Archives For Kentucky


The Humane Vision of Wendell BerryCreating a Humane Vision for Our Places.

A Review of

The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

Mark T. Mitchell and Nathan Schleuter, eds.

Hardback: ISI Books, 2011.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Scot F. Martin

What a wild ride it has been these past couple of years.  First, Wendell Berry was appointed as special counsel to Department of Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, and convinced him that soil conservation should be the number one U.S. agricultural goal.  Then following the advice contained in a white paper authored by Mr. Berry the State and Defense Departments have begun shuttering numerous U.S. military bases overseas and we are moving from a bellicose foreign policy to one more in line with George Washington’s non-interventionist stance toward most world events.  Lastly, nearly every state capital has created infrastructure to assist interdependence between urban and rural citizens.  Not only have farmer’s markets displaced many large regional and national grocery store chains, but there are multiple sustainable economies developing in rural areas and small towns across America.  This is due, in no small part to the stumping of Wendell Berry.  We still have problems in 2012, but thanks to this veritable Berry-palooza we are nurturing healthier communities along with cleaner ecosystems.

…And then I woke up.

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A Review ofNew Covenant Bound.
T(ony) Crunk.
Paperback: UP of Kentucky, 2010.
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Reviewed by Thomas Turner.

The young poet T. Crunk’s latest work is a mixture of poetry and prose that tells the epic story of a family adversely affected by progress and the longing for an agrarian past. The words form a tangle of longing and the haunting of an old way of life that peruses the depths of Kentucky’s soul.

Crunk navigates the rising waters of a Tennessee Valley Authority project that displays scores of families with dam building, all for the sake of “progress.” Juxtaposed in the text are the old ways and new ways of living for a family that has lived the same way since they first touched Kentucky soil, and their inability to sail safely through the waters of progress and change are the focus of Crunk’s keen sense of place and time.

The sense of place is Crunk’s most dramatic arc, as the family must move from their old town to New Covenant. Bound for this new town, the family wrestles with the loss of a farm that served as their whole identity: when you are born and buried in the same place you live and work, place and identity have a way of becoming the same thing. The family’s hard life of farming seems cursed, and their curse doubles as their whole existence will soon be placed under billions of gallons of water:

Our only sin was being born where we were. And not giving up on
a land that often spited us.

Our only sin was not having what they thought was enough. And
being forced to take what they call help. (52)

What the government called help was diversion to an internment camp and not much else. What seemed like an opportunity for a fresh start for hundreds of subsistence farmers in Appalachia soon turned into a cynical view of government, progress and the value of life and land. Some move away to cities. Some commit suicide. Others stick around as close to their homeland as possible, hoping that they can re-create their life, but it is all for naught. The narrative of human flourishing and living on the land has been drowned like their farms, and the light of hope which once carried them through hardship and hunger has faded to the point that darkness can now overcome it.

Crunk’s poetry shapes the ethos of an age that is so different but so very much like our own, when progress is supposed to go about unobstructed and unopposed for the sake of the people, for our own good. But Crunk forces us to reflect on our history of unrelenting progress, that under every reservoir there might well be the hopes and dreams of people cast asunder to on our collective journey toward a “brighter” future.

Brief Review: NEW COVENANT BOUND by Tony Crunk [Vol. 3, #42]


University Press of Kentucky has just released the excellent book

Wendell Berry: Life and Work.
Jason Peters, ed.

in a new, affordable paperback edition!

[ Buy the paperback edition on ]

Read an excerpt from this superb book:


Here is a recent video of Wendell Berry reading and commenting on his short story “Making it Home” (found in That Distant Land), in a talk given at the Wisconsin Book Festival.

If you enjoy this video, you will want to check out our recent reviews of a new Wendell Berry book and audiobook from last Friday’s issue:

This is a long video, and if it keeps stopping and buffering, you might want to hit the pause button for a few minutes and let most of it load.


Humility, Reverence, Propriety of Scale,
and Good Workmanship

A Review of
Imagination in Place:
by Wendell Berry.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.

Imagination in Place.
Wendell Berry.

Hardback: Counterpoint, 2010.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Imagination in Place - Wendell BerryIn the last chapter of The Essential Agrarian Reader, Wendell Berry contrasts two types of minds, first the rational mind, “hell-bent on quantification,” failing to include “things that cannot be quantified – the health of watersheds, the integrity of ecosystems, the wholeness of human hearts.” As a corrective is the “affective or sympathetic mind,” which works in a particular context with a sort of creative sympathy towards places and communities. Furthermore, working in a context makes impossible the reductionism and abstraction of the rational mind, instead acknowledging that our “pictures of realities…are constantly subject to correction – by new facts, of course, but also by experience, by intuition, and by faith. We may say, then, that our sciences and arts owe a certain courtesy to Reality, and that this courtesy can be enacted only by humility, reverence, propriety of scale, and good workmanship.”

