Listen: The Poet's Perspective on Harvest and Food Issues - Home (stereo)

The following edition of The Poet's Perspective is on the subject of harvesting, food, and the environment. The program features Southwest Minnesota regional poets Joe and Nancy Paddock.

This is the eighth of nine programs funded in part by the Minnesota Humanities Commission, bringing the poet's perspective to regional issues from Minnesota Public Radio's Poet in Residence. The series was produced in the Worthington studios. It is presented as it was broadcast over KRSW's regional magazine, Home for the Weekend.


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JOE PADDOCK: Everything that lives eats food and is food in turn. This complicated animal man rests on a vast and delicate pyramid of energy transformations. To grossly use more than you need, to destroy is biologically unsound. Much of the production and consumption of modern societies is not necessary or conducive to spiritual and cultural growth, let alone survival, and is behind much greed and envy, age old causes of social and international discord.

Man's careless use of resources and his total dependence on certain substances such as fossil fuels, which are being exhausted slowly but certainly are having harmful effects on all the other members of the life network. The complexity of modern technology renders whole populations vulnerable to the deadly consequences of the loss of any one key resource. Instead of independence, we have over dependence on life-giving substances such as water, which we squander.

Many species of animals and birds have become extinct in the service of fashion fads or fertilizer or industrial oil. The soil is being used up. In fact, mankind has become a locust like blight on the planet that will leave a bare cupboard for its own children, all the while in a kind of addict's dream of affluence, comfort, eternal progress, using the great achievements of science to produce software and swill. Balance, harmony, humility, growth, which is a mutual growth with the Redwood and the quail, to be a good member of the great community of living creatures, true affluence is not needing anything.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: Everything possible should be done to better the economic condition of the farmer and also to increase the social value of the life of the farmer, a farmer's wife, and their children. The burdens of labor and loneliness bear heavily on the women in the country. Their welfare should be the special concern of all of us. Everything possible should be done to make life in the country profitable, so as to be attractive from the economic standpoint. And there should be just the same chance to live as full and well rounded and as highly useful lives in the country as in the city.

The government must cooperate with the farmer to make the farm more productive. There must be no skinning of the soil. The farm should be left to the farmer's son in better and not worse condition because of its cultivation. Moreover, every invention and improvement, every discovery in the economy should be at the service of the farmer in the work of production. And, in addition, he should be helped to cooperate in business fashion with his fellows so that the money paid by the consumer for the product of the soil shall, to as large a degree as possible, go into the pockets of the man who raised that product.


(SINGING) When the farmer comes to town with his wagon loaded down

The farmer is the man who feeds them all

If you only look and see

KIM HODGSON: The farmer is the man who even now is probably out in the fields picking corn this somewhat belated harvest season. Good morning and welcome to Home for the Weekend, made possible this morning in part with funds provided by the Western Bank and Trust of Marshall and the Otto Bremer Foundation of Saint Paul. I'm Kim Hodgson. Vickie Sturgeon is back with us this morning, having returned from sunny California. Good morning and welcome back.

Well, it's the harvest season. And we thought it would be appropriate this morning to consider some thoughts about food and some of the ways it is, was, and perhaps will be produced. Our program began with the words of poet, Gary Snyder from his book Turtle Island, as read by Joe Paddock. And then you heard President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a reminder that, from the political perspective, the plight of the farmer has always made good copy.

Later in the program, we'll consider some trends in farming from the perspective of, of all people, a couple of area farmers. And we'll examine the life chain and some of man's past and present interactions with it from the poet's perspective of Joe and Nancy Paddock. So do stay tuned.

[PETE SEEGER, "THE FARMER IS THE MAN"] Lives on credit till the fall

Then they take him by the hand

And they lead him from the land

The middleman's the man that gets it all

KIM HODGSON: How many of us still say grace at our tables. And of those who do, how many say it automatically with little thought to the meaning behind the act. When I lived and worked in Navajo country, I often saw small shrines erected in gratitude to a deer, perhaps, or some other animal which had become food for someone's table. And this, I suppose, was grace in its most direct form, a thanks to the spirit of the animal, which gave its life so that humans might live.

