NO NATURE: New and Selected Poems
Pantheon: New York, 1992.
390 pp., $25.00 (clothbound).
GARY SNYDER HAS BEEN one of the most influential and original poets of the past forty years, at least since the mid-fifties when he was immortalized as Jaffe Ryder in Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums. He was among the poets introduced by Kenneth Rexroth at the legendary reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco in 19S6, where Allen Ginsberg gave his first public reading of “Howl.” He was among the sanest, most disciplined voices of the counterculture during the sixties, when he stressed the importance of spiritual ecology, laborintensive economics, and personal responsibility in establishing a sustainable culture.
With publication of his book Riprap, in 19S9, Snyder’s style and range were established. “Above Pate Valley” offers Snyder’s historical perspective, the poem closing on an encounter between a history stretching back into geological time and modern human behavior: cutting a trail through the mountains, the poet notes particulars of his surroundings during a lunch break, and finds obsidian flakes and “arrowhead leavings” scattered about. Connecting with human and animal history, he concludes:
Picked up the cold-drill,
Pick, singlejack, and sack
Ten thousand years.
The “teaching” of this poem is centered in the poet’s sense of mindfulness, of being fully aware of the consequences of one’s actions. The poet knows exactly what he is doing here, and he knows it from the long view rather than from the typically self-conscious, self-centered perspective of most of his contemporaries.
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