In Praise of Fertile Land , an anthology of mostly poetry (with some parables and very short stories), celebrates gardening, farming, reaping, sowing, eating the harvest and indulging in the ruminations that come with working the land. It's a particularly worthwhile collection to add to the library, if you're the kind of person who likes gardening, volunteers at a CSA or hosts dinner parties there are plenty of short poems and lines here that will serve ably as blessings and invocations for shared meals.
Best, for those passionate about working farms, proceeds from the sale of the book go to support PCC Farmland Trust, an organization that has preserved more than 500 acres of organic farmland in the Pacific Northwest. The anthology's editor, Claudia Mauro, is also the founding director of Whit Press, and she gave up the press's profits on the book to the farm. Kudos to that.
There are many luminaries in the book, from Robert Frost and Pablo Neruda, to Seamus Heaney, Wendell Berry and William Stafford, to name a few whose poems pleased me most. Delightful to me, someone who enjoys and reads poetry, was that nearly all the poems were new to me. And while some of the selections are too precious for my taste, odes to liver-spotted hands and laments about the horses who have passed before us will no doubt please others.
With that, I'll republish one of my favorite new-to-me poems from the collection, by William Stafford, which just happens to include in its first line the defining word of the collection, because it is repeated often (clod) and one of the best lines (just wait: you'll shudder like a gong, too). While this poem treads near preciousness (and even includes the word), for me it rings true: I imagine that late slant of light at the end of the day, the kind so many lyric poets can't help but write about, and the deep, wistful but sweetly contented feeling you get sitting in it.
It was all the clods at once become
precious; it was the barn, and the shed,
and the windmill, my hands, the crack
Arlie made in the ax handle: oh, let me stay
here humbly, forgotten, to rejoice in it all;
let the sun casually rise and set.
If I have not found the right place,
teach me; for somewhere inside, the clods are
vaulted mansions, lines through the barn sing
for the saints forever, the shed and windmill
rear so glorious the sun shudders like a gong.
Now I know why people worship, carry around
magic emblems, wake up talking dreams
they teach to their children: the world speaks.
The world speaks everything to us.
It is our only friend.
Thanks to Ecolibris, and its Green Books Campaign, which arranged for me more than 100 other bloggers to receive books for review. All of them are printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. A lot of paper goes into making books, and a lot of trees go into making paper, but they don't have to: Book lovers should ask for books printed on sustainable paper.
In Praise of Fertile Land, $15 at amazon.com.
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