Now, with most of our meat and produce cellophane wrapped in the supermarket, it may become easier to lose sight of our place in the life chain. Well, we still have poets like Joe and Nancy Paddock to remind us. Poets who have not forgotten grace and thanksgiving and praise.


NANCY PADDOCK: I'm going to read a poem that's by Thomas McGrath, and it's part of his longer poem called "Letter to an Imaginary Friend."

JOE PADDOCK: I think we should say that Tom is a Minnesota poet who grew up in North Dakota but has lived in Minnesota in recent years.

NANCY PADDOCK: Yes, it's called "Praises."

The vegetables please us with their modes and virtues.

The demure heart of the lettuce inside its circular court,

Baroque ear of quiet under its rustling house of lace pleases us.

And the bold strength of the celery, the green Hispanic shout,

Its exclamatory confetti and the analog that is onion,

Ptolemaic astronomy and tearful allegory, the platonic circles,

Of his inexhaustible soul.

Oh, and the straightforwardness in the labyrinth of cabbage, the infallible rectitude of homegrown mushroom,

Under its cone of silence like a papal hat.

All these please us,

And the syllabus of the corn that wampum,

Its golden roads leading out of the wigwams of its silky and youthful smoke,

The nobility of the dill, cool in its silences and cathedrals,

Tomatoes five-alarm fires in their musky barrios,

Peas asleep in their cartridge clips,

Beetsblood, colonies of the imperial cauliflower,

And the buddha-like seeds of the pepper,

Turning their prayer wheels in the green gloom of their caves.

All these we praise, they please us always these smallest virtues,

All these Earth-given and the heaven-hung fruit also as instance,

Banana which continually makes angelic ears out of sour purses,

Or the whiny abacus of the Holy grape on its cross of alcohol,

Or the peach with its fur like a young girl's,

All these we praise, the winter and the flesh of the apple and the sun,

Domesticated under the orange's rind, we praise,

By the skin of our teeth, persimmon and pawpaw's constant affair with gravity,

And the proletariat of the pomegranate inside its leathery city.

And let us praise all these as they please us skin, flesh, flower,

And the flowering bones of their seeds,

From which come orchards, bees, honey, flowers, loves language, love, heart's ease, poems, praise.


JOE PADDOCK: One of the things that poets have done surprisingly a lot over historical time is to use poetry to raise consciousness and awareness of being part of this cycle. It's surprising how much you can look into things like leaves of grass or Sandburg's saying, I am the grass. Shovel them under and let me work, sort of thing. This is called flow, and I wrote this when I was up in, again, sort of living off the land, you know, half of my food or something like that.

Also, becoming very aware of how everything was feeding on everything else around me, it's kind of horrific sometimes when you are sitting in the evening, and you realize that all this crawling and whining and coughing and hacking going on out in the brush around you is one thing searching for another to get it inside of itself, you know.

NANCY PADDOCK: When you go out there, they're after you too, at least the mosquitoes and the wood ticks.

JOE PADDOCK: Yeah. I call this poem "Just Flow."

Flicker, feathers scattered in dust,

Worm burrows in plums,

Wasps in the body of a dead shrew,

Around here, everything constantly eating everything else,

Trails in grass to trench, where I dump heads and entrails of fish,

Beetles, orange and black backs crawl clumsy from eye sockets,

Coon droppings, skunk, cat, back of our outhouse,

Everything eating, everything else,

Nature flowing through the gut of herself.

NANCY PADDOCK: This was quite an experience for me being, you know, city grown. And, I guess, I did feel so much part of that chain once I lived up there for a while and found that-- I guess what I finally discovered is that, if you're willing to take life in order to live, then you have to be willing to give it back. And this poem is called "The Gift."

