The Mad Farmer Poems

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."

July 24: On this day in 1725 John Newton, the slave trader-preacher who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," was born.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).