In celebration of the "farmer poet"

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"Where are today's farmer poets?" asks blogger Ben Myers in today's Guardian. Robert Burns was "actually a farmer who wrote his best work at night in his but'n'ben after a day's hard toil in the soil," Myers reminds us.

Myers also cites John Clare and Patrick Kavanagh as poets "who had no choice but to keep returning to work the land" and then wonders, "Who are the true British poets of the land today? ... [I]s the best emerging agricultural-inspired poetry more likely to come from small-holdings and organic farms and the emerging conservation and ecology movements? Does the new poetry reflect our changing understanding of farming and the land around us?"

Here in the US there was, of course, Robert Frost – who discovered first-hand exactly how hard it is to make a living on a farm.

Recommended: Poetry quiz: Can you match the poet to the poem?

There are also two contemporary variants on the "farmer poet" who come to mind immediately. One is Todd Boss, who celebrates the Midwestern farm on which he grew up in "Yellowrocket," his fine debut collection. And then there is Maxine Kumin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet who lives on a New Hampshire farm where she and her husband breed Arabian and quarter horses. (Pictures of Kumin's farm can be seen here in a slide show by Monitor photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman.)

The big difference between Boss and Kumin and the farmer poets of yore would be that neither Boss nor Kumin is required "to keep returning to work the land." Both have other options.  Yet both choose to draw on farming's rhythms in order to write. And both live with an uncomfortable awareness that such rhythms are fragile.

Perhaps that is the mark of today's farmer poet.

(Chapter & Verse readers, please remember that the Monitor’s weekly Books podcast is now available at iTunes. To download, just go to this link at iTunes.)

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