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Poetry Review: “How to Be a Poet” by Wendell Berry

7 April 2012

In honor of National Poetry Month, MontanaWriter is featuring poems about poets, poetry, and writing poetry. For more poems about poetry, click here.

Wendell Berry is a writer and an activist. He has written novels, short-stories, essays and books of non-fiction on subjects as varied as farming, economics, politics, and Christianity. Yet in the end, he is a lyric poet.

I have certainly not read all of his prose work, but enough to suggest that it is this lyrical/poetical nature of his that informs his thinking about and interests in subjects like peace and justice, Christian spirituality, and living close to the land.

Berry is ultimately a poet-farmer, a poet-economist, a poet-activist, a poet-philosopher, and a poet-theologian. In short, he is the kind of writer and thinker the world has too few of.

On a beautiful Easter Saturday, a Wendell Berry poem seems like just the thing.

Enjoy!

 

How to Be a Poet

(to remind myself)

i   
Make a place to sit down.   
Sit down. Be quiet.   
You must depend upon   
affection, reading, knowledge,   
skill—more of each   
than you have—inspiration,   
work, growing older, patience,   
for patience joins time   
to eternity. Any readers   
who like your poems,   
doubt their judgment.   
ii   
Breathe with unconditional breath   
the unconditioned air.   
Shun electric wire.   
Communicate slowly. Live   
a three-dimensioned life;   
stay away from screens.   
Stay away from anything   
that obscures the place it is in.   
There are no unsacred places;   
there are only sacred places   
and desecrated places.   
iii   
Accept what comes from silence.   
Make the best you can of it.   
Of the little words that come   
out of the silence, like prayers   
prayed back to the one who prays,   
make a poem that does not disturb   
the silence from which it came.
     Source: Poetry (January 2001).

 

Listening with a pencil and my ear, these are the lines I marked:

Of the little words that come   
out of the silence, like prayers   
prayed back to the one who prays,   
make a poem that does not disturb   
the silence from which it came.

I like a number of lines in this poem. Yet in the end the poem builds to this long, final line. When I first read this poem I found the last stanza clumsy. Yet I read it again out-loud and came to like it very much. Over time I have come to love it. Silence as holy. Poetry as prayer. The poet as mystic.

 

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2 Comments to “Poetry Review: “How to Be a Poet” by Wendell Berry”

  1. Very well written post. Keep doing what you are doing – for sure i will check out more posts.

  2. Nicely put. Stay away from screens, good thought. When my students want to check their messages and open their laptops in class, I often say, “Put it away. There’s more going on in this room right now than you’ll ever understand in a lifetime.” Thanks again.

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