Thursday, June 3, 2010

Poet Laureate of Deep Ecology

As a poet, I hold the most archaic values on earth.
They go back to the late Paleolithic: the fertility of the soil,
the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying
initiation and rebirth; the love and ecstasy of the dance, 
the common work of the tribe. I try to hold both history 
and wilderness in mind, that my poems may approach 
the true measure of things and stand against
the unbalance and ignorance of our times.
~ Gary Snyder, Essay in "A Controversy of Poets"

Gary Snyder's name frequently is invoked in discussions of the Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. While Snyder was and remains associated with these late poets, neither he nor his contributions to literature are by any means defined by them. He's enjoyed a remarkable life shaped by physical labor (he was a seaman, logger, trail-crew member), spiritual studies in Oriental culture and languages, the study and practice of Zen Buddhism, profound care for the earth, and deep immersion in the power and gift of words. He is a deservedly famous academic and literary figure who has won his share of prestigious awards, including a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, the Pulitzer Prize, the Bollingen Prize, the Ruth Lilly Award, and the Levinon Prize from Poetry. Elected a chancellor to The Academy of American Poets in 2003, Snyder teaches English at the University of California at Davis.

His craft as a writer is legendary, marked, as Glyn Maxwell has noted in The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-century Poetry in English, by his uncommon "clarity of seeing", "striking ability to convey the physical nature of an instant", and the hallmarks of "tough simplicity", "freshness of expression", distance, and "accuracy of atmosphere".

Pressure of sun on the rockslide
Whirled me in a dizzy hope-and-step descent,
Pool of pebbles buzzed in a Juniper shadow,
Tiny tonue ofa this-year rattlesnake flicked,
I leaped, laughing for little boulder-color coil—
Pounded y heat raced down the slabs to the creek
Deep tumbling under arching walls and struck
Whole head and shoulders in the water:
Stretched full on cobble—ears roaring
Eyes open aching from the cold and faced a trout.
~ "Water" in Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems

A few light flakes of snow
Fall in the feeble sun;
Birds sing in the cold,
A warbler by the wall. . .
Breath stings. Beneath the roofs
Of frosty houses
Lovers part, from tangle warm
Of gentle bodies under quilt
And crack the icy water to the face
And wake and feed the children
And grandchildren that they love.
~ From "Kyoto: March" in Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems

Snyder published his first book, Riprap (Origin Press), more than 50 years ago. He followed that with many more, including Turtle Island (New Directions, 1974), which won him the Pulitzer Prize; Axe Handles (1983; reissue, Counterpoint, 2005), The Fate of Rocks and Trees (James Linden, 1986; out of print), No Nature: New and Selected Poems (Pantheon, 1993), Mountains and Rivers Without End (Counterpoint, 1996), Danger on Peaks: Poems (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004), and Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems (Counterpoint, Anniversary Edition, 2009). 

In addition to his collections of poetry, Snyder has published essays and interviews, including The Practice of the Wild (Farrar, Straus, 1990; reissue, Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004), The Gary Snyder Reader: Prose, Poetry, and Translations 1952-1998 (Counterpoint, 1999),  and Back on the Fire: Essays (Counterpoint, 2007). He also has made sound recordings and contributed to numerous anthologies. He is published widely in such literary magazines as Black Mountain Review, Yale Literary Magazine, Beloit Poetry Journal, Poetry, Chicago Review, and City Lights Journal. He is the subject of scores of books, essays, interviews, and magazine articles.

A noted and outspoken environmentalist whose advocacy of the natural world figures in many of his poems, Snyder is the subject of a new film, The Practice of the Wild, the trailer for which is immediately below.


Poetry excerpts © Gary Snyder

Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems on GoogleBooks

Mountains and Rivers Without End on GoogleBooks

Turtle Island on GoogleBooks

Gary Snyder on Ecology and Poetry (Part 1 and Part 2), YouTube Video

Video: "The National Parks: The Poet Laureate of Ecology"

Online Poems (A simple search will yield many poems online.)


M.L. Gallagher said...

"Stay together
Learn the flowers
Go light."


Billy Coffey said...

That sounds like a very cool guy!

Kathleen Overby said...

'deep immersion in the power and gift of words' makes me crave more from a fellow like this.

Anonymous said...

oh i see he
was an oregon boy
for awhile

jenne said...

This is a wonderful piece, Maureen. Snyder came to my town in the seventies and held forth on the lawn on our campus for a few days. It was a tremendous experience. His early books were our eco-bibles; hugely influential on the back to the land movement...xj