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Book Review: The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

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Note: This review was also posted on the forum. . . .

On the first day of a graduate seminar in literature, our professors would often tells us about their creation of the syllabus. We'd hear the rationale for the course, the course objectives, the student responsibilities (all pretty bland and standard stuff). And then we'd hear the most interesting part: what books/authors were left out. . . .the just didn't make the cut list. I took notes like hell during this part. Those were the guys (and gals) that I wanted to read. Bad.

Well, in a seminar on American nature writing, one of those "didn't make it" authors was the contemporary American poet Wendell Berry. And I finally got around to reading some of his work in his Selected Poems of Wendel Berry -- sort of the greatest hits of a didn't cut it poet.

I'll cut this review to the wheat: there are some great poems here and many average ones. Stylistically -- Berry mostly chooses free verse, though there are a few poems in the selection that employ traditional meter and rhyme. The selection is also a blend of shorter lyric poems and some longer poems that span up to about 30 pages. Generally, I preferred the short lyrics with one exception -- the longest poem in the collection -- "Window Poems", which was a mediation on observer, observing, and the act of observation with a single window as the literal and metaphorical focal point of the poem. Imagine if Wallace Stevens had given us 37 "Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" instead of just 13. That's what it was like, and I was glad for it.

Thematically, Berry's work focuses on issues of stability, pastoral, and marriage -- simplicity is the rock upon which each poem balances. Of the short lyrics, I enjoyed "The Wild Geese", "Stay Home", "Throwing Away the Mail", "The Peace of Wild Things", and "The Vacation" best. But there were a lot of good ones.

Final assessment: 7/10 sycamore trees.

Updated 03-23-2012 at 12:26 PM by The Comedian



  1. qimissung's Avatar
    I went and read a few of the ones mentioned here. Thank you for introducing me to a new poet, Comedian.
  2. LadyLuck's Avatar
    I may have to give this a try. I'm always looking for new poems to read, but I'll confess I have no real appreciation for them. Perhaps it stems from the poor job my school did teaching poetry, but I normally can't look beyond if I like it or don't. Not terribly well rounded of me, and something that likely needs correction