Wendell Berry Tribute Day In the Louisville Paper

March 29, 2009

Two articles in today’s Courier-Journal about Wendell Berry that might interest people.  First, Actor’s Theatre in Louisville is set to beging performing a play, Wild Blessings, based on his work.  It’s apparently “composed of 36 poems” — and hopefully will work out better than that Billy Joel musical someone slapped together a few years back.  I don’t have much to say about it, though if I weren’t leaving for snowy Chicago today I wouldn’t mind going to see it.

The second article, “Poet will step off farm to hear works read on opening night,” is a brief profile of Berry which includes these entertaining sentences:

“In addition to poetry, Berry writes essays and novels by hand and his wife assists with the typing of them. He has made a slight concession to computers. His manuscripts are copied onto disks when it’s time to send them for publication by a main press.”

 That brings to mind a Berry-esque rant about handwriting in Bringhurst’s book that I read the other day (and was trying to figure out a way to make relevant to a posting):

“Many people now cannot form legible letterforms at all except by tapping on a keyboard.  For those people, writing and the alphabet have, quite literally, ceased to be human.  How do you expect to be able to cook good food or make good love when you write with prefabricated letters?  How do you expect to have good music if you live on a typographic diet of bad Helvetica and even worse Times New Roman — never mind the parodies of letters that flash across your cellphone screens and the parodies of numbers marching over the screens of your pocket calculators and cash-dispensing machines?  How can things so ill-formed have a meaning?” (“The Typographic Mind” in Everywhere Being Is Dancing pp.217-8)

My handwriting, as described by one classmate “is either the worst-best or the best-worst handwriting I’ve ever seen” and, in the words of another, “Looks really distinguished and pretty until you actually try to figure out what it says.”  (Or, as a teacher once put it, “It’s not illegible.  It’s just difficult.”)  So I’m not quite there yet — and I certainly don’t have the hand-stamina to do what Berry does.  I don’t know: I like to think that a little bit of one’s personality comes through in handwriting, which is part of why I don’t like reading handwriting that’s blandly sloppy — when it comes across like the person writing was irritated that they had to be bothered to take the time to write something out.

The idealized image of what handwriting should be, in my mind, will always be my grandfather’s (though it has suffered a little recently as he’s aged, but it’s still more elegant than mine, and probably than mine ever will be).  He’s a retired elementary school principal, and among the many laments he has about things that are no longer taught in schools is penmanship.  (And good posture.)


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