Berry’s newest book of essays, Imagination in Place, could be characterized as expanding the description of the ‘sympathetic mind’ as Berry has experienced it as a farmer and a writer, and even more as he has come to recognize and depend on that mind in the work and friendship of other writers. One mark of all these writers, Berry included, is that they are ‘placed,’ and not in the easy sentimentalization of ‘Place’ that seems to be floating around recently; rather, “to submit to the unending effort to change one’s mind and ways to fit one’s farm. This is a hard education, which lasts all one’s life, never to be completed” (10). This ongoing work, in which “nature [is] the inevitable mirror and measure of art” (11) is the work of imagination, as Berry will continue to make clear.

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A Brief Review of

That Distant Land.
Wendell Berry.
Read by Michael Kramer.

AudioBook: ChristianAudio, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianAudio ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Wendell Berry’s stories have always had the feel of being told by a storyteller in the ancient oral tradition of storytelling.  Berry has crafted, in Port William, Kentucky, a believable world in which characters share life and death together.  And now, in ChristianAudio’s new audiobook release of Berry’s That Distant Land, narrator Michael Kramer tells Berry’s stories with a fabulous Kentucky drawl that makes one feel as if he is a visitor hearing the local storyteller recounting events in his own town.  That Distant Land is a complex work, a compilation of three of Berry’s earlier volumes of Port William short stories (The Wild Birds, Fidelity and Watch With Me), the stories of which are rearranged into the chronological order of Port William and interspersed with four additional stories that had not previously appeared in Berry’s short story collections.  The tales here, although written as discrete short stories, when taken together in the order of That Distant Land, have the effect of a novel that sweepingly covers over a century of Port William’s history.  For readers who want to enter into the world of Berry’s Port William, That Distant Land is a wonderful place to begin as it provides a context in which the other Port William novels can be understood, and for those who are not in a hurry and want immerse themselves in the rich experience of oral storytelling, ChristianAudio’s recording of That Distant Land is ideal.  Although the characters are imaginations of Berry’s sympathetic mind (see the above review of Imagination in Place), this is a compelling portrait of his agrarian Kentucky, a real place that has given form and meaning to Berry’s own life.  One can hear a hint of autobiography, as Andy Catlett recalls in the story that lends its title to the book:

I had lived away, working in the city, for several years, and had returned home only that spring.  I was thirty years old, I had a wife and children, and my return had given a sudden sharp clarity to my understanding of my home country.  Every fold of the land, every blade of grass and leaf of it gave me joy, for I saw how my own place in it had been prepared, along with its failures and its losses.  Though I knew that I had returned to difficulties… I was joyful.

This joy of finding fulfillment in a place is an important message for churches as we seek to be faithful to the redemptive mission of God in an age marked by transience.  There is much that we can learn from Berry’s imagination, deeply rooted in place, and its outworking in the world of Port William, Kentucky.  That Distant Land, and particularly Michael Kramer’s audio rendering of it, serves as a wonderful introduction to this poignant imagination.


A Strange Land and a Peculiar People

A Review of
Work and Faith in the Kentucky Coal Fields:
Subject to Dust
by Richard J. Callahan, Jr.

 by Stephen Lawson


“[Appalachia is] a strange land and a peculiar people”
-James Lane Allen


Work and Faith in the Kentucky Coal Fields:
Subject to Dust

by Richard J. Callahan, Jr.

University of Indiana Press, 2009. 259 pages.
Buy now from:   [ Amazon ]


If you turn on a light switch or plug in your computer in this country then you are connected with coal. Coal has long been (and still continues to be) the biggest generator of electricity in America. Whenever a commodity rises in importance as much as coal has in the last 150 years, then the lives of people are inevitably affected. Work and Faith in the Kentucky Coal Fields: Subject to Dust by Richard J. Callahan, Jr. chronicles the change that the coal industry brought to eastern Kentucky in the early twentieth century.

            Historians have an understandable tendency to focus on “important” people and events leaving the day-in, day-out struggles and work of the unnamed masses to the wayside. After all, the men and women who tilled the land, worked the mines, and built cathedrals and palaces seldom wrote their stories down. They were too busy surviving. When it comes to the history of faith, this means that church historians tend to spend their time discussing the importance of theologians, church councils and creeds. Most historians never ask how the faith of the people on the ground is being lived and breathed. When most of these historians of the church look at the religious history of Appalachia they see an area that by the late nineteenth century had situated itself outside the stream of economic and religious progression that the rest of the country had been enjoying. Nearly every treatment of Appalachian model has followed this (what Callahan calls) “retarded frontier” model. Scholarly and popular treatments alike have viewed Appalachia as a quaint region whose people have clung to antiquated practices (for example, most church historians focus on snake handling) that our modern age has moved past. They study Appalachia as if it were a place to go on safari. Callahan sets himself against these histories that treat Appalachia like a strange place where people are very much different from us. Continue Reading…