How To Be a Poet

Have you ever wanted to be a poet, but just weren’t sure how to get started? Well, Wendell Berry’s got you covered. I am up to my eyeballs in his writing right now, which is kind of fun and kind of uncomfortable. Mostly he writes about the need for people to connect meaningfully and productively with their place. This poem looks like a departure from his usual message, but then again, maybe not.  My favorite lines are at the end of the second stanza: “There are no unsacred places;/there are only sacred places/and desecrated places.” Enjoy!

How To Be a Poet
by Wendell Berry

(to remind myself)


Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill–more of each
than you have–inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.


Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.


Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.


3 thoughts on “How To Be a Poet

  1. I dip into Berry now and then, but not enough. What are you reading right now? What are your favorite prose pieces?

    1. Right now I’m making my way through _The Art of the Commonplace_, a collection of Berry’s “agrarian essays.” The editor irritates me, but I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve read so far. And really, most of his essays look so fascinating. I’m afraid I have to just recommend the entire book.

      1. Well, ok, how about “A Native Hill,” “Feminism, the Body, and the Machine,” “Men and Women in Search of Common Ground,” “The Body and the Earth,” “People, Land, and Community,” “Two Economies,” “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” and “The Pleasures of Eating.” Of that very long list, prob “A Native Hill” and “The Pleasures of Eating” are my favorites.

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