Wendell Berry’s Mad Farmer debuted in 1967 and still carries with him a distinctive whiff of that era — a revolutionary naturalist, an agrarian anarchist, proud to skillfully till both soil and his woman (and to apply the same verb to both acts). Religion, rooted in rural life, responsible stewardship of the land, and family bonds remain the lifelong preoccupations of Berry. The Mad Farmer poems, written over many years and brought together in this oversize edition along with distinctive engravings by Abigail Rorer, articulate these concerns in a character who is both prophet and political leader: This guy has a “Revolution,” “Prayers and Sayings,” a “Love Song,” two “Manifestos” (including a “Liberation Front” and a “First Amendment”), and finally “Secedes from the Union.” The character of the Mad Farmer, though, is not mere stand-in for Berry, writes his friend Ed McClanahan, who also spent decades in Port Royal, Kentucky, the inspiration for Berry’s fictional town of Port William. He is the classic “Holy Fool;” the “joke” of the poems, writes the author, “is that in a society gone insane with industrial greed and insecurity, a man exuberantly sane will appear ‘mad.'” Gathering the like-minded “in their own nation small enough for a story/or song to travel across in an hour,” he promises liberation “from the wage-slavery of the helplessly well-employed.” His final line concludes: “though for realization we may wait / a thousand or a million years.”
About the Author
Amy Benfer has worked as an editor and staff writer at Salon, Legal Affairs, and Paper magazine. Her reviews and features on books have appeared in Salon, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, The Believer, Kirkus Reviews, and The New York Times Book Review.