky
goes pale, in the midst
of an abstract field blue
deep blue squiggles, Don Quixote
approaches, what is possible, seen,
heard, emotive prosody, heart because
it impacts one’s breathing, gasp
to grasp the truth of
what is not even visible
cannot be heard, red-haired
setter deaf to the world
lopes slowly, copes by smell
residual sight, my eyes shut
* * *
Dear Krishna, it’s 6:11 am
upstairs a faucet turns briefly
Lilly is grown now, Alan’s
hair thins at last, Melissa’s
perfect smile still shines but
no sign of Lulu, time
erodes what’s dear, what’s near
is past too soon to
grasp fully the consequence, dawn
threatens a new day constantly
sun as vicious as dusk
or rather simply uncaring, birds
disinterested in the infant’s corpse,
it’s language that introduces emotion
or the other way round,
my old street so narrow
two boys throwing a football
would find my world unimaginable
& I’m sure theirs likewise
will amaze them, how quaint
that first home network seems
already, Norma says of Barbara
she’s there and then not
mimicking consciousness more slowly now
so that others can see
you feel the heat’s lack
but not the wind, wind
up an old clock, airplane
I realize is now tracking
the traffic, the early commute
(first train, best train), still
no hint of sun but
now all the trees, houses
visible in silhouette, the dog
audible by its collar, paws
over hardwood, then a sigh,
across the street windows emerge,
porches, no longer just outlines,
details, a larger jet now
a few cars, then many,
my penmanship more ornate today
no sign of the trembles
an instant ago I sat
in Elliot’s kitchen, then taped
words cut from the paper
above the dog’s white bowl
“good dog”—the last I’d
ever live with I didn’t
know then, I dream you
floating, not plummeting, from high
off that bridge, birds finally
begin to twitter, color floods
emerging day, the sun still
behind the hills, face west
toward whichever future comes, mockingbird
mimics dog collar, another bird’s
three note peep, discern now
which jet is which, pinks
streak the high sky, I
rise, eyes blink shaking sleep
away, 757 angles in fog
bay at the runway’s rim
engines raring, waiting, ready, poised
then flaring, to race forward
up over the salt ponds
half hidden in the mist, silhouette
of the city piercing cloud
(but the bridges are hidden)
inner ear, particular trumpet, displays
pressure, cottony wisps soon scatter
valleys revealed green & gold
I hold the fluted glass
to cleanse the palette, mango
ice cream, or the sauce
hot & sweet, spicy, smoked
eggplant, rice absorbs the broth
breath, breadth, bread, a head
too big for hats, hands
likewise large grasp the ball
with ease, to please herself
she walks on her palms
then flips upright, smiling, sees
more than we know, teases
younger brother, mother, dad, bad
* * *
said to contain its own
sculpture thwarts choice—to voice
vowels languidly moist lips purse
their part—there’s an art
to it intuited before thought
* * *
paused at an intersection not
visible from here, the blue
of a perfect spring morning
unimaginable above this grey crush
of apartments, who here owns
the slightest yard, young man
alone in Chipotle, chewing thoughtfully
his large burrito, not talking
taking it all in, eyes
absorbing all, could have been
had this taqueria been there
then, myself in 1964, what
little I knew then but
could learn by doing, earn
just enough to eke by, barking
for the Café Wha? dime
for each new customer I
lacked the huckster’s flair lone
feather by a gravel road
all one needs by wch
to fabricate the tale, each
to each not beach exactly
but stones against the water
piled up to the dock
beyond which (or wch) mockingbird
hops to confront a robin
squirrel rears up to eat
some morsel in the clover,
each page would blow wild
but for the binding stitched
deep into the notebook’s spine
* * *
. . . how
many words have I left,
use them wisely, sparingly, each
could outlast me, to what
purpose but this compulsive record
forward from the age of
a small midcentury lad, sitting
cross-legged on my bed, scribbling
anything to be free, anything
to make sense—peel cellophane
from a new tea carton
no indication where it’s grown
(Argentina!) no record no ___
sense of the map, Heywood
called his first book Cartographers
was there ever a second—
a sense now, over half
a century intricate puzzle
grandmother reduced to ash grandfather
no more silent than ever
just for being dead, sip
today’s first tea, the warmth
is the half of it
my throat first craves, table
narrow in the kitchen alcover
West Virginia a-frame cabin, clock
with a different bird song
for every hour, sans kids
what have you to etch
these words into time, applause
once we crossed the border
my 47th state, family myths
arc over generations, John Franklin
Tansley could not have known
telling any who would listen
that yes the explorer yes
his own grandfather yes but
the grandson Richard goes back
a century later, looks up
finds the marriage record yes
John Franklin yes married Jane
but instead a fishmonger
married a weaver’s daughter x
marks the signature, how soon
technology catches you out
these keys enact a surveillance
that will only sink deeper
over time, what you sink
’bout that, from comma to
coma to commerce to con
versus sub jugation the root
marks language’s route across form
surname in the family now
just four generations, but literacy
not more than six, so what
arrogance am I then enacting
weaving ink into paper, stains
of a history already blanching
in the light, up above
I hear you stirring, rising
at least to sit up
then slowly, quietly coming downstairs
to use the bathroom, dawn
just starts to be visible
through the blinds, soft glow
neither blue nor gray, sun
not yet visible, they’re distinct
sun & the dawn, one
recurs while the other stretches
fans swirl slowly high overhead
but the windchime is still
* * *
Why repair rotting kitchen now?
Why seek, read every book
if the flood won’t quit
even when you’ve left, Desire
Desire is the answer, hunger
never rests, geese each dawn
now for decades circling lake
until day’s form is found
all over again, I rise
to write, sun still hidden
behind hills, hummingbird upon branch
appears so still, breathe deep
to taste air, first bart,
first bark, squirrel’s tail twitches
causing whole branch to shake
train’s whistle deep & steady
three echoes distinct, great shushing
rush of traffic, white noise
forms morning music, outside window
spider quick on his thread
it’s all about scale, bicycle’s
brakes squeal long way down
Stands on her deck naked
to inspect the day, trumpet flower
pod yellow, almost purple tip
phallic before it explodes,
red, red-orange, bright yellow center
notebook’s pages dwindle, one project
I’ll not complete, that’s not
it’s point, but to stretch
even just a little, shape
& dimension, time & dominion,
day’s echoes ricochet up hill
canyon to canyon, every fold
marvelous instrument my declining ear
hears what I cannot see,
say, sheer ecstasy of breath
each one, no two alike
ever, audible in head’s bell
sinus sounds, own teeth grinding
until jaw’s muscles spasm, clench
* * *
Angeles Dodgers, my bête noir
not, you form the surrogate
we so desperately need, enemy
enema, it all comes out
in the wash, one road
south of Dogtown, garden fenced
to ward off deer, plums
their skin tart, their flesh
sweet & cool, I almost
don’t recognize the hummingbird, still
on the almond branch, farms
here feel vast, we missed
a single turn, Bob speaks
of how o becomes d
or vice versa, Steve talks
happily of new son, David
& I & ours eat
around a front yard table
just behind a small picket fence
the heat rare even here
you never see birds sleep
hummingbird’s red crown, white chest
a view of the bay
from the deck, audible neighbors
not really visible, someone’s alarm
reaches endless reiteration, arise, arise
your eyes must be clear
the sound of bart different
from day of my youth
thin haze but no fog
light spreads over San Francisco
clouds at first seem small
until one speck of plane
flies beneath, then a second
absolutely crosswise, big truck’s sticker
reads “Give War a Chance”
Look for the gun rack
boats sit still in bay
who works there in silence
only because I’m too far
to hear, notebook reaches limit
not unlike mind or heart
whole family singing Beatles songs
as we drive, first thought
not your own, let alone
best, phrases weave against lines
water comes to a boil
squirrels wrestle in the branches
one skitters across the slanted roof
Mount Tam silent as ever
only seems unchanging (human scale)
clouds above have moved on
leaving new sky, sun muted
still amid trees, I close
my eyes just to listen
laughing jay, distant train, feel
instead air over hair, back
of my hand, its taste
palpable in nostrils, eucalyptus, tea
hummingbird responds to jay, jets
echo heading east, sounds create
(first sprinkler, bottle on table)
sense of my own body
high in the Berkeley hills
Do not think me gentle
because I speak in praise
of gentleness, or elegant
because I honor the grace
that keeps this world. I am
a man crude as any,
gross of speech, intolerant,
stubborn, angry, full
of fits and furies. That I
may have spoken well
at times, is not natural.