Without our will, we find ourselves like grass reaching out of the ground,

Swallowing bodies of animals and plants,

We merge with them. Nothing is our own,

Plant me naked under fallen leaves in spring,

Let maggots waken in my flesh,

Let beetles open out my eyes,

Lay eggs along my grinning teeth,

Let fieldmice nibble calcium from my hand,

And young plants swell my hips,

Wasps give my body wings.


(SINGING) Well, you can't hide hurtin' me all the time

And you may never come my way

Mother Earth is waitin' for you

There's a debt you've got to pay

I don't care how rich you are

I don't care what you're worth

When it all comes down

You've got to go back to Mother Earth

Well, you may have a million dollars

And you may drive a Cadillac

You may have enough money

To buy anything you like

I don't care how rich you are

I don't care what you're worth

When it all comes down,

You got to, you got to go back to Mother Earth

NANCY PADDOCK: This is from Wendell Berry from a poem called "Manifesto, the Mad Farmer Liberation Front."

Invest in the millennium, plant sequoias,

Say that your main crop is the forest,

That you did not plant,

That you will not live to harvest,

Say that the leaves are harvested,

When they have rotted into the mold,

Call that profit,

Prophesy such returns,

Put your faith in the two inches of humus,

That will build under the trees,

Every 1,000 years.

There's a lot more to this poem, but that's really being part of the cycle, I think.


["THE VEGETABLE SONG," PLAYING] Late one night, a pale moonlight

All the vegetables gave a spree

They put out a sign the dance at night

And all the admission was free

There were peas and green cabbage and beans

The biggest crowd you ever seen

And old man cucumber

Struck up his number

You ought to have heard the vegetables scream

Oh, the little turnip top did the backwoods flop

The cabbage is doin' the shimmy

She couldn't stop

Little red beet shook its feet

The watermelon died in a cockeyed heap

Little tomato, agigator, shook the shimmy with a sweet potato

And old man garlic dropped dead of the colic

Down at the barnyard dance this morning

Down at the barnyard dance

JOE PADDOCK: There is a kind of back to the land movement that a lot of people have involved themselves in, I think, in the last decade. And I took part in that for a while myself. And I wrote a short poem, very short poem called "Eating Wild Food."

Salads of cattail, dandelion and plantain,

And for a boiled and buttered green,

Give me milkweed, stalk, pod, flower, and top leaves,

Blue gills and berries, catfish broiled in long slabs,

And come the fall venison and roast raccoon, we thrive.

There is nothing but teeth in our smiles.

(SINGING) Watermelon died with a cockeyed heap

The little tomato, agitator, shook the shimmy with the sweet potato

And old man garlic dropped dead with the colic

Down at the barnyard dance this morning

Down at the barnyard dance

NANCY PADDOCK: This is Ida Smith talking about her family, where she grew up with 15 children in the family.

We always had a huge garden. When it came time to harvest, we were allowed in the garden. But when the garden was growing, my parents were very strict that we did not get in the garden, so we wouldn't walk on some of the plants. Each plant meant food for the winter.

JOE PADDOCK: Yeah. She had that very respectful attitude about food. When you grow your own, kids don't play in that garden, and the dogs don't run out there and dig up pocket gophers and things like that. It was serious. It's something you had to watch over.

NANCY PADDOCK: They were out there picking the bugs off of the plants by hand, she said.

JOE PADDOCK: Well, in this particular interview, she goes on to describe the detail work that went on, you know. Like one thing after another, she talks about picking the bugs off the cabbage and things like that, the potato bugs, the first sweetcorn that came in, canning, doing barrels of sauerkraut, rendering lard, churning butter, all of these things. And a couple of pages down, why, her husband comes in and talks about how he watched her family, that was more primitive in these things than his family, threshing their own beans.

