Snyder, Gary 1930–
Snyder, Gary 1930–
(Gary Sherman Snyder)
PERSONAL: Born May 8, 1930, in San Francisco CA; son of Harold Alton and Lois (Wilkie) Snyder; married Alison Gass, 1950 (divorced, 1951); married Joanne Kyger (a poet), 1960 (divorced, 1964); married Masa Uehara, August 6, 1967 (divorced); married Carole Koda, April 28, 1991; children: (third marriage) Kai, Gen. Education: Reed College, B.A. (in anthropology and literature), 1951; attended Indiana University, 1951; University of California, Berkeley, graduate study in Oriental languages, 1953–56. Politics: Radical. Religion: Buddhist of the Mahayana-Vajrayana line.
ADDRESSES: Home—Kitkitdizze, NV. Office—c/o North Point Press, 850 Talbot Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706.
CAREER: Poet and translator, 1959–. Worked as seaman, logger, trail crew member, and forest lookout, 1948–56; lecturer at University of California, Berkeley, 1964–65; professor at University of California, Davis, 1985–. Visiting lecturer at numerous universities and writing workshops. Member of United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, 1972; former chair of California Arts Council.
AWARDS, HONORS: Scholarship from First Zen Institute of America, 1956, for study in Japan; National Institute and American Academy poetry award, 1966; Bollingen Foundation grant, 1966–67; Frank O'Hara Prize, 1967; Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine, 1968; Guggenheim fellowship, 1968–69; Pulitzer Prize in poetry, 1975, for Turtle Island; American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1984, for Axe Handles; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, 2004, for Danger on Peaks: Poems; American Academy of Arts and Letters award; Bess Hokin Prize; Robert Kirsch Lifetime Achievement Award, Los Angeles Times; Shelley Memorial Award.
Riprap (also see below), Origin Press (San Francisco, CA), 1959.
Riprap & Cold Mountain Poems (the Cold Mountain poems are Snyder's translations of poems by HanShan), Four Seasons Foundation (San Francisco, CA), 1965, reprinted, Shoemaker & Hoard (Washington, DC), 2004.
Six Sections from Mountains and Rivers without End, Four Seasons Foundation (San Francisco, CA), 1965, revised edition published as Six Sections from Mountains and Rivers without End, Plus One, 1970.
A Range of Poems (includes translations of the modern Japanese poet Miyazawa Kenji), Fulcrum (London, England), 1966.
Three Worlds, Three Realms, Six Roads, Griffin Press (Marlboro, VT), 1966.
The Back Country, Fulcrum (London, England), 1967, New Directions (New York, NY), 1968.
The Blue Sky, Phoenix Book Shop (New York, NY), 1969.
Regarding Wave, New Directions (New York, NY), 1970.
Manzanita, Kent State University Libraries (Kent, OH), 1971.
Piute Creek, State University College at Brockport (Brockport, NY), 1972.
The Fudo Trilogy: Spell against Demons, Smokey the Bear Sutra, The California Water Plan (also see below), illustrated by Michael Corr, Shaman Drum (Berkeley, CA), 1973.
Turtle Island, New Directions (New York, NY), 1974.
All in the Family, University of California Library, c. 1975.
Smokey the Bear Sutra (chapbook), 1976.
Songs for Gaia, illustrated by Corr, Copper Canyon (Port Townsend, WA), 1979.
Axe Handles, North Point Press (San Francisco, CA), 1983.
Good Wild Scared, Five Seasons Press (Madley, Hereford, England), 1984.
Left Out in the Rain: New Poems 1947–1986, North Point Press (San Francisco, CA), 1986, reprinted, Shoemaker & Hoard (Washington, DC), 2005.
The Fates of Rocks & Trees, James Linden (San Francisco, CA), 1986.
No Nature: New and Selected Poems, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1992.
North Pacific Lands & Waters, Brooding Heron Press (Waldron Island, WA), 1993.
Mountains and Rivers without End, Counterpoint (Washington, DC), 1996.
Danger on Peaks: Poems, Shoemaker & Hoard (Washington, DC), 2004.
Earth House Hold: Technical Notes and Queries to Fellow Dharma Revolutionaries (essays), New Directions (New York, NY), 1969.
(Contributor) Ecology: Me, Moving On, 1970.
The Old Ways: Six Essays, City Lights (San Francisco, CA), 1977.
On Bread & Poetry: A Panel Discussion between Gary Snyder, Lew Welch and Philip Whalen, edited by Donald M. Allen, Grey Fox (Bolinas, CA), 1977.
He Who Hunted Birds in His Father's Village (undergraduate thesis), preface by Nathaniel Tarn, Grey Fox (Bolinas, CA), 1979.
The Real Work: Interviews & Talks, 1964–1979, edited with introduction by Scott McLean, New Directions (New York, NY), 1980.
Passage through India (autobiography), Grey Fox (San Francisco, CA), 1983.
The Practice of the Wild, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1990, reprinted, Shoemaker & Hoard (Washington, DC), 2004.
