Saturday, April 18, 2009


Eberle & I have had various incarnations during our almost dozen years together on this little Idaho ranchette. We both had dreams of farming, & to some degree we’ve lived those with our guinea hens & llamas, & with a bountiful vegetable garden & fruit trees (all thanks to Eberle’s green thumb).

Still it has to be said that farming in any sort of “serious” way involves a single-mindedness & concentration of effort that never completely integrated with our various other incarnations as musicians, music teachers, novelist/poet, newspaper reporters, grant writers, etc. Also, it’s true that my health has limited my “ranching” activities over the past few years, though I can still drive a steel post or two (if the weather is favorable) when necessary.

A lot of rural boho types like us of course have had this dream of a subsistence farm, & in many cases (like us) they’ve found that the dream doesn’t dovetail perfectly with an artistic existence. This week’s poem is a beautiful exploration of this idea by Bernadette Mayer. Ms Mayer has had a long association with the St. Mark’s Poetry Project in New York’s Bowery, & is known not only for her fearless experimentation, but also for the direct & personal nature of her poetry—as you’ll see in “Essay.”

It’s always wonderful to read a poem that’s both thoughtful & playful—“play” being a terribly overlooked element in good poetry—& Ms. Mayer’s essay is a great example of both qualities coming to bear in a poem. Hope you enjoy this!


I guess it’s too late to live on the farm
I guess it’s too late to move to a farm
I guess it’s too late to start farming
I guess it’s too late to begin farming
I guess we’ll never have a farm
I guess we’re too old to do farming
I guess we couldn’t afford to buy a farm anyway
I guess we’re not suited to being farmers
I guess we’ll never have a farm now
I guess farming is not in the cards now
I guess Lewis wouldn’t make a good farmer
I guess I can’t expect we’ll ever have a farm now
I guess I’ll have to give up all my dreams of being a farmer
I guess I’ll never be a farmer now
We couldn’t get a farm anyway though Allen Ginsberg got one late in
Maybe someday I’ll have a big garden
I guess farming is really out
Feeding the pigs and the chickens, walking between miles of rows of
I guess farming is just too difficult
We’ll never have a farm
Too much work and still to be poets
Who are the farmer poets
Was there ever a poet who had a self-sufficient farm
Flannery O’Connor raised peacocks
And Wendell Berry has a farm
Faulkner may have farmed little
And Robert Frost had farmland
And someone told me Samuel Beckett farmed
Very few poets are real farmers
If William Carlos Williams could be a doctor and Charlie Vermont too,
Why not a poet who was also a farmer
Of course there was Brook Farm
And Virgil raised bees
Perhaps some poets of the past were overseers of farmers
I guess poets tend to live more momentarily
Than life on a farm would allow
You could never leave the farm to give a reading
Or to go to a lecture by Emerson in Concord
I don’t want to be a farmer but my mother was right
I should never have tried to rise out of the proletariat
Unless I can convince myself as Satan argues with Eve
That we are among a proletariat of poets of all the classes
Each ill-paid and surviving on nothing
Or on as little as one needs to survive
Steadfast as any farmer and fixed as the stars
Tenants of a vision we rent out endlessly

Bernadette Mayer
© Bernadette Mayer 1978


  1. You're right - quite playful, but also rings true. Kevin and I have often thought of having a little piece of property in the country with some rabbits, a cow, a donkey, some dogs, vegetables etc. We have those dreams too and we know it just won't happen for us. Still, it's fun to dream - that's what makes us artists in the first place, doesn't it?


  2. Hi Kat:

    You're right about that-- the dreaming part-- & perhaps the ability to inhabit dreams. Donkeys & burros are particularly nice creatures. For awhile we thought of having one but keeping livestock is a lot of work.

  3. We are fortunate to be only 1/2 hour away from the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada. Anytime we want to interract with them we can drive over and spend a few hours with loads of them. They are so gentle and friendly and responsive. I love them.
    Unfortunately, so many are neglected - not always wilfully, but circumstantially. We try to help out the sanctuary when we can.


  4. Hi Kat:

    That's interesting-- we pass by a house on the way to Boise where they raise miniature donkeys, & since the road it's on is pretty "out-of-the-way," we often stop right in the middle of the road to check out the mini burros. They are wonderful animals.


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