Then he gets talking about how he raised a special pig for himself every year. He says, did you ever eat pork that's raised on cracked corn, oats, and separated milk or buttermilk? It would make you hungry just to smell it frying. Oh, that was delicious. That stuff you get today isn't fit to eat. That's a fact. I used to beg a pig out of a guy that lived in the south end of Redwood. I'd get a run from him, and I'd take it home and put it in the barn. And every other day it was, I'd go to the creamery and get a 10-gallon can of buttermilk.

I'd take it home and dump it in the swill barrel. And then I'd put in so many pails of this ground feed into that, and it would ferment. You'd feed him a pail of that twice a day, morning and evening or whatever he could eat. Boy, I'll tell you, that made the best damn pork you ever ate in your life.

Yeah, I heard that again and again doing interviews, that the meat that people get today is decidedly second class compared to what they could do with themselves.

We've got a number of people talking in this particular interview. Olivia [? Peeple, ?] Bill Moran, Agnes O'Halloran, and Emma Holliday. They're all related people. Agnes starts.

NANCY PADDOCK: In the fall. You take in your load of wheat to get around, and you'd get a ton of flour. That's what we always did. It was in 100-pound sacks. There wasn't very much of a problem getting rid of it when you had eight people eating out of it and about 20 to 30 loaves of bread a week. It went down.

JOE PADDOCK: My father had to go to Bird Island in the early days to have the wheat ground, especially the buckwheat. We'd have buckwheat pancakes. And we use cornmeal, too. Yeah, lots of johnnycakes. That's still good. I think we shelled it by hand, brought in the sacks of shelled corn. Many people had their little hand mill, you know, and grounded at home.

When we butchered, you know, they'd have this big barrel of salt water that had to have enough salt in it to float an egg. You'd soak the meat in that. And when you took it out, it was blue. My mother used to cook it in water first, parboil it to get the salt out, the hams and the bacon. We never got a bite of the hams till Easter. That's the only time we ever got ham. We had side pork and that other stuff. We thought it was terrible, but it was pretty good. Now, we try to get it, and it just doesn't taste like the old time stuff.

NANCY PADDOCK: Emma. We used to have a stone house on the farm. We smoked the ham in that house. Gladys' mother used corncobs for the smoking, and it turned out all right. It was good. Agnes. If you had a Smokehouse now, they'd come and steal it. Smokehouse and all.

JOE PADDOCK: Bill. We never got milk, you know. I don't know why we never got some milk. Most of the Germans always had milk on the table, and we never had it. I never did figure it out. We'd get half a cup of coffee and mother would make skim milk and put a little cream in it. And, when we put that damn stuff in the coffee, it was blue. I remember I said, if I ever get by myself, I'm going to have cream. Gosh. So I got a Jersey cow and brought it in town here on a 75-foot lot. And I had cream.

NANCY PADDOCK: Emma. We'd fry down pork and put it in a crock jar and pour the lard on top. And that sealed it. That was good to the end. It kept easily from butchering to butchering, probably three months.

JOE PADDOCK: Bill. We used to butcher veal and can that, and boy, that was really good. Butchering was a time we got a little whiskey and passed it around. We always had a jug of whiskey in the cupboard, and our stepfather would say, any time you want some whiskey, you can have it. We never touched it, but mother would always give us a little hot toddy at butchering time because the men would always have a shot of whiskey. They didn't mix it with water. Or 7 Up. It was whiskey.

The neighbors would always help. You didn't do your own butchering. That's when the neighbors would come. That was a good time. The only one that I know who butchered by the side of the moon was Jim Haney. He talked about that a lot. We butchered when we got hungry, or when we ran out of meat, not when the moon sign came up,

SPEAKER: Now it should come.

SPEAKER: Is that the cat?


SPEAKER: Is there a cat?

SPEAKER: They have a poor stomach.

NANCY PADDOCK: Emma. We always butchered the best at home. The hogs were 180 pounds to 200. They were nice and lean, but well fed. Anything that got too big or overfed, we put on the market.

JOE PADDOCK: Bill. I'm going to tell her something. The best meat that I ever had, they butchered a 950-pound pig and brought us a roast. Do you remember sending a roast over to us? That was the best meat I ever had.

