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Poetry or Soil Health?

The difference between the agriculturalist and the poet is the difference of definitions, really. 

Masanobu Fukuoka writes of agriculture by first writing about roofing and poetry. In his One Straw Revolution, he postulates,

It is as if a fool were to stomp on and break the tiles on his roof. Then when it starts to rain and the ceiling begins to rot away, he hastily climbs up to mend the damage, rejoicing in the end that he has accomplished a miraculous solution.

Fukuoka’s stomping fool is the modern reductionism and linear thinking that prostrates complex systems at the feet of mechanization, technology, and progress—those who shackle Mother Earth to benefit Mother Culture, those who see grasslands for their grass and not their flowers.

Science has the propensity to degenerate into this mode of thinking, but she is not alone. So also do philosophers, institutions, governments, polities, townships, communities, families, and, well, regenerative farmers. It is the witless piety to linearization that corrodes our climate and infects our communities. It is the clueless fool who, after repairing the rotted roof that he impaired originally, thinks of himself as progressive and heroic. What makes regenerative farmers any different than this dancing fool?

Language and its friends, attention and belief, need to change if we are to have what we believe we need—soil, that dark and iron-stained friend of dirt. Soil health does not matter, for it does not exist. The soil is health, and it cannot contain its definition, it can only inhabit its selfhood. In many ways, the soil is therefore a gift to be nurtured in community and not a commodity that can be improved or, God forbid, produced. Really, we are trying to produce health? How do you do that?

If soil could have health, then health is external to the thing, like this book is external to you although you have it, and soil could exist without being healthy (which it cannot), for that would be dirt and not soil. If soil could have health, and its having is the thing that matters most, then dirt is unimproved soil and rocks are unimproved dirt on their way to being soil, and the divine and chaotic and beautiful singularity of everything and nothing and everything again is also unimproved until it is only soil. Is that really want we want? Can life be only one thing? Are rocks degenerative until they are soil? If they are, then regenerative agriculture is going nowhere, for it substitutes reductionist thinking—regenerative agriculture is soil health—in place of an emergent intimacy around ancestral traditions—regenerative agriculture is the reclamation of relationship. We need a new language. Not a new program.

Soil is a byproduct of intimacy, and Fukuoka’s fool is the sycophant of soil health, who in their attention to the part lives on their knees and completely misses the bees—autumn’s procreative nectar just inches above their heads. To focus only on the soil is to miss the butterflies, the colors of pollination and the smell of their wings. Linear thinking works finely in linear systems, but nature is not a linear system, and her logic is love and lucidity, collaboration and care. She needs artists, not soil builders. But it is not science’s fault or the cow or, perhaps, even the how. It is mine; it is yours. The dramatists are the fault of modern times and there, in the supreme humility and humdrummery of that place, we can also be the solution. Yes, that is what Fukuoka and Shakespeare were talking about. But their solvent to humanity’s dilemma is not found in the creation of more mechanization, technology, or progress. It is not in the construction of better roofs. It is art we lack, not science; poems, not progress.

I believe that poems require humility, holism, and time to be created well. To write a poem is to first understand our role in the rhyme, not as the architect of the sublime but as the organizer of the line. Poetry and its poet also requires a sense of holism, meaning that special place of interdependence and intimacy, where diction and dictionaries are combined long before the words the poet may find. Lastly, to compose a poem requires the poet to have the time to do so. Poetry is the crop of leisure, a crop that is nurtured and never harvested, respected but never retained. Poems are temples and lush meadows, soliloquies into life’s soul. Like autumn adorned and crowned meadows, they do more than simply exist, they speak just as the butterflies and the bees, and the birds and the waning summer grasshoppers speak of beauty and pain and the wildly artistic chaos necessary to nurture relationship. They are everything that is needed and today we have great need.

But poetry is also the commonplace cloaked in the semblance of the new; it is the black walnut that casts away its yesterday for the hope of a better tomorrow—not for itself but for ourselves, the being of all of us. And, if it is anything at all, poetry is the momentary melody of the grassland that gives way to autumn’s wildflower wilderness. Poetry is the flowers, the birds, the migrating monarchs grazing on crownbeard’s nectar, the trees, the time, the being of all. Yes, if agriculture is the production of food, then it is not agriculture that Fukuoka desires. Poetry has nothing to say about tractors and bushels and hanging weights. Poetry has nothing to say. Poetry is about nurturing nutrients for all and not the cultivation of crops for the one. Poetry is as holistic and equitable as it is intimate.

In the process of cultivation, we have missed, I believe, the nurturing of moments and have left many poems unwritten and unattended to. The agriculturalist desires the perennial grasslands, highly functioning systems that produce overweight cows. They manage for a world yet green in the autumn and they manage to miss the poetry entirely.

The poet and its dramatist, on the other hand, desires the seasonally-undulating succession of wildflower meadows—impermanence within permanence, emergence within resilience. They manage for a world that commutes on the wings of the starling, holding on tightly as their wondrous and wandering craft darts and shifts and bends to catch that current or to feed on that fly. You see, poetry is not the letting go of control; it is not the letting go of human desires. It is the holding on tightly to that which makes us human in the first place—the choice of love, the art of the dramatist.

The difference between the agriculturalist and the poet is the difference of definitions, really. The modern dictionary defines worth as “good or valuable” and “useful or important.” But this is the beautiful thing about words, you know. They are as much under the user’s control as they control the user. And so, we dive deeper. The ancient etymological root of worth is weorþ, an Old English word from the thirteenth-century, meaning “excellence or noble.” The masters of moments, the poets, they who have time to sit, to ponder, to observe the simple complexity all around them. It is they who convey heaven’s graces into eternity, who understands the soul of words. In fact, if you have ever read a poem, you will know as I know that a good poet appears to not understand the good or valuable or useful meaning of words at all, and rather, seems to place unworthy words in rhythms that make understanding less linguistic and more intimate and novel.

Yes, poetry is the noble regeneration of the soul of words.

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