Brian Brett, Trauma Farm

June has been mostly occupied with helping others renovate a house bought specifically for resale (ugh) and with a non-progressing article on an eighteenth-century poem about trees, apples, orchards, and cider. The work on John Phillips' Cyder has at least kept me reading, but it's been scattered rather than focused -- which is fine, but there it is. Still, I did manage to find some reading time, and in the midst of some material about environmental aesthetics and Augustan Whig/Tory land politics, some excellent company was found in Brian Brett's Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life.

This review's by-now-standard confessional is simply that I'd been turned off Brett's poetry because for some reason I'd associated it with what I think of as the annoyingly self-congratulatory "ain't we bad boys" wannabe-Beat schtick of Al Purdy, Peter Trower, and that sort. But I don't know if I've read more than a few of his poems, and the ones appearing in Trauma Farm are excellent (if a touch too understatedly colloquial even for me). Reconsideration time, in other words.

For now, though, it's important simply that I say how much I enjoyed this book. It's not unrelated to the almanac approach that Des Kennedy took in An Ecology of Enchantment, but whereas Kennedy wrote his in the form of a weekly calendar, Brett's covers the 24 hours of a single day, one that he says is 18 years long (the length of his time at the farm on Saltspring Island). He does cheat, because there aren't blank chapters for his sleep, so really he's divided his waking hours into 24 sections, but with that overlooked, it becomes easy to appreciate the book. Some reviewers have found Brett's literary style off-putting, when you're used to and/or expecting the serious tone of a history or a farming advice book, but it's polished and intimate and even at times self-ironizingly flashy, so I really appreciated the care with which the prose style was handled.

Somehow I managed not to dog-ear any pages, so I could readily pull out some quotations and look like I'd made careful notes, but it's actually a ploy to force myself to read it again right quickly. I've put it on the shortlist of possible texts for a course I'm co-teaching in January, so that's given it priority enough status on the bookpile that I just can't dawdle for quotations to appease you people just now.

Oh, alright then, just one:
"When I consider the sixteenth-century peasant who supposedly knew so little, I think of someone who could smell hay and recognize its food value, identify hundreds of medicinal flowers, berries, and vegetables, and tell you when to plant or harvest and how to preserve; someone who could milk a cow and create or fix almost any tool in the house; someone who lived for the most part in grace with a natural environment (when not being a victim of the feudal politics of the era). Comparing 'old knowledge' with the knowledge of how to operate a remote control or play a new video game, it's clear that an important range of experience has been lost. What can we say to a world where a child on a bus in Vancouver looks our the window and says to his mother, 'Is that a crow?'" (p.181)
Setting aside, obviously, the vexed question of whether a state of environmental grace was available to a sixteenth-century peasant, it's a decent bit, from a book stuffed with them. Read and enjoy!


richard said…
Thanks! Playing around with a few things during my summer "break."

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