NANCY PADDOCK: Agnes. I remember the time that they butchered the beef and five hogs, and dad went someplace, and I had to cut up all that meat myself. Oh, brother. That went on into the second day, and we had a girl working, too. I put in as much as 18 hours a day many times.

SPEAKER: I had to cut a little bit here.

SPEAKER: You can see, you know. Your knife is dull.

SPEAKER: Yeah, I guess. Don't get the kidneys, though. Now, cut that.

JOE PADDOCK: Bill. We always made blood sausage. Saved the blood. They'd use a pan and put salt in it and keep stirring it. You had to stir it fast, or it would clot on you. You had to put somebody really fast on that to keep it from curdling. You put meat in it, too.

NANCY PADDOCK: Agnes. You wouldn't know it was blood sausage basted in ducks grease. You put pearl barley in to fill it. That was the thickening, you know. It was good. Emma. We made head cheese, too. That's made from the parts of the head and then the heart and tongue. You can make that any time. You don't have to have the head to make it. You just need some pork with bone in it. You have to have the bones so it will set. But the ears and tongue and all that stuff really make it taste good. Salt, honey, and spices like whole pepper. You grind your own pepper to make it flavored nice. A little bay leaf. It's delicious eating.


SPEAKER: I don't know. Sometimes we can just pull the liver out of there because it's just fat on it.

SPEAKER: Pig, you can.

SPEAKER: Yeah, but this is just a little--

SPEAKER: I think Shirley wants it.

SPEAKER: Does your mother want liver, Stephen?

SPEAKER: I don't think so.

SPEAKER: One in the family, mama.

SPEAKER: No, really, that's true. I still have some, too, in the tray. That might be--

SPEAKER: Your knife is too dull.

SPEAKER: You're telling me.

SPEAKER: It really is dull.

SPEAKER: Be careful now what you're doing there so you don't--

SPEAKER: Yeah. No, the gall is already out.

SPEAKER: The gall is out. Good.


SPEAKER: I think a family farm, the way I see it is over the large organizations, large farming. You're in tune, you're in touch. You're close to it, and you really feel this warmth of the land and the crops and all this. And you worry about it. You go to bed with it on your mind. And. If it's not too many acres, you're talking like 1,000 acres or 500 acres, you can just reach out and you can look after it. And you don't have to probably get into this insecticide and herbicide is heavy because you can control the quality. You can stay right on top of it.

But if you do get into intensive farming, you get into the thousands of acres. You have to use every means available, everything that will destroy and save time and labor because you just don't have the time to cover it. And I think that's probably where the difference is. And I think that's why the family farm should exist. I mean, I think it should be here if you want quality.

KIM HODGSON: Bruce Hartberg, farmer and manufacturer near Heron Lake is also a past president of the concerned Farmers of America. Earlier this week, Vickie spoke with Hartberg and also with David Benson, who farms near Bigelow about food production and about the family farm. Benson believes it is the diversified rather than the single crop farmer who produces the best food.

DAVID BENSON: There's really not very much concern. The cash grain farmer really isn't really at all concerned with the quality of the product that he's putting out because there's no protein tests. There's no amino acid balance test on anything that he sells. It's sold simply on weight. And, until we get into quality in terms of, what will this food do? Well, this food raise healthy animals, you know. Unless we get into that kind of a thing, you know, the bigger and bigger farms are going to succeed because they're basically changing petroleum into plant structures.

VICKIE STURGEON: How about the marketing system? Is there something within that system that promotes this kind of mechanized agriculture? Or is there something within that system that you would like to see changed that might help the smaller farmer out or more diversified farmer out?

DAVID BENSON: Well, you know, the way marketing is done now is you're anonymous, obviously. I mean, because there's no premium that's paid for good quality food, everything is dumped together. And I think, unless farmers are going to see that they really are the producers, the primary producers in a society in terms of producing the food and see that that food is valuable and precious and worth a price, I think, you know, we're going to have problems in agriculture.

