I am Laura Dowd, Local Foods Connection’s Founder & Executive Director. In the past few years, I have slowly learned an appreciation of poetry – with Emily Dickinson reigning favorite over the dozens of poets I’ve read. Many of the moments scattered throughout my week, moments during which I put LFC work aside, are taken up by reading the works by poets new to me, or rereading favorites. And so it is: My day-to-day work of promoting sustainable agriculture, integrating our organization with the work of other social service agencies, fundraising, and other tasks, then – separately – the timeless enjoyment of an artist’s beautiful expression of her thoughts and perceptions. Poetry and agriculture don’t meet often in my everyday affairs.
So I was very happy to discover recently a poem in which Emily Dickinson and farmers are thrown together! James Tate combines these two distinct personalities and experiences in a funny and respectful poem. I hope you enjoy the poem as much as I do.
From: Return to the City of White Donkeys by James Tate
“Of Whom Am I Afraid?”
I was feeling a little at loose ends, so
I went to the Farmer’s Supply store and just
strolled up and down the aisles, examining
the merchandise, none of which was of any use
to me, but the feed sacks and seeds had a calm-
ing effect on me. At some point there was an
old, grizzled farmer standing next to me holding
a rake, and I said to him, “Have you ever read
much Emily Dickinson?” “Sure,” he said, “I
reckon I’ve read all of her poems at least a
dozen times. She’s a real pistol. And I’ve
even gotten into several fights about them
with some of my neighbors. One guy said she
was too ‘prissy’for him. And I said, ‘Hell,
she’s tougher than you’ll ever be.’ When I
finished with him, I made him sit down and read
The Complete Poems over again, all 1,775 of them.
He finally said, ‘You’re right, Clyde, she’s
tougher than I’ll ever be.’ And he was crying
like a baby when he said that.” Clyde slapped
my cheek and headed toward the counter with
his new rake. I bought some ice tongs, which
made me surprisingly happy, and for which I
had no earthly use.