A wonder is what it is.
Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling,
for I saw the last known landscape destroyed for the sake
of the objective, the soil bludgeoned, the rock blasted.
Those who had wanted to go home would never get there now.
I visited the offices where for the sake of the objective the planners planned
at blank desks set in rows. I visited the loud factories
where the machines were made that would drive ever forward
toward the objective. I saw the forest reduced to stumps and gullies; I saw
the poisoned river, the mountain cast into the valley;
I came to the city that nobody recognized because it looked like every other city.
I saw the passages worn by the unnumbered
footfalls of those whose eyes were fixed upon the objective.
Their passing had obliterated the graves and the monuments
of those who had died in pursuit of the objective
and who had long ago forever been forgotten, according
to the inevitable rule that those who have forgotten forget
that they have forgotten. Men, women, and children now pursued the objective
as if nobody ever had pursued it before.
The races and the sexes now intermingled perfectly in pursuit of the objective.
the once-enslaved, the once-oppressed were now free
to sell themselves to the highest bidder
and to enter the best paying prisons
in pursuit of the objective, which was the destruction of all enemies,
which was the destruction of all obstacles, which was the destruction of all objects,
which was to clear the way to victory, which was to clear the way to promotion, to salvation, to progress,
to the completed sale, to the signature
on the contract, which was to clear the way
to self-realization, to self-creation, from which nobody who ever wanted to go home
would ever get there now, for every remembered place
had been displaced; the signposts had been bent to the ground and covered over.
Every place had been displaced, every love
unloved, every vow unsworn, every word unmeant
to make way for the passage of the crowd
of the individuated, the autonomous, the self-actuated, the homeless
with their many eyes opened toward the objective
which they did not yet perceive in the far distance,
having never known where they were going,
having never known where they came from.
In a dream I meet
my dead friend. He has,
I know, gone long and far,
and yet he is the same
for the dead are changeless.
They grow no older.
It is I who have changed,
grown strange to what I was.
Yet I, the changed one,
ask: "How you been?"
He grins and looks at me.
"I been eating peaches
off some mighty fine trees."
Light your cigarette, then, in this shadow,
And talk to her, your arm engaged with hers.
Heavily over your heads the eaten maple
In the dead air of August strains and stirs.
Her stone-white face, in the lamp-light, turns toward you;
Darkly, with time-dark eyes, she questions you
Whether this universe is what she thinks it—
Simple and passionate and profound and true—
Or whether, as with a sound of dim disaster,
A plaintive music brought to a huddled fall,
Some ancient treachery slides through the heart of things—
The last star falling, seen from the utmost wall…
And you—what sinister, far, reserves of laughter,
What understandings, remote, perplexed, remain
Unguessed forever by her who is your victim—
Victim, of whom you too are victim again?
…Come! let us dance once more on the ancient asphalt:
Seeing, beneath its strange and recent shape,
The eternal horror of rock, from which, for ever,
We toss our tortured hands, to no escape.
Conrad Potter Aiken
While the blue noon above us arches,
And the poplar sheds disconsolate leaves,
Tell me again why love bewitches,
And what love gives.
It is the trembling finger that traces
The eyebrow’s curve, the curve of the cheek?
The mouth that quivers, when the hand caresses,
But cannot speak?
No, not these, not in these is hidden
The secret, more than in other things:
Not only the touch of a hand can gladden
Till the blood sings.
It is the leaf that falls between us,
The bells that murmur, the shadows that move,
The autumnal sunlight that fades upon us:
These things are love.
It is the ‘No, let us sit here longer,’
The ‘Wait till tomorrow,’ the ‘Once I knew —’
These trifles, said as I touch your finger,
And the clock strikes two.
The world is intricate, and we are nothing.
It is the complex world of grass,
A twig on the path, a look of loathing,
Feelings that pass —
These are the secret! And I could hate you,
When, as I lean for another kiss,
I see in your eyes that I do not meet you,
And that love is this.
Rock meeting rock can know love better
Than eyes that stare or lips that touch.
All that we know in love is bitter,
And it is not much.
Conrad Potter Aiken
All lovely things will have an ending,
All lovely things will fade and die,
And youth, that's now so bravely spending,
Will beg a penny by and by.
Fine ladies soon are all forgotten,
And goldenrod is dust when dead,
The sweetest flesh and flowers are rotten
And cobwebs tent the brightest head.
Come back, true love! Sweet youth, return!--
But time goes on, and will, unheeding,
Though hands will reach, and eyes will yearn,
And the wild days set true hearts bleeding.
Come back, true love! Sweet youth, remain!--
But goldenrod and daisies wither,
And over them blows autumn rain,
They pass, they pass, and know not whither.
Conrad Potter Aiken
Fanfare of northwest wind, a bluejay wind
announces autumn, and the equinox
rolls back blue bays to a far afternoon.
Somewhere beyond the Gorge Li Po is gone,
looking for friendship or an old love's sleeve
or writing letters to his children, lost,
and to his children's children, and to us.
What was his light? of lamp or moon or sun?
Say that it changed, for better or for worse,
sifted by leaves, sifted by snow; on mulberry silk
a slant of witch-light; on the pure text
a slant of genius; emptying mind and heart
for winecups and more winecups and more words.
What was his time? Say that it was a change,
but constant as a changing thing may be,
from chicory's moon-dark blue down the taut scale
to chicory's tenderest pink, in a pink field
such as imagination dreams of thought.
But of the heart beneath the winecup moon
the tears that fell beneath the winecup moon
for children lost, lost lovers, and lost friends,
what can we say but that it never ends?
Even for us it never ends, only begins.
Yet to spell down the poem on her page,
margining her phrases, parsing forth
the sevenfold prism of meaning, up the scale
from chicory pink to blue, is to assume
Li Po himself: as he before assumed
the poets and the sages who were his.
Like him, we too have eaten of the word:
with him are somewhere lost beyond the Gorge:
and write, in rain, a letter to lost children,
a letter long as time and brief as love.
And yet not love, not only love. Not caritas
or only that. Nor the pink chicory love,
deep as it may be, even to moon-dark blue,
in which the dragon of his meaning flew
for friends or children lost, or even
for the beloved horse, for Li Po's horse:
not these, in the self's circle so embraced:
too near, too dear, for pure assessment: no,
a letter crammed and creviced, crannied full,
storied and stored as the ripe honeycomb
with other faith than this. As of sole pride
and holy loneliness, the intrinsic face
worn by the always changing shape between
end and beginning, birth and death.
How moves that line of daring on the map?
Where was it yesterday, or where this morning
when thunder struck at seven, and in the bay
the meteor made its dive, and shed its wings,
and with them one more Icarus? Where struck
that lightning-stroke which in your sleep you saw
wrinkling across the eyelid? Somewhere else?
But somewhere else is always here and now.
Each moment crawls that lightning on your eyelid:
each moment you must die. It was a tree
that this time died for you: it was a rock
and with it all its local web of love:
a chimney, spilling down historic bricks:
perhaps a skyful of Ben Franklin's kites.
And with them, us. For we must hear and bear
the news from everywhere: the hourly news,
infinitesimal or vast, from everywhere.
Sole pride and loneliness: it is the state
the kingdom rather of all things: we hear
news of the heart in weather of the Bear,
slide down the rungs of Cassiopeia's Chair,
still on the nursery floor, the Milky Way;
and, if we question one, must question all.
What is this ‘man'? How far from him is ‘me'?
Who, in this conch-shell, locked the sound of sea?
We are the tree, yet sit beneath the tree,
among the leaves we are the hidden bird,
we are the singer and are what is heard.
What is this ‘world'? Not Li Po's Gorge alone,
and yet, this too might be. ‘The wind was high
north of the White King City, by the fields
of whistling barley under cuckoo sky,'
where, as the silkworm drew her silk, Li Po
spun out his thoughts of us. ‘Endless as silk'
(he said) ‘these poems for lost loves, and us,'
and, ‘for the peachtree, blooming in the ditch.'
Here is the divine loneliness in which
we greet, only to doubt, a voice, a word,
the smoke of a sweetfern after frost, a face
touched, and loved, but still unknown, and then
a body, still mysterious in embrace.
Taste lost as touch is lost, only to leave
dust on the doorsill or an ink-stained sleeve:
and yet, for the inadmissible, to grieve.
Of leaf and love, at last, only to doubt:
from world within or world without, kept out.