Because, unless you get a person, I guess, that thinks their product and their work is worthwhile enough to price it or attempt to price it, it's going to be a lot of trouble because you just end up going in and saying, what do you give me? What are what are beans worth today? And I do it. You know, I call up the elevator and say, you know, what are beans worth today? And that's an interesting thing. It's kind of a reversal of what it should be in a sense.

VICKIE STURGEON: Many people will argue that higher farm prices will automatically save the small farmer. Lester Schmidt, professor of agribusiness at Southwest State University, disagrees. Schmidt says, even if farmers receive 100% of parity, small farmers would continue to go out of business. With our capital intensive system of agriculture, it's only natural that each generation of new farmers needs a larger land base to operate from.

LESTER SCHMIDT: Well, I think we're going to have larger and larger farms as we get to another generation. That many of these farms that perhaps are doing quite well at 200 acres with a lot of livestock, that when the next generation has to take over that farm at some kind of land prices that are at least close to what they are in the general market today, that they in turn will have to get larger in order to become efficient enough to keep going. Now, if we get higher prices of farm products, it seems to me that this might not mean that we have smaller farms, as some people would hope we would.

Unless we get some kind of way in which we regulate the number of hours farmers work like we do with people on jobs that work 40 hours a week, well, then of course, we might have smaller farms. But that doesn't seem to be in the picture at all.

VICKIE STURGEON: Bruce Hartberg of Heron Lake agrees with Dr. Schmidt, that farms are going to get larger. But Hartberg also believes that farmers have the power to raise their prices if they change their farming practices and simply produce less.

BRUCE HARTBERG: We have overproduction today. And, if we you want to think of it, put it back in a practical, we've been oversold on a lot of things, on our methods of farming. We've been told that we have to go into corn drying, you know, using propane and expensive energy products that could be used for heating homes and other things. Now, I just come back from Iowa, and I drove up through considerable of all the way from Des Moines, and I noticed probably 40 or 50 old style corn pickers, you know, the ear corn picker that was out there taking it by the ear. And these fellows were doing a real fine job.

There's no cost involved here. They're not using up this energy. And I think this thing could go back. And I think another thing, if we would maybe go back to rotation, simple farming, alfalfa, oats, follow up with corn or beans or whatever, and go back to this type of operation, cut back a little bit on this fertilizer, which is very expensive-- has risen three times over what it has been five years back-- and I think we would probably raise less. And we would need federal aid.

We would have a quality product because we're getting away from a lot of insecticides and herbicides. Because the reasons you have to have these herbicides are basically because you have gotten into continuous corn, continuous wheat, or whatever you're growing. And you breed a species of earthworm or-- not earthworms, but wireworms that eat, you know, the ruts and this type of thing. And, if you'd have had a three-year space in there, where the ground would not have that continuous crop, you wouldn't have these problems.

We wouldn't be applying these things that we really don't know that are cancer causing. We don't know this. We won't know maybe for another 20 years or another generation. So I think that then that would take care of itself. Say that, for an example, we went back to 60 to 80 bushel production. It may seem a little scary to some of these fellows because they've got some high priced land, but we would get the dollar for this corn. And we wouldn't have to have the government come in and supporting us.

Maybe we would get $4.50 for our corn. Then it would look better to have 80 bushel corn instead of 120. But I think, if we went into rotation and back to what I call normal farming instead of this intensive farming, we would probably alleviate a lot of our problems. And we wouldn't need this massive machinery operation at a critical time of the year. If you've got all corn, everything falls at one time. So you have to have huge equipment, manpower, and everything hits you just like that.

Now, if you were strung out with small grains and alfalfa, your operation would be broke up over the year, and a guy wouldn't get these frustrations and these heart attacks that's killing some of these guys because they're really breaking their tails.