A Place in Space: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Watersheds (new and selected prose), Counterpoint (Washington, DC), 1995.
The Gary Snyder Reader: Prose, Poetry, and Translations, 1952–1998, Counterpoint (Washington, DC), 1999.
Look Out: A Selection of Writings, New Directions (New York, NY), 2002.
The New Religion (sound recording), Big Sur Recordings, 1967.
Gary Snyder Reading His Poems in the Montpelier Room, Oct. 24, 1996, (sound recording) 1996.
A Place for Wayfaring: The Poetry and Prose of Gary Snyder / Patrick D. Murphy Oregon State University Press (Corvallis, OR), 2000.
(With Tom Killion and John Muir) The High Sierra of California, Heyday Books, 2002.
Contributor to anthologies, including Contemporary American Poetry, edited by Donald Hall, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1962; A Controversy of Poets, edited by Paris Leary and Robert Kelly, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1965; and Sustainable Poetry: Four American Ecopoets, edited by Leonard M. Scigaj, University Press of Kentucky (Lexington, KY), 1999. Contributor to numerous periodicals, including Janus, Evergreen Review, Black Mountain Review, Yugen, Chicago Review, Jabberwock, San Francisco Review, Big Table, Origin, Kulchur, Journal for the Protection of All Beings, Nation, City Lights Journal, Yale Literary Magazine, Beloit Poetry Journal, and Poetry. The University of California, Davis, holds a collection of Snyder's manuscripts.
SIDELIGHTS: Gary Snyder is one of the rare modern poets who has bridged the gap between popular appeal and serious academic criticism. Snyder began his career in the 1950s as a noted member of the "Beat Generation," and since then he has explored a wide range of social and spiritual matters in both poetry and prose. Snyder's work blends physical reality—precise observations of nature—with inner insight received primarily through the practice of Zen Buddhism. Southwest Review essayist Abraham Rothberg noted that the poet "celebrates nature, the simple, the animal, the sexual, the tribal, the self…. He sees man as an indissoluble part of the natural environment, flourishing when he accepts and adapts to that natural heritage, creating a hell on earth and within himself when he is separated from it by his intellect and its technological and societal creations." While Snyder has gained the attention of readers as a spokesman for the preservation of the natural world and its earth-conscious cultures, he is not simply a "back-to-nature" poet with a facile message. In American Poetry in the Twentieth Century, Kenneth Rexroth observed that although Snyder proposes "a new ethic, a new esthetic, [and] a new life style," he is also "an accomplished technician who has learned from the poetry of several languages and who has developed a sure and flexible style capable of handling any material he wishes." According to Charles Altieri in Enlarging the Temple: New Directions in American Poetry during the 1960s, Snyder's achievement "is a considerable one. Judged simply in aesthetic terms, according to norms of precision, intelligence, imaginative play, and moments of deep resonance, he easily ranks among the best poets of his generation. Moreover, he manages to provide a fresh perspective on metaphysical themes, which he makes relevant and compelling."
Snyder's emphasis on metaphysics and his celebration of the natural order remove his work from the general tenor of Beat writing. Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Dan McLeod explained that while authors such as Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady "represented in their different ways rather destructive responses to the alienation inherent in modern American technocracy, the example of Snyder's life and values offered a constructive, albeit underground, alternative to mainstream American culture." No less searing in his indictments of Western values than the other Beat writers, Snyder has proposed "a morality that is unharmful, that tends toward wholeness. An ethics not of the trigger or fist, but of the heart," to quote New Republic reviewer Timothy Baland. Snyder has looked to the Orient and to the beliefs of American Indians for positive responses to the world, and he has tempered his studies with stints of hard physical labor as a logger and trail builder. In the Southwest Review, Roger Jones called Snyder "one of the century's healthiest writers," a poet who "perceives man as completely situated within the schemes of natural order, and sees as a necessity man's awareness that he is as real and as whole as the world—a perception muddled by the metaphysical notion of the world as a mere stage for the enactment of our eternal destinies." Charles Molesworth elaborated on this premise in his work Gary Snyder's Vision: Poetry and the Real Work. Molesworth saw Snyder as "a moral visionary who is neither a scourge nor a satirist;… he has spoken as a prophet whose 'tribe' is without definite national or cultural boundaries."
Altieri believed that Snyder's "articulation of a possible religious faith" independent of Western culture has greatly enhanced his popularity, especially among younger readers. If that is so, Snyder's themes have also been served by an accessible style, drawn from the examples of Japanese haiku and Chinese verse. In a book entitled Gary Snyder, Bob Steuding remarked that Snyder "has created a new kind of poetry that is direct, concrete, non-Romantic, and ecological…. Snyder's work will be remembered in its own right as the example of a new direction taken in American literature." Nation contributor Richard Tillinghast wrote: "In Snyder the stuff of the world 'content'—has always shone with a wonderful sense of earthiness and health. He has always had things to tell us, experiences to relate, a set of values to expound…. He has influenced a generation." McLeod found Snyder's "poetic fusion of Buddhist and tribal world views with ecological science" a "remarkable cross-cultural achievement—an utterly appropriate postmodernist expression of a postindustrial sensibility." Robert Mezey put it more simply in the Western Humanities Review when he concluded: "This missionary is really a joyful poet, and the gratitude and celebration at the heart of his view of life often overwhelm the necessity to teach and explain. So the teaching is done silently, which is the best way to do it."