Caucus of robins on an alien shore
as of the Ho-Ho birds at Jewel Gate
southward bound and who knows where and never late
or lost in a roar at sea. Rovers of chaos
each one the ‘Rover of Chao,' whose slight bones
shall put to shame the swords. We fly with these,
have always flown, and they
stay with us here, stand still and stay,
while, exiled in the Land of Pa, Li Po
still at the Wine Spring stoops to drink the moon.
And northward now, for fall gives way to spring,
from Sandy Hook and Kitty Hawk they wing,
and he remembers, with the pipes and flutes,
drunk with joy, bewildered by the chance
that brought a friend, and friendship, how, in vain,
he strove to speak, ‘and in long sentences,' his pain.
Exiled are we. Were exiles born. The ‘far away,'
language of desert, language of ocean, language of sky,
as of the unfathomable worlds that lie
between the apple and the eye,
these are the only words we learn to say.
Each morning we devour the unknown. Each day
we find, and take, and spill, or spend, or lose,
a sunflower splendor of which none knows the source.
This cornucopia of air! This very heaven
of simple day! We do not know, can never know,
the alphabet to find us entrance there.
So, in the street, we stand and stare,
to greet a friend, and shake his hand,
yet know him beyond knowledge, like ourselves;
ocean unknowable by unknowable sand.
The locust tree spills sequins of pale gold
in spiral nebulae, borne on the Invisible
earthward and deathward, but in change to find
the cycles to new birth, new life. Li Po
allowed his autumn thoughts like these to flow,
and, from the Gorge, sends word of Chouang's dream.
Did Chouang dream he was a butterfly?
Or did the butterfly dream Chouang? If so,
why then all things can change, and change again,
the sea to brook, the brook to sea, and we
from man to butterfly; and back to man.
This 'I,' this moving ‘I,' this focal ‘I,'
which changes, when it dreams the butterfly,
into the thing it dreams of; liquid eye
in which the thing takes shape, but from within
as well as from without: this liquid ‘I':
how many guises, and disguises, this
nimblest of actors takes, how many names
puts on and off, the costumes worn but once,
the player queen, the lover, or the dunce,
hero or poet, father or friend,
suiting the eloquence to the moment's end;
childlike, or bestial; the language of the kiss
sensual or simple; and the gestures, too,
as slight as that with which an empire falls,
or a great love's abjured; these feignings, sleights,
savants, or saints, or fly-by-nights,
the novice in her cell, or wearing tights
on the high wire above a hell of lights:
what's true in these, or false? which is the ‘I'
of 'I's'? Is it the master of the cadence, who
transforms all things to a hoop of flame, where through
tigers of meaning leap? And are these true,
the language never old and never new,
such as the world wears on its wedding day,
the something borrowed with something chicory blue?
In every part we play, we play ourselves;
even the secret doubt to which we come
beneath the changing shapes of self and thing,
yes, even this, at last, if we should call
and dare to name it, we would find
the only voice that answers is our own.
We are once more defrauded by the mind.
Defrauded? No. It is the alchemy by which we grow.
It is the self becoming word, the word
becoming world. And with each part we play
we add to cosmic Sum and cosmic sum.
Who knows but one day we shall find,
hidden in the prism at the rainbow's foot,
the square root of the eccentric absolute,
and the concentric absolute to come.
The thousand eyes, the Argus ‘I's' of love,
of these it was, in verse, that Li Po wove
the magic cloak for his last going forth,
into the Gorge for his adventure north.
What is not seen or said? The cloak of words
loves all, says all, sends back the word
whether from Green Spring, and the yellow bird
'that sings unceasing on the banks of Kiang,'
or 'from the Green Moss Path, that winds and winds,
nine turns for every hundred steps it winds,
up the Sword Parapet on the road to Shuh.'
‘Dead pinetrees hang head-foremost from the cliff.
The cataract roars downward. Boulders fall
Splitting the echoes from the mountain wall.
No voice, save when the nameless birds complain,
in stunted trees, female echoing male;
or, in the moonlight, the lost cuckoo's cry,
piercing the traveller's heart. Wayfarer from afar,
why are you here? what brings you here? why here?'
Why here. Nor can we say why here. The peachtree bough
scrapes on the wall at midnight, the west wind
sculptures the wall of fog that slides
seaward, over the Gulf Stream.
comes through the wainscot, brings to his larder
the twinned acorn and chestnut burr. Our sleep
lights for a moment into dream, the eyes
turn under eyelids for a scene, a scene,
o and the music, too, of landscape lost.
And yet, not lost. For here savannahs wave
cressets of pampas, and the kingfisher
binds all that gold with blue.
Why here? why here?
Why does the dream keep only this, just this C?
Yes, as the poem or the music do?
The timelessness of time takes form in rhyme:
the lotus and the locust tree rehearse
a four-form song, the quatrain of the year:
not in the clock's chime only do we hear
the passing of the Now into the past,
the passing into future of the Now:
hut in the alteration of the bough
time becomes visible, becomes audible,
becomes the poem and the music too:
time becomes still, time becomes time, in rhyme.
Thus, in the Court of Aloes, Lady Yang
called the musicians from the Pear Tree Garden,
called for Li Po, in order that the spring,
tree-peony spring, might so be made immortal.
Li Po, brought drunk to court, took up his brush,
but washed his face among the lilies first,
then wrote the song of Lady Flying Swallow:
which Hsuang Sung, the emperor, forthwith played,
moving quick fingers on a flute of jade.
Who will forget that afternoon? Still, still,
the singer holds his phrase, the rising moon
remains unrisen. Even the fountain's falling blade
hangs in the air unbroken, and says: Wait!
Text into text, text out of text. Pretext
for scholars or for scholiasts. The living word
springs from the dying, as leaves in spring
spring from dead leaves, our birth from death.
And all is text, is holy text. Sheepfold Hill
becomes its name for us, anti yet is still
unnamed, unnamable, a book of trees
before it was a book for men or sheep,
before it was a book for words. Words, words,
for it is scarlet now, and brown, and red,
and yellow where the birches have not shed,
where, in another week, the rocks will show.
And in this marriage of text and thing how can we know
where most the meaning lies? We climb the hill
through bullbriar thicket and the wild rose, climb
past poverty-grass and the sweet-scented bay
scaring the pheasant from his wall, but can we say
that it is only these, through these, we climb,
or through the words, the cadence, and the rhyme?
Chang Hsu, calligrapher of great renown,
needed to put but his three cupfuls down
to tip his brush with lightning. On the scroll,
wreaths of cloud rolled left and right, the sky
opened upon Forever. Which is which?
The poem? Or the peachtree in the ditch?
Or is all one? Yes, all is text, the immortal text,
Sheepfold Hill the poem, the poem Sheepfold Hill,
and we, Li Po, the man who sings, sings as he climbs,
transposing rhymes to rocks and rocks to rhymes.
The man who sings. What is this man who sings?
And finds this dedicated use for breath
for phrase and periphrase of praise between
the twin indignities of birth and death?
Li Yung, the master of the epitaph,
forgetting about meaning, who himself
had added 'meaning' to the book of >things,'
lies who knows where, himself sans epitaph,
his text, too, lost, forever lost ...
And yet, no,
text lost and poet lost, these only flow
into that other text that knows no year.
The peachtree in the poem is still here.
The song is in the peachtree and the ear.
The winds of doctrine blow both ways at once.
The wetted finger feels the wind each way,
presaging plums from north, and snow from south.
The dust-wind whistles from the eastern sea
to dry the nectarine and parch the mouth.
The west wind from the desert wreathes the rain
too late to fill our wells, but soon enough,
the four-day rain that bears the leaves away.
Song with the wind will change, but is still song
and pierces to the rightness in the wrong
or makes the wrong a rightness, a delight.
Where are the eager guests that yesterday
thronged at the gate? Like leaves, they could not stay,
the winds of doctrine blew their minds away,
and we shall have no loving-cup tonight.
No loving-cup: for not ourselves are here
to entertain us in that outer year,
where, so they say, we see the Greater Earth.
The winds of doctrine blow our minds away,
and we are absent till another birth.
Beyond the Sugar Loaf, in the far wood,
under the four-day rain, gunshot is heard
and with the falling leaf the falling bird
flutters her crimson at the huntsman's foot.
Life looks down at death, death looks up at life,
the eyes exchange the secret under rain,
rain all the way from heaven: and all three
know and are known, share and are shared, a silent
moment of union and communion.
Have we come
this way before, and at some other time?
Is it the Wind Wheel Circle we have come?