VICKIE STURGEON: Many people disagree with Hartberg. They argue that the large farmer with his huge investments in land and machinery is permanently locked into a system of intensive production.

BRUCE HARTBERG: I would disagree. And these intensive farmers can be very flexible. I think they can go into rotation. They can have their hay crops and their small grains and their corn and soybeans. They can do it just as easily as this intensive farming, you were told in a sense, the system tells you you have to gear, and you had to gear and you had to go. And it always looks nice to have all this big beautiful equipment and do a tremendous things.

But there's a tremendous investment involved here. I know people that have a quarter of a million invested in just a drying set up. And then they have four tandem trucks because, the thing, it all came at one time. Now, it would be lots easier for them if they had small grain and alfalfa and this. But these are not necessarily, the big money crops either. You see, oats is not a big money crop. Alfalfa has been a good crop. It's lost its value this year, but it's a good crop. It's a safe crop. Then, again, I think the thing would work if we'd go back to rotation, and I think it would work with large farming operations too.

VICKIE STURGEON: Bruce Hartberg, farmer and manufacturer near Heron Lake. In evaluating our evolving system of agribusiness, some critics, like David Benson, believe that many farmers have forsaken the original purpose of agriculture.

DAVID BENSON: If we look at it with the same criteria that we look at, you know, automobile production or something like that, then, I guess, you'd have to say we're going to have to get bigger. But I think, if you look at it in terms of the energy balance, and I think we're going to have to look at everything in our society in terms of its energy balance, of what do we really put into a 160 acres of land every year and what do we take out, how many pounds of high-quality protein, human edible protein or whatever, or foodstuffs for animals, but how many pounds of, of good quality protein do you get out and what do you put in, I think if we start evaluating our agriculture in terms of its energy, I think we'll find that maybe the super, super mechanized, super whatever, super modern farming maybe doesn't look quite as attractive in terms of its energy relationships.

And I'm not saying that we should go back to what was, but I think there's kind of an intermediate area that we can have families working together. And God knows that I think that it's going to be harder work, maybe. I really think that farming the way I'd like to see it, I guess, or the way I feel that I do it is harder physical work. Now, the way I'm doing it then, then I guess I could have it. I think it could be easier for me in terms of my body.

But I don't think that's, you know, the main issue. I guess I don't have as one of my values the avoidance of manual labor because I think manual labor is part of your whole being, unless you're working your body, your head isn't right and your soul probably isn't right either.

VICKIE STURGEON: David Benson, who operates a diversified farm near Bigelow.


JOE PADDOCK: We could begin talking, I think, about contemporary situation in terms of food production. Poetry that describes it is extremely rare, and we haven't-- that is not critical that is. The sort of thing you might run into. It would be something of this sort from Sandburg. And this is more about describing improved farmland or how farmland was improved. Talking about an area where there was timber, which isn't exactly what we had out here on the prairies. "Improved Farm Land."

Tall timbers stood here once, here on a corn belt farm along the Monon,

Here, the roots of a half-mile of trees dug their runners deep in the loam for a grip and a hold against windstorms.

Then the axemen came and the chips flew to the zing of steel and handle.

The lank railsplitters cut the big ones first, the beeches and the oaks, then the brush,

Dynamite, wagons, and horses took the stumps,

The plows sunk their teeth in,

Now, it is first-class corn land, improved property,

And the hogs grunt over the fodder crops.

It would come hard now for this half mile of improved farm land along the Monon corn belt on a piece of Grand Prairie,

To remember once it had a great singing family of trees.

I think the poet's perspective is usually going back to some sort of anxiety about a loss in nature, and recently a whole new wave of poetry, which is critical, questioning, satirical poetry about the way we produce food and the way we use the land as cropped up.

NANCY PADDOCK: Cropped up.

SPEAKER: Nice word.

JOE PADDOCK: Yeah so to speak. In response.

NANCY PADDOCK: I'm going to read a poem of Gary Snyder's from his book Turtle Island. It's called "Steak."

