Perry’s writing helps us slow down and pay attention to the world around us.
Best-selling author, underrated singer-songwriter and self-proclaimed “intermittent pig farmer” Michael Perry has penned a weekly column for the Wisconsin State Journal for years.
Not all of Perry’s columns are winners. But the pieces chosen for his new essay collection, Roughneck Grace: Farmer Yoga, Creeping Codgerism, Apple Golf and Other Brief Essays from On and Off the Back Forty (Wisconsin Historical Society Press), serve as a compelling reminder of Perry’s subtle wit, charm and predilection for nature, family and friends.
That may sound a bit sappy, but that’s okay. In a world in which 140 characters count as “writing,” Perry’s thoughtful and sensitive prose provides the authentic perspective of a 50-something man with one steel-toed boot planted firmly in nostalgia and the other in an ever-changing present.
Perry, a Wisconsin native who now resides in rural Chippewa County, shares stories about the funeral of a friend, the mysterious gift his deceased grandfather left behind and a memorable Blind Boys of Alabama concert. The essays force readers to slow down and pay a little more attention to the world around them — regardless of whether they live in the country or near the Capitol Square.
Most of these 98 pieces run no longer than two pages, and they are divided into five sections titled “Home,” “Road,” “Friends and Relations,” “Appreciation” and “Creeping Codgerism.” In that section, Perry writes about how aging affects the way men fill the dishwasher and shave their faces, perhaps striking a little too close to home for some readers.
Greater context by providing original publication dates would have been appreciated, and a handful of these selections border on the maudlin and predictable. Still, it’s hard to fault a guy who’s not afraid to use words as diverse as “pusillanimous” and “snotsicle.”
The collection concludes with one of the book’s shortest essays, simply titled “Gratitude.” “Such a lovely word,” Perry writes. “Humble and warm. Humble, because it’s not a word you use if you think you did everything yourself. … Warm, because gratitude is not compatible with a cold soul.”
Those lines lead to, well, gratitude for a writer like Perry, who gives us something to look forward to even in dark times.