We know the eye of death, and in it too
the eye of god, that closes as in sleep,
giving its light, giving its life, away:
clouding itself as consciousness from pain,
clouding itself, and then, the shutter shut.
And will this eye of god awake again?
Or is this what he loses, loses once,
but always loses, and forever lost?
It is the always and unredeemable cost
of his invention, his fatigue. The eye
closes, and no other takes its place.
It is the end of god, each time, each time.
Yet, though the leaves must fall, the galaxies
rattle, detach, and fall, each to his own
perplexed and individual death, Lady Yang
gone with the inkberry's vermilion stalk,
the peony face behind a fan of frost,
the blue-moon eyebrow behind a fan of rain,
beyond recall by any alchemist
or incantation from the Book of Change:
unresumable, as, on Sheepfold Hill,
the fir cone of a thousand years ago:
still, in the loving, and the saying so,
as when we name the hill, and, with the name,
bestow an essence, and a meaning, too:
do we endow them with our lives?
into another orbit: into a time
not theirs: and we become the bell to speak
this time: as we become new eyes
with which they see, the voice
in which they find duration, short or long,
the chthonic and hermetic song.
Beyond Sheepfold Hill,
gunshot again, the bird flies forth to meet
predestined death, to look with conscious sight
into the eye of light
the light unflinching that understands and loves.
And Sheepfold Hill accepts them, and is still.
The landscape and the language are the same.
And we ourselves are language and are land,
together grew with Sheepfold Hill, rock, and hand,
and mind, all taking substance in a thought
wrought out of mystery: birdflight and air
predestined from the first to be a pair:
as, in the atom, the living rhyme
invented her divisions, which in time,
and in the terms of time, would make and break
the text, the texture, and then all remake.
This powerful mind that can by thinking take
the order of the world and all remake,
will it, for joy in breaking, break instead
its own deep thought that thought itself be dead?
Already in our coil of rock and hand,
hidden in the cloud of mind, burning, fading,
under the waters, in the eyes of sand,
was that which in its time would understand.
Already in the Kingdom of the Dead
the scrolls were waiting for the names and dates
and what would there irrevocably be said.
The brush was in the hand, the poem was in the love,
the praise was in the word. The ‘Book of Lives'
listed the name, Li Po, as an Immortal;
and it was time to travel. Not, this year,
north to the Damask City, or the Gorge,
but, by the phoenix borne, swift as the wind,
to the Jade Palace Portal. There
look through the clouded to the clear
and there watch evil like a brush-stroke disappear
in the last perfect rhyme
of the begin-all-end-all poem, time.
Northwest by north. The grasshopper weathervane
bares to the moon his golden breastplate, swings
in his predicted circle, gilded legs and wings
bright with frost, predicting frost. The tide
scales with moon-silver, floods the marsh, fulfils
Payne Creek and Quivett Creek, rises to lift
the fishing-boats against a jetty wall;
and past them floods the plankton and the weed
and limp sea-lettuce for the horseshoe crab
who sleeps till daybreak in his nest of reed.
The hour is open as the mind is open.
Closed as the mind is closed. Opens as the hand opens
to receive the ghostly snowflakes of the moon, closes
to feel the sunbeams of the bloodstream warm
our human inheritance of touch. The air tonight
brings back, to the all-remembering world, its ghosts,
borne from the Great Year on the Wind Wheel Circle.
On that invisible wave we lift, we too,
and drag at secret moorings,
stirred by the ancient currents that gave us birth.
And they are here, Li Po and all the others,
our fathers and our mothers: the dead leaf's footstep
touches the grass: those who were lost at sea
and those the innocents the too-soon dead:
and all it ever knew is here in-gathered,
held in our hands, and in the wind
breathed by the pines on Sheepfold Hill.
How still the Quaker Graveyard, the Meeting House
how still, where Cousin Abiel, on a night like this,
now long since dead, but then how young,
how young, scuffing among the dead leaves after frost
looked up and saw the Wine Star, listened and heard
borne from all quarters the Wind Wheel Circle word:
the father within him, the mother within him, the self
coming to self through love of each for each.
In this small mute democracy of stones
is it Abiel or Li Po who lies
and lends us against death our speech?
They are the same, and it is both who teach.
The poets and the prophecies are ours:
and these are with us as we turn, in turn,
the leaves of love that fill the Book of Change.
Conrad Potter Aiken
Silliman sees his poetry as being part of a single poem or lifework, which he calls Ketjak. Ketjak is also the name of the first poem of The Age of Huts. If and when completed, the entire work will consist of The Age of Huts (1974–1980), Tjanting (1979–1981), The Alphabet (1979–2004), and Universe (2005-).
Silliman writes a popular and controversial weblog: Silliman's Blog devoted to contemporary poetry and poetics. Debuting on August 29, 2002 to little fanfare and without expectations of an audience, Silliman's Blog received its 2,000,000th visit on January 19, 2009. Less than a full year later, on November 26, 2009, it received its 2,500,000th visit.
In the 1960s, Silliman attended Merritt College, San Francisco State University and the University of California, Berkeley, but left without attaining a degree. He has subsequently taught in the Graduate Writing Program at San Francisco State University, at the University of California at San Diego, at New College of California and, in shorter stints, at Naropa University and Brown University.
Silliman has worked as a political organizer, a lobbyist, an ethnographer, a newspaper editor, a director of development, and as the executive editor of the Socialist Review (US). While in San Francisco, he served on numerous community boards including the 1980 Census Oversight Committee, the Arson Task Force of the San Francisco Fire Department, and the State Department of Health's Task Force on Health Conditions in Locale Detention Facilities. After living in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 40 years, Silliman moved to Chester County, Pennsylvania in 1995 where he resides with his wife Krishna and two sons, Colin and Nefarious_Panda. Silliman works as a market analyst in the computer industry.
Silliman was a 2003 Literary fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts & a 2002 Fellow of the Pennsylvania Arts Council as well as a Pew Fellow in the Arts in 1998. Silliman is one of the poets memorialized in Berkeley's Addison Anthology, a walk containing plaques recognizing poets and authors in his home town. Silliman was voted the 2006 Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere. He received the Levinson Prize from the Poetry Foundation in 2010.
Language Poetry and Critical Writing
While Silliman has come to be associated with the Language poets, he came of age under the sign of Donald Allen's New American Poetry (1960). Silliman was first published in Berkeley, in 1965. In the 1960s he was published by journals associated with what he calls the School of Quietude, such as Poetry Northwest, TriQuarterly, Southern Review and Poetry. Silliman found such early acceptance to be a sign of the lack of standards or rigor characteristic of that literary tendency and began looking for alternatives.
Silliman edited a newsletter, Tottels (1970–81), that was one of the early venues for Language Poetry. However, it was "The Dwelling Place," a feature of nine poets that Silliman did for Alcheringa in 1975 that Silliman himself describes as his "first attempt to write about language poetry". In 1976 & '77, he co-curated a reading series with Tom Mandel, at the Grand Piano, a coffee house in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, continuing a series originally founded by Barrett Watten. This series was followed by one at the Tassajara Bakery, co-curated with Bob Perelman, and a series combining poets with performance artists at The Farm, co-curated with Jill Scott.
Silliman's mature critical writing dates to the early/mid-1970s when he was asked to discuss his thinking about the role of reference in poetry, leading to the essay "Disappearance of the Author, Appearance of the World," which first appeared in the journal Art Con. Soon thereafter he edited a special issue of the magazine Margins devoted to the work of poet Clark Coolidge and began to give talks and contribute essays on a regular basis thereafter. As was mentioned above, Silliman was influenced by (and subsequently has written extensively on) the "New American Poetry", referring to the poets who first appeared in Donald Allen's groundbreaking anthology The New American Poetry 1945–1960. Today, those same (but then relatively unknown) poets included in this anthology are now recognizable or precedent figures in the current cultural landscape.
In 1986, Silliman's anthology, In the American Tree, one of the foremost collections of American language poetry, was published by the National Poetry Foundation.
| || || || |
Berry is the first of four children born to John Marshall Berry, a lawyer and tobacco farmer in Henry County, and Virginia Erdman Berry. The families of both of his parents have farmed in Henry County for at least five generations. Berry attended secondary school at Millersburg Military Institute, then earned a B.A. and M.A. in English at the University of Kentucky, where in 1956 he met another Kentucky writer-to-be, Gurney Norman. In 1957, he completed his M.A. and married Tanya Amyx. In 1958, he attended Stanford University's creative writing program as a Wallace Stegner Fellow, studying under Stegner in a seminar that included Edward Abbey, Larry McMurtry, Robert Stone, Ernest Gaines, Tillie Olsen, and Ken Kesey. Berry's first novel, Nathan Coulter, was published in April 1960. A Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship took Berry and his family to Italy and France in 1961, where he came to know Wallace Fowlie, critic and translator of French literature. From 1962 to 1964, he taught English at New York University's University College in the Bronx. In 1964, he began teaching creative writing at the University of Kentucky, from which he resigned in 1977. During this time in Lexington, he came to know author Guy Davenport, as well as author Thomas Merton and photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard.