Born and raised in the American West, Snyder lived close to nature from earliest childhood. Even at a very young age he was distressed by the wanton destruction of the Pacific Northwestern forests, and he began to study and respect the Indian cultures that "seemed to have some sense of how a life harmonious with nature might be lived," according to Rothberg. Snyder went to public schools in Seattle and Portland, and he augmented his education by reading about Indian lore and pioneer adventures. Wild regions continued to fascinate him as he matured; he became an expert mountain climber and learned back-country survival techniques. A visit to the Seattle Art Museum introduced him to Chinese landscape painting, and he developed an interest in the Orient as an example of a high civilization that had maintained its bonds to nature. After high school Snyder divided his time between studies at the prestigious Reed College—and later Indiana University and the University of California, Berkeley—and work as a lumberjack, trail maker, and firewatcher in the deep woods. The balance between physical labor and intellectual pursuits informs his earliest writing; McLeod felt that the unlikely juxtaposition makes Snyder either "the last of an old breed or the beginning of a new breed of backwoodsmen figures in American literature." In Alone with America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States since 1950, Richard Howard described Snyder's youth as "the rapturous life of a cosmic bum."
In the autumn of 1952 Snyder moved to the San Francisco Bay area in order to study Oriental languages at Berkeley. He was already immersed in Zen Buddhism and had begun to write poetry about his work in the wilderness. McLeod contended that the four years Snyder spent in San Francisco "were of enormous importance to his … growth as a poet." He became part of a community of writers, including Philip Whalen, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac, who would come to be known as the Beat Generation and who would be heralded as the forerunners of a counterculture revolution in literature. The literary fame of the Beat Generation was launched with a single event: a poetry reading in October of 1955 at San Francisco's Six Gallery. While it is Ginsberg's poem "Howl" that is best remembered from that evening, Snyder also participated, reading his poem "The Berry Feast."
If Snyder was influenced by his antisocial contemporaries, he also exerted an influence on them. Kerouac modeled his character Japhy Ryder in The Dharma Bums on Snyder, and the poet encouraged his friends to take an interest in Eastern philosophy as an antidote to the ills of the West. McLeod noted, however, that although "he is clearly one of its major figures, Snyder was out of town when the Beat movement was most alive on the American scene." Having been awarded a scholarship by the First Zen Institute of America, Snyder moved to Japan in 1956 and stayed abroad almost continuously for the next twelve years. Part of that time he lived in an ashram and devoted himself to strenuous Zen study and meditation. He also travelled extensively, visiting India and Indonesia, and even venturing as far as Istanbul on an oil tanker, the Sappa Creek. His first two poetry collections, Riprap and Myths & Texts, were published in 1959 and 1960. After returning to the United States, Snyder built his own house—along the Yuba River in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains—where he has lived since.
Snyder's early poems represent a vigorous attempt to achieve freedom from the "establishment" mores of urban America. Sagetrieb contributor Thomas Parkinson described the works as moments in which "action and contemplation become identical states of being, and both states of secular grace. From this fusion wisdom emerges, and it is not useless but timed to the event. The result is a terrible sanity, a literal clairvoyance, an innate decorum." The poems in Riprap and Myths & Texts are miniature narratives captured from the active working life of the author; Rothberg contended that in them Snyder wants "to be considered a poet of ordinary men, writing in a language shaped in their idiom." Audiences responded to Snyder's portrayals of the vigorous backwoods visionary whose joy flows from physical pursuits and contemplation of the wild world. In the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Schuyler Ingle wrote: "I could sense [Snyder] in his lines, all long-haired and denim-clad, laced-up high-top logger boots. He was an educated, curious man comfortable with his own sexuality." Rothberg too detects the education underlying the hardier roles. According to the critic, Snyder "cannot quite conceal the intellect or learning in his work, which everywhere reveals his considerable knowledge of anthropology, linguistics, Zen Buddhism, history, and other arcane lore."
Unquestionably, Snyder's involvement with Buddhism has been important to his poetry from the outset. As Julian Gitzen noted in Critical Quarterly, Snyder "was attracted to Buddhism because its teachings conformed to and re-enforced his native personality, interests and beliefs." Much of the poet's work "manifests a … movement out to an awareness of self in cosmos complemented by the perception of cosmos contained within the self," to quote Altieri. In American Poetry since 1960: Some Critical Perspectives, Alan Williamson also stated that Snyder's canon "suggests a process of meditation or spiritual exercise, clearing the path from temporal life to the moment of Enlightenment—the sudden dropping-away of the phenomenal world in the contemplation of the infinite and eternal, All and Nothingness." The aim, according to Parkinson, is "not to achieve harmony with nature but to create an inner harmony that equals to the natural external harmony." Criticism essayist Robert Kern declