Today I read a poem whose author is still alive, and I’m a fan. Wendell Berry (b. 1934) is a very versatile and prolific author of essays, novels, poetry – as well as a small farmer in his birthplace in Kentucky. Here is a fresh and simple poem about a man on vacation:
Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.
This was imagined before the invention of Go Pro, or was it? The poem is from a collection published in 2012. Anyway, I see a man with a bulky Video 8 mounted on his shoulders, eager to record every second of his ‘free’ flowing time.
But when Wendell talks about the moving picture of the moving river, I am thrown back three millennia to Heraclitus’ ‘you can’t step into the same river twice’. Recordings seems meaningless and become moving in the sense of touching. The only meaningful destination the boat has is the end of the vacation, instilling in some readers the silent wish that he may turn the vessel around, switch off the camera and open a beer or two.
Then the poet goes on to explicate that image of the man obsessed with his preservation in a painful, well-crafted and enjambed matter-of-factish sentence. And of course the man himself would never be in it. I sometimes enjoy a simple poem like this (or did I perchance overlook something?) but I’ll read more Berry another time.