In 1965, Berry moved to a farm he had purchased, Lane's Landing, and began growing corn and small grains on what eventually became a 125-acre (0.51 km2) homestead. Lane's Landing is near Port Royal, Kentucky, in north central Kentucky, and his parents' birthplaces, and is on the western bank of the Kentucky River, not far from where it flows into the Ohio River. Berry has farmed, resided, and written at Lane's Landing down to the present day. He has written about his early experiences on the land and about his decision to return to it in essays such as "The Long-Legged House" and "A Native Hill."
In the 1970s and early 1980s, he edited and wrote for the Rodale Press, including its publications Organic Gardening and Farming and The New Farm. From 1987 to 1993, he returned to the English Department of the University of Kentucky. Berry has written at least twenty-five books (or chapbooks) of poems, sixteen volumes of essays, and eleven novels and short story collections. His writing is grounded in the notion that one's work ought to be rooted in and responsive to one's place.
Berry, a lifelong Baptist, has criticized Christian organizations for failing to challenge cultural complacency about environmental degradation, and has shown a willingness to criticize what he perceives as the arrogance of some Christians. Berry is a fellow of Britain's Temenos Academy, a learned society devoted to the study of all faiths and spiritual pursuits; Berry publishes frequently in the annual Temenos Academy Review, funded by the Prince of Wales.
On February 10, 1968 Berry delivered "A Statement Against the War in Vietnam" during the Kentucky Conference on the War and the Draft at the University of Kentucky in Lexington:
|“||We seek to preserve peace by fighting a war, or to advance freedom by subsidizing dictatorships, or to ‘win the hearts and minds of the people' by poisoning their crops and burning their villages and confining them in concentration camps; we seek to uphold the ‘truth' of our cause with lies, or to answer conscientious dissent with threats and slurs and intimidations. . . . I have come to the realization that I can no longer imagine a war that I would believe to be either useful or necessary. I would be against any war.||”|
On June 3, 1979 Berry engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience against the construction of a nuclear power plant at Marble Hill, Indiana. He describes "this nearly eventless event" and expands upon his reasons for it in the essay "The Reactor and the Garden."
On February 9, 2003 Berry's essay titled "A Citizen's Response to the National Security Strategy of the United States" was published as a full-page advertisement in The New York Times. Berry opened the essay—a critique of the G. W. Bush administration's post-9/11 international strategy—by asserting that "The new National Security Strategy published by the White House in September 2002, if carried out, would amount to a radical revision of the political character of our nation."
On January 4, 2009 Berry and Wes Jackson, president of The Land Institute, published an op-ed article in The New York Times titled "A 50-Year Farm Bill." In July, 2009 Berry, Jackson and Fred Kirschenmann, of The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, gathered in Washington DC to promote this idea. Berry and Jackson wrote, "We need a 50-year farm bill that addresses forthrightly the problems of soil loss and degradation, toxic pollution, fossil-fuel dependency and the destruction of rural communities."
Also in January 2009 Berry released a statement against the death penalty, which began, “As I am made deeply uncomfortable by the taking of a human life before birth, I am also made deeply uncomfortable by the taking of a human life after birth." And in November 2009, Berry and 38 other writers from Kentucky wrote to Gov. Steve Beshear and Attorney General Jack Conway asking them to impose a moratorium on the death penalty in that state.
On March 2, 2009 Berry joined over 2,000 others in non-violently blocking the gates to a coal-fired power plant in Washington, D.C. No one was arrested.
On May 22, 2009 Berry, at a listening session in Louisville, spoke against the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). He said, "If you impose this program on the small farmers, who are already overburdened, you’re going to have to send the police for me. I’m 75 years old. I’ve about completed my responsibilities to my family. I’ll lose very little in going to jail in opposition to your program – and I’ll have to do it. Because I will be, in every way that I can conceive of, a non-cooperator."
In October 2009 Berry combined with "the Berea-based Kentucky Environmental Foundation (KEF), along with several other non-profit organizations and rural electric co-op members" to petition against and protest the construction of a coal-burning power plant in Clark County, Kentucky. On February 28, 2011, the Kentucky Public Service Commission approved the cancellation of this power plant.
On September 28, 2010 Berry participated in a rally in Louisville during an EPA hearing on how to manage coal ash. Berry said, "The EPA knows that coal ash is poison. We ask it only to believe in its own findings on this issue, and do its duty."
Berry, with 14 other protesters, spent the weekend of February 12, 2011 locked in the Kentucky governor’s office demanding an end to mountaintop removal coal mining. He was part of the environmental group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth that began their sit-in on Friday and left at midday Monday to join about 1,000 others in a mass outdoor rally.
Berry's nonfiction serves as an extended conversation about the life he values. According to him, the good life includes sustainable agriculture, appropriate technologies, healthy rural communities, connection to place, the pleasures of good food, husbandry, good work, local economics, the miracle of life, fidelity, frugality, reverence, and the interconnectedness of life. The threats Berry finds to this good life include: industrial farming and the industrialization of life, ignorance, hubris, greed, violence against others and against the natural world, the eroding topsoil in the United States, global economics, and environmental destruction. As a prominent defender of agrarian values, Berry's appreciation for traditional farming techniques, such as those of the Amish, grew in the 1970s, due in part to exchanges with Draft Horse Journal publisher Maurice Telleen. Berry has long been friendly to and supportive of Wes Jackson, believing that Jackson's agricultural research at The Land Institute lives out the promise of "solving for pattern" and using "nature as model."
Author Rod Dreher writes that Berry's "unshakable devotion to the land, to localism, and to the dignity of traditional life makes him both a great American and, to the disgrace of our age, a prophet without honor in his native land." Similarly, Bill Kauffman argues that “Among the tragedies of contemporary politics is that Wendell Berry, as a man of place, has no place in a national political discussion that is framed by Gannett and Clear Channel." Historian Richard White calls Berry "the environmental writer who has most thoughtfully tried to come to terms with labor" and "one of the few environmental writers who takes work seriously."
The concept of "Solving for pattern", coined by Berry in his essay of the same title, is the process of finding solutions that solve multiple problems, while minimizing the creation of new problems. The essay was originally published in the Rodale Press periodical The New Farm. Though Mr. Berry's use of the phrase was in direct reference to agriculture, it has since come to enjoy broader use throughout the design community.
Berry's core ideas, and in particular his poem "Sabbaths III (Santa Clara Valley)," guided the 2007 feature film, Unforeseen, produced by Terrence Malick and Robert Redford. The film's director Laura Dunn stated, "We are of course most grateful to Mr. Berry for sharing his inspired work — his poem served as a guide post for me throughout this, at times meandering, project." Berry appears twice in the film narrating his own poem.
Berry has described his feelings on government as follows:
|“||I wish to testify that in my best moments I am not aware of the existence of the government. Though I respect and feel myself dignified by the principles of the Declaration and the Constitution, I do not remember a day when the thought of the government made me happy, and I never think of it without the wish that it might become wiser and truer and smaller than it is.||”|
Berry's lyric poetry often appears as a contemporary eclogue, pastoral, or elegy; but he also composes dramatic and historical narratives (such as "Bringer of Water" and "July, 1773", respectively) and occasional and discursive poems ("Against the War in Vietnam" and "Some Further Words", respectively).
Berry's first published poetry book consisted of a single poem, the elegiac November Twenty Six Nineteen Hundred Sixty Three (1964), initiated and illustrated by Ben Shahn, commemorating the death of John F. Kennedy. It begins,
The winter earth
Upon the body
Of the young
And the early dark
and continues through ten more stanzas (each propelled by the anaphora of "We know"). The elegiac here and elsewhere, according to Triggs, enables Berry to characterize the connections "that link past and future generations through their common working of the land."
