There aren’t many anthologies that juxtapose poems by the likes of Robert Frost with those of elementary school kids. In Praise of Fertile Land does, and it works.
My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now,
intones Frost in “After Apple-Picking”—expressing, it may be, not just the fatigue of harvest, but adult world-weariness.
Then along comes second-grader Henry Phillips, offering “A Recipe for a Garden”:
Add roses and a huge stretch for tulips.
Pinch in a bowl of knowledge.
Hope for daisies to grow.
Combine bravery with it
to come up with corn, peas, potatoes,
tomatoes, and strawberries.
The child’s optimism and faith contrast neatly with the older man’s satiety. And the two poems, one dealing with seedtime and the other with harvest, replicate the agricultural cycle the entire book celebrates.
But the mix of poets isn’t the only thing that makes In Praise of Fertile Land unique. “Buy a book, save a farm!” proclaims a flyer for a public reading from the anthology. Indeed, proceeds from the sale of the book have done just that, helping the PCC (Puget Consumers Co-op) Farmland Fund to purchase and preserve a 174-acre farm in the Walla Walla Valley and to lease it to the Huesby family, who have farmed in the area for four generations. (See “Happy Cows, Contented Ranchers,” Washington State Magazine, Fall 2003.) All of which is in keeping with the publisher’s philosophy of helping other nonprofits work toward environmental and social justice.