Up on the bluff, the steak houses called The Embers, called Fireside,

With a smiling disney cow on the sign or a stockman's pride,

Huge full color photo of standing Hereford stud,

Above the very booth his bloody sliced muscle is served in rare.

The chamber of Commerce eats there,

The visiting lecturer, stockmen in Denver suits, Japanese-American,

Animal nutrition experts from Kansas with Buddhist beads,

And down by the tracks in frozen mud in the feedlots,

Fed surplus grain, the ripped off land.

The beeves are standing around bread heavy,

Steaming, stamping, long-lashed, slowly thinking with the rhythm of their breathing,

Frosty breezy early morning prairie sky.

JOE PADDOCK: I have a poem which I call "As I Passed," and I'm talking about things that disturb me a little bit as I'm walking through this particular neighborhood, how we've related to aspects of our environment and animal life around us.

Further along, a parked cattle truck heaved and groaned,

As the weight of its load shifted over springs.

I could hear the breathing,

The clunk of hooves on planks,

Soft bellows and moans,

Through slats, dozens of heavy boned legs shifting, shifting,

The swing and swish of tails.

And as my eyes saw better into the dark,

They saw the eyes looking back through slats,

Soft, dark eyes, which caught tiny glinting of light,

Answering my curiosity without hostility,

Staring at me as I passed.

NANCY PADDOCK: I have a poem called "Gross National Product," which talks about how the land has been modified for our use.

Thin house stripped and empty,

Squatting awkward in a field of wheat that springs right up to the door.

Wheat that is small and green as a lawn,

A flat sea spreading road to road,

An Elm sapling leaps out of the shadow of the house,

Gripping the only stones unturned,

Where bare ditch banks cut straight as meridian lines across sprayed fields,

And County roads laid over the features of the land,

Become a graph plotting profit and loss.

JOE PADDOCK: I have one more poem which I'd like to read a part of. I feel kind of strangely about this poem because Nancy and I were driving over to Litchfield the other day, and I just dictated it to her over a period of the ride. And so I haven't polished it at all. And it's a little strange in some ways, but I'll read it.

Do not think that the garbage,

The half nod chicken bones and potato skins,

Which flow endlessly through your back doorway,

Would not keep the life in those bodies,

Which coil tightly around hunger and become quiet in the dust.

Do not think that 20 million acres of corn grown to feed pigs,

To grease the cheeks of chins of those few who crave flesh,

Would not fill the bellies and swell the lives of millions and millions and millions.

Each inch of fat beneath your belt is a child lying in its grave.

[PAUL KANTNER, "DIANA"] How do you feel

As you cut down your children now

Leave them dying

On the grass in the sun?

What do you see

When you look at one another now?

Tell me, old man

Tell me, where will you run?

Sing a song

For the children going down

Remember the ones you knew

Remember what we sang

Remember how we danced

In America

So many years ago

JOE PADDOCK: We keep going back to Wendell Berry, the Kentucky farmer, teacher, writer. And Nancy's got a poem that she's going to read of his.

NANCY PADDOCK: I think that, as I've said before, he has a better relationship to the land than anyone else I've run into. He has a sort of grace. We started out with grace. Maybe we should finish with it. But this is a prayer after eating.

I have taken in the light that quickened I and leaf,

May my brain be bright with praise of what I eat,

In the brief blaze of motion and of thought,

May I be worthy of my meat,

JOE PADDOCK: I've got a grace, I should add by Robert Herrick, has my name in it. How does it go again?

Here, a little child I stand,

Heaving up my either hand,

Cold as paddocks though they be,

Here I hold them up to Thee,

For a benison to fall,

On our meat and on us all.

Paddocks being I believe--


JOE PADDOCK: --toads, yeah.


KIM HODGSON: The Poet's Perspective portions of our broadcast are made possible in part with funds provided by the Minnesota Humanities Commission. Joe and Nancy Paddock are regional poets and residents, and that's a program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council.



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