The first full-length collection, The Broken Ground (1964), develops many of Berry's fundamental concerns: "the cycle of life and death, responsiveness to place, pastoral subject matter, and recurring images of the Kentucky River and the hill farms of north-central Kentucky"
According to Angyal, "There is little modernist formalism or postmodernist experimentation in [Berry's] verse." A commitment to the reality and primacy of the actual world stands behind these two rejections. In "Notes: Unspecializing Poetry," Berry writes, "Devotion to order that is not poetical prevents the specialization of poetry." He goes on to note, "Nothing exists for its own sake, but for a harmony greater than itself which includes it. A work of art, which accepts this condition, and exists upon its terms, honors the Creation, and so becomes a part of it"
Lionel Basney placed Berry's poetry within a tradition of didactic poetry that stretches back to Horace: "To say that Berry's poetry can be didactic, then, means that it envisions a specific wisdom, and also the traditional sense of art and culture that gives art the task of teaching this wisdom"
For Berry, poetry exists "at the center of a complex reminding" Both the poet and the reader are reminded of the poem's crafted language, of the poem's formal literary antecedents, of "what is remembered or ought to be remembered," and of "the formal integrity of other works, creatures and structures of the world."
Berry's fiction to date consists of eight novels and thirty-eight short stories (twenty-three of which are collected in That Distant Land, 2004) which, when read as a whole, form a chronicle of the fictional small Kentucky town of Port William. Because of his long-term, ongoing exploration of the life of an imagined place, Berry has been compared to William Faulkner. Yet, although Port William is no stranger to murder, suicide, alcoholism, marital discord, and the full range of losses that touch human lives, it lacks the extremes of characterization and plot development that are found in much of Faulkner. Hence Berry is sometimes described as working in an idealized, pastoral, or nostalgic mode, a characterization of his work which he resists: "If your work includes a criticism of history, which mine certainly does, you can't be accused of wanting to go back to something, because you're saying that what we were wasn't good enough."
The effect of profound shifts in the agricultural practices of the United States, and the disappearance of traditional agrarian life, are some of the major concerns of the Port William fiction, though the theme is often only a background or subtext to the stories themselves. The Port William fiction attempts to portray, on a local scale, what "a human economy ... conducted with reverence" looked like in the past—and what civic, domestic, and personal virtues might be evoked by such an economy were it pursued today. Social as well as seasonal changes mark the passage of time. The Port William stories allow Berry to explore the human dimensions of the decline of the family farm and farm community, under the influence of expanding post-World War II agribusiness. But these works rarely fall into simple didacticism, and are never merely tales of decline. Each is grounded in a realistic depiction of character and community. In A Place on Earth (1967), for example, farmer Mat Feltner comes to terms with the loss of his only son, Virgil. In the course of the novel, we see how not only Mat but the entire community wrestles with the acute costs of World War II.
Berry's fiction also allows him to explore the literal and metaphorical implications of marriage as that which binds individuals, families, and communities to each other and to Nature itself—yet not all of Port William is happily or conventionally married. "Old Jack" Beechum struggles with significant incompatibilities with his wife, and with a brief yet fulfilling extramarital affair. The barber Jayber Crow lives with a forlorn, secret, and unrequited love for a woman, believing himself "mentally" married to her even though she knows nothing about it. Burley Coulter never formalizes his bond with Kate Helen Branch, the mother of his son. Yet, each of these men find themselves firmly bound up in the community, the "membership," of Port William.
Berry's novel, Hannah Coulter (2004), presents a concise vision of Port William's "membership." The story encompasses Hannah's life, including the Great Depression, World War II, the postwar industrialization of agriculture, the flight of youth to urban employment, and the consequent remoteness of grandchildren. The tale is told in the voice of an old woman twice widowed, who has experienced much loss yet has never been defeated. Somehow, lying at the center of her strength is the "membership"—the fact that people care for each other and, even in absence, hold each other in a kind of presence. All in all, Hannah Coulter embodies many of the themes of Berry's Port William saga.
- Nathan Coulter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960 (revised North Point, 1985).
- A Place on Earth. Boston: Harcourt, Brace, 1967 (revised North Point,1983; Counterpoint, 2001).
- The Memory of Old Jack. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich 1974. (revised Counterpoint 2001).
- The Wild Birds: Six Stories of the Port William Membership. San Francisco: North Point, 1986.
- Remembering. San Francisco: North Point, 1988.
- Fidelity: Five Stories. New York: Pantheon, 1992.
- Watch With Me and Six Other Stories of the Yet-Remembered Ptolemy Proudfoot and His Wife, Miss Minnie, Née Quinch. New York: Pantheon, 1994.
- A World Lost. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1996.
- Jayber Crow. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2000.
- Three Short Novels (Nathan Coulter, Remembering, A World Lost). Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2002.
- Hannah Coulter. Washington, D.C.: Shoemaker & Hoard. 2004.
- That Distant Land: The Collected Stories. Washington, D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004.
- Andy Catlett: Early Travels. Washington, D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2006.
- Whitefoot: A Story from the Center of the World. Berkeley: Counterpoint. 2009. Available online as "Whitefoot", Orion Magazine. January/February 2007.
- "Mike". The Sewanee Review. Winter 2005 and New Stories from the South: The Year's Best - 2006. Chapel Hill: Algonquin. 2006.
- "The Requirement". Harper's Magazine. March 2007.
- "Burley Coulter's Fortunate Fall". Sewanee Review, Spring 2008, Vol 116 Issue 2, p264-273, 10p.
- "A Desirable Woman". Hudson Review, Summer 2008, Vol 61 Issue 2, p295-314, 20p.
- "Stand By Me". The Atlantic. August 2008.
- "Misery". Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee Review, Winter 2008, Vol 58, Number 3, p111 ff.
- "A Burden". Oxford American, Issue 66, August 2009, p66-70, 5p.
- "The Dark Country". Sewanee Review, Spring 2009, Vol 117 Issue 2, pp. 163–180.
- "Andy Catlett: Early Education". The Threepenny Review. Spring 2009.
- "Fly Away, Breath". The Threepenny Review. Spring 2008 and New Stories from the South: The Year's Best - 2009. Chapel Hill: Algonquin. 2009.
- "A Place in Time: Some Chapters of a Telling Story". Hudson Review, Summer 2009, Vol 62 Issue 2, 217–238.
- "Nothing Living Lives Alone". The Threepenny Review. Spring 2011.
- "Sold". The Atlantic Fiction 2011, 16–21.
- "In the Nick of Time". Sewanee Review, Summer 2011, Vol. 119 No. 3, 245-373.
- The Long-Legged House. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1969 (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004).
- The Hidden Wound. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970.
- The Unforeseen Wilderness: Kentucky's Red River Gorge. Photographs by Ralph Eugene Meatyard. U P Kentucky, 1971. Revised North Point, 1991. Reissued and revised Shoemaker & Hoard, 2006.
- A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural & Agricultural. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1972 (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004).
- The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1977; Avon Books, 1978; Sierra Club, 1986.
- The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural. San Francisco: North Point, 1981 (Counterpoint, 2009).
- Recollected Essays: 1965-1980. San Francisco: North Point, 1981.
- Standing by Words. San Francisco: North Point, 1983 (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005).
- Meeting the Expectations of the Land: Essays in Sustainable Agriculture and Stewardship, 1984 editor with Wes Jackson and Bruce Colman
- Home Economics: Fourteen Essays. San Francisco: North Point, 1987 (Counterpoint, 2009).
- Descendants and Ancestors of Captain James W. Berry, with Laura Berry. Bowling Green, KY: Hub, 1990.
- Harlan Hubbard: Life and Work. Lexington, Kentucky: U P of Kentucky, 1990.
- What Are People For? New York: North Point, 1990.
- Standing on Earth, (Selected Essays). Golgonooza Press, (UK), 1991.
- Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community. New York: Pantheon, 1992.
- Another Turn of the Crank. Washington, D. C.: Counterpoint, 1996.
- Grace: Photographs of Rural America with Gregory Spaid and Gene Logsdon. New London, New Hampshire: Safe Harbor Books, 2000.
- Life Is a Miracle.Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2000.
- In the Presence of Fear: Three Essays for a Changed World. Great Barrington, MA: Orion, 2001.
- The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry. Ed. Norman Wirzba. Washington, D. C.: Counterpoint, 2002.
- Citizens Dissent: Security, Morality, and Leadership in an Age of Terror.(With David James Duncan. Foreword by Laurie Lane-Zucker) Great Barrington, MA: Orion, 2003.
- Citizenship Papers. Washington, D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2003.
- Tobacco Harvest: An Elegy. Photographs by James Baker Hall. Lexington, Kentucky: U P of Kentucky, 2004.
- Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Christ's Teachings about Love, Compassion & Forgiveness. Washington, D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005.
- The Way of Ignorance and Other Essays. Washington, D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005.
- Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2009.
- Imagination in Place. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2010.
- What Matters? Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2010.
- The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2011.
- "Against the Death Penalty" "KCADP's You Tube Channel." April 24, 2009.
- "The Cost of Displacement" The Progressive December 2009/January 2010.
- The Broken Ground. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1964.
- November twenty six nineteen hundred sixty three. New York: Braziller, 1964.
- Openings. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1968.
- Farming: A Hand Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1970.
- The Country of Marriage. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1973.
- An Eastward Look. Berkeley, California: Sand Dollar, 1974.
- Sayings and Doings. Lexington, Kentucky: Gnomon, 1975.
- Clearing. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1977.
- A Part. San Francisco: North Point, 1980.
- The Wheel. San Francisco, North Point, 1982.
- The Collected Poems, 1957-1982. San Francisco: North Point, 1985.
- Sabbaths: Poems. San Francisco: North Point, 1987.
- Traveling at Home. Press Alley, 1988; North Point 1989.
- Entries. New York: Pantheon, 1994 (reprint Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1997).
- The Farm. Monterey, Kentucky: Larkspur, 1995.
- A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1998.
- The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1999.
- The Gift of Gravity, Selected Poems, 1968-2000, Golgonooza Press (UK), 2002.
- Sabbaths 2002. Monterey, Kentucky: Larkspur, 2004.
- Given: New Poems. Washington D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard. 2005.
- Window Poems. Washington, D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2007.
- The Mad Farmer Poems. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2008.
- Sabbaths 2006. Monterey, Kentucky: Larkspur, 2008.
- Leavings. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2010.
- Sabbaths 2009. Sewanee Review, Spring 2011, Volume 119, Number 2, pages 198-205
- Beattie, L. Elisabeth (Editor). "Wendell Berry" in Conversations With Kentucky Writers, U P of Kentucky, 1996.
- Berger, Rose Marie. "Wendell Berry interview complete text," Sojourner's Magazine, July 2004
- Fisher-Smith, Jordan. "Field Observations: An Interview with Wendell Berry'"
- Grubbs, Morris Allen (Editor). Conversations with Wendell Berry, U P of Mississippi, 2007.
- Minick, Jim. "A Citizen and a Native:An Interview with Wendell Berry" Appalachian Journal, Vol. 31, Nos 3-4, (Spring-Summer, 2004)
- Weinreb, Mindy. "A Question a Day: A Written Conversation with Wendell Berry" in Merchant
- Brockman, Holly. "How can a family ‘live at the center of its own attention?’ Wendell Berry’s thoughts on the good life", January/February 2006
- Smith, Peter. "Wendell Berry's still unsettled in his ways." The Courier-Journal, Sept. 30, 2007, A1.
- "Wendell Berry: A conversation," The Diane Rehm Show. WAMU 88.5 American University Radio, November 30, 2009.
Forewords, Introductions, Prefaces, and Afterwords
- Driftwood Valley: A Woman Naturalist in the Northern Wilderness by Theodora C. Stanwell-Fletcher. Oregon State U P, 1999.
- Enduring Seeds: Native American Agriculture and Wild Plant Conservation by Gary Paul Nabhan. U of Arizona P, 2002.
- God and Work: Aspects of Art and Tradition by Brian Keeble. World Wisdom Books, 2009.
- Great Possessions: An Amish Farmer's Journal by David Kline. The Wooster Book Company, 2001.
- James Archambeault's Historic Kentucky by James Archambeault. U P of Kentucky, 2006.
- Kentucky's Natural Heritage: An Illustrated Guide to Biodiversity edited by Greg Abernathy and others. U P of Kentucky, 2010.
- Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight by Norman Wirzba. Brazos P, 2006.
- Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness by Erik Reece. Riverhead, 2006.
- The Man Who Created Paradise by Gene Logsdon. Ohio U P, 2001.
- The Meat You Eat: How Corporate Farming Has Endangered America's Food Supply by Ken Midkiff. St. Martin's Griffin, 2005.
- Missing Mountains edited by Kristin Johannsen and others. Wind Publications, 2005.
- My Mercy Encompasses All: The Koran's Teachings on Compassion, Peace and Love by Reza Shah-Kazemi. Counterpoint, 2007.
- Nature as Measure: The Selected Essays of Wes Jackson. Counterpoint, 2011.
- The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka. NYRB Classics, 2009.
- The Pattern of a Man & Other Stories by James Still. Gnomon P, 2001.
- Pedestrian Photographs by Larry Merrill. U of Rochester P, 2008.
- Ralph Eugene Meatyard by Arnold Gassan. Gnomon P, 1970.
- Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible by Ellen F. Davis. Cambridge U P, 2008.
- Soil And Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture by Albert Howard. U P of Kentucky, 2007.
- To a Young Writer by Wallace Stegner. Red Butte P, 2009.
- The Toilet Papers: Recycling Waste and Conserving Water by Sim Van der Ryn. Ecological Design Press, 1978.
- Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture by J. Russell Smith. Island P, 1987.
- Waste Land: Meditations on a Ravaged Landscape by David T. Hanson. Aperture, 1997.
- We All Live Downstream: Writings About Mountaintop Removal edited by Jason Howard. MotesBooks, 2009.
- Guggenheim Fellowship & Rockefeller Fellowships
- Jean Stein Award
- T.S. Eliot Award
- 2000 Poets' Prize for The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
- Thomas Merton Award, 1999
- Aiken Taylor Award for poetry
- John Hay Award
- Art of Fact Award, 2006 for non-fiction
- Kentuckian of the Year 2006 from Kentucky Monthly, for his writing and his efforts to bring attention to environmental issues in eastern Kentucky.
- Premio Artusi, 2008
- The Cleanth Brooks Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, 2009
- The National Humanities Medal, 2010
Works on Berry
- Merchant, Paul, ed. Wendell Berry (American Authors Series). Lewiston, Idaho: Confluence, 1991.
- Angyal, Andrew. Wendell Berry. New York: Twayne, 1995.
- Goodrich, Janet. The Unforeseen Self in the Works of Wendell Berry. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2001.
- Smith, Kimberly K. Wendell Berry and the Agrarian Tradition: A Common Grace. Lawrence: U P of Kansas, 2003.
- Peters, Jason, ed. Wendell Berry: Life and Work. Lexington: U P of Kentucky, 2007.
- Bonzo, J. Matthew and Michael R. Stevens. Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life: A Reader's Guide. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2008.
- Shuman, Joel James and Owens, L. Roger (eds). Wendell Berry and Religion: Heaven's Earthly Life. Lexington: U P of Kentucky, 2009.
- Oehlschlaeger, Fritz. The Achievement of Wendell Berry: The Hard History of Love. Lexington: U P of Kentucky, 2011.
Although he received the most prestigious of literary awards, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1930 for Selected Poems and a National Book Award in 1954 for Collected Poems, along with the critical acclaim of some of the most respected writers and critics of his time, Conrad Aiken never became a truly popular poet. This fact puzzled his admirers and, indeed, Aiken himself, who never lost his self-confidence and who always denied the charge that his poetry might be too difficult. Benjamin DeMott considered possibilities for Aiken's lack of exposure in a Saturday Review article: "The reasons for the neglect aren't so far to seek as might be supposed. They have to do partly with this poet's reluctance to break with certain nineteenth-century conventions of sound and posture. . . . Aiken has often flown against [dominant taste], writing heavy music, laying out gorgeous sound, providing no clear 'speaker,' no definable 'dramatic situation,' and pruning no modifiers." According to Alden Whitman of the New York Times, once commented that "the poet made no effort to popularize himself or make himself in fashion." Aiken noted one curious phenomenon about his critical reception. He wrote to that "each new book is panned—but in the background is the implication that all the previous ones were good."
A childhood tragedy left an indelible impression on Aiken. When he was eleven, his father shot first Aiken's mother and then himself. Aiken related the circumstances of his parents' death in his autobiography, Ushant: "After the desultory early-morning quarrel, came the half-stifled scream, and the sound of his father's voice counting three, and the two loud pistol shots and he tiptoed into the dark room, where the two bodies lay motionless, and apart, and, finding them dead, found himself possessed of them forever." It has been suggested that much of Aiken's interest in psychology stemmed from that shattering incident. Aiken once said that his short story "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" (a psychological portrait of a disturbed boy) was "a projection of my own inclination to insanity." According to Richard Hauer Costa, writing in the Nation, Aiken was "at all times an 'I' writer. He neither could nor wished to separate his life from his work." Aiken imbued much of his writing with psychological themes, frequently using the metaphor of a voyage to signify a journey to self-knowledge. Jennifer Aldrich noted in the Sewanee Review: "Three of Aiken's five novels, many of his short stories, and his first long poetic series, The Divine Pilgrim, as well as some of the later poems, were all written in the physical form of a journey. The actual vehicles of these journeys seem . . . to be in some way a symbol for consciousness; and the goal is the self." Throughout his career, Aiken measured his characters' progress along the voyage with a Freudian yardstick. Psychological themes were sometimes explored in unconventional formal structures. In a preface to his Three Novels: Blue Voyage, Great Circle, King Coffin, Aiken commented: " Great Circle, written five years after Blue Voyage, is just as insistently psychological in its approach to its theme, but less closely tethered to my own personality than its predecessor. . . . My early and continued preoccupation with musical form was allowed greater play."
Other early impressions reflected in Aiken's philosophy and writing were formed at Harvard, where he showed interest in the work of—among others—Henry and William James, , the Symbolists, and the English Romanticists. In one case, an admired writer's style was baldly reproduced in Aiken's work. Alden Whitman reported in the New York Times that in his maturity Aiken called his first book of verse, Earth Triumphant, and Other Tales in Verse,"a dead steal from [John] Masefield." Aiken was aware that critics considered his style imitative, and at times he responded humorously to such suggestions. In 1918, for example, he wrote a dream dialogue in which said, "Swinburne plus Fletcher minus Aiken equals Aiken," and Louis Untermeyer responded, "Eliot plus Masters minus Aiken equals Aiken." Aiken discussed the issue of influence more seriously with Robert Hunter Wilbur in a Paris Review interview. The work of , a friend from Harvard days, had had a "tremendous influence" on him, said Aiken; but there had also been "a lot of interchange" in their relationship. As Aiken phrased it, "the juices went both ways."
A Harvard acquaintance to whom Aiken gave great credit was a professor of his, . In the Paris Review interview, Aiken asserted that it was Santayana who shaped his "view of what poetry would ultimately be." Santayana's personal philosophy and his emphasis on the philosophical content of poetry were enormously appealing to Aiken. According to Jennifer Aldrich in the Sewanee Review, when Aiken was "invited to give his notions of what poetry should be" he turned to the following passage from Santayana's Three Philosophical Poets: "Focus a little experience, give some scope and depth to your feeling, and it grows imaginative; give it more scope and more depth, focus all experience within it, make it a philosopher's vision of the world, and it will grow more imaginative in a superlative degree, and be supremely poetical. . . . Poetry, then, is not poetical for being short-winded or incidental, but on the contrary, for being comprehensive and having range. If too much matter renders it heavy, that is the fault of the poet's weak intellect, not of the outstretched world."
Aiken produced much of his most important work in the 1920s and early 1930s, even though this period was one of personal upheaval for the author, including a divorce from his first wife and a suicide attempt. Between 1934 and 1936, Aiken wrote under the pseudonym of Samuel Jeake, Jr. as London correspondent for the New Yorker. Following his divorce in 1939 from his second wife and his remarriage, Aiken returned to the United States and settled in New England, where he wrote poetry mainly about the area.
While Aiken admired many writers early in his career, that number decreased sharply with the passing years. His views, always vehement, became increasingly vitriolic. In an interview with Harvey Briet in 1950, he called William Faulkner "the great American genius, the only adult writer of fiction we've had in the last twenty years on a major scale." In 1969, he could name no such leader. He told Alden Whitman of the New York Times: "I think we're going through a very depressing decline in taste. . . . I don't think there is any first-rate fiction, and I mean to include everybody in that—Nabokov, Bellow, and so on." In Whitman's opinion, Aiken had "scarcely a kind word for anybody or anything except comic strips, martinis and Conrad Aiken."
Poets fared no better than novelists in Aiken's assessment of the state of writing. In 1968 he told Wilbur in the Paris Review: "I think we've come to a kind of splinter period in poetry. These tiny little bright fragments of observation—and not produced under sufficient pressure—some of it's very skillful, but I don't think there's anywhere a major poet in the process of emerging." Aiken had strong words, too, for anything resembling clubbiness. He once wrote that poets "really stink. Especially in large numbers, when herding." Patricia Reynolds Willis, writing for the Georgia Review, recorded his feelings about writers' colonies: "One writer by himself is bad enough, but if you get five in a room, it's terrible. And I doubt if anything good comes of it. It's much better to just go and hire a room in a lodging house and sequester yourself there in the city, and just get lost. But at those places, you've got a little sacred cabin out in the woods and have your own little lunch put at your doorstep at one p.m., and you are supposed to sit there and produce like a hen in a hen factory."
I. A. Richards felt that Aiken was more gracious than the above comments would indicate. Richards wrote in a Times Literary Supplement review of the Selected Letters of Conrad Aiken: "Few poets can have made greater efforts or faced more reasonably deprivation of recognition. His truly prodigious output met with curiously intermittent appreciation, periods of long neglect being taken with unflagging endurance and resolution. Along with this went a truly noteworthy immunity to those infections of jealousy and envy which afflict so many of us." The kindness Aiken showed to Malcolm Lowry, acting as a sort of father figure to the young writer, was noted by critics; and Richards noted that "his joy . . . when he can really go all out in praise . . . knows no bounds." Confident of his stature among peers, Aiken was modest when it came to the question of his place in history. Replying to a schoolboy who had praised his work, Aiken once wrote: "No, I don't have any great notion about where I stand as a poet. That will be taken care of by those wiser people who come later on the scene than we do. Thus, as in their turn, those opinions too will be revalued over and over. None of us knows in what direction poetry and those other arts will turn—that's part of the cruel fascination of being interested in the arts as you are, and keeping your head about it."
Aiken died in 1973 in his birth place, Savannah, Georgia. The Letters of Conrad Aiken and Malcolm Lowry, 1929-1954, published in 1992, reveals the literary development of these two men through their long-term correspondence to each other and the accompanying illustrations, drafts, chronologies, and editorial notes. Canadian Literature reviewer Paul Tiessen suggested that Aiken's letters were "assurances of real touch-stones of gain and loss within more or less objectifiable personal and literary worlds."
Awards and recognition
Named Poetry Consultant of the Library of Congress from 1950–1952, Conrad Aiken has earned numerous prestigious national writing awards, including a National Book Award, the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, the National Institute of Arts and Letters Gold Medal and the National Medal for Literature. Honored by his native state in 1973 with the title of Poet Laureate, Aiken will always be remembered in his native state as the first Georgia-born author to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1930, for his Selected Poems.
Aiken was the first winner of the Poetry Society of America (PSA) Shelley Memorial Award in 1929.
In 2009, The Library of America selected Aiken’s 1931 story “Mr. Arcularis” for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American Fantastic Tales.
- Morning Song of Senlin
- A Letter from Li Po
- All Lovely Things
- Beloved, Let Us Once More Praise the Rain
- Chiarascuro, Rose
- Evening Song of Senlin
- Hatteras Calling
- Improvisations: Light and Snow
- Music I Heard
- Nocturne of Remembered Spring
- Senlin: His Cloudy Destiny
- Senlin: His Dark Origins
- Senlin: His Futile Preoccupations
- The Carver
- The House Of Dust
- The Room
- The Trenches
- The Window
- Turns And Movies: Dancing Adairs
- Turns And Movies: Duval's Birds
- Turns And Movies: Rose And Murray
- Turns And Movies: The Cornet
- Turns And Movies: Violet Moore And Bert Moore
- Turns And Movies: Zudora
 Poetry collections
- Nocturne of Remembered Spring: And Other Poems (Aiken, 1917)
- Selected Poems (Dickinson/Aiken, 1924)
- Turns and Movies and other Tales in Verse (Aiken, 1916, Houghton Mifflin) (available online at archive.org, http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924022232338)
 Novels, short stories, memoirs and literary criticism
- Scepticisms: Notes on Contemporary Poetry (1919)
- The Jig of Forslin (1916)
- Blue Voyage (1927)
- Great Circle (1933)
- King Coffin (1935)
- A Heart for the Gods of Mexico (1939)
- The Conversation (1940)
- Ushant (1952)
- Collected Short Stories (1960)
- A Reviewer's ABC: Collected Criticism of Conrad Aiken from 1916 to the Present (1961)
- Collected Short Stories of Conrad Aiken (1966)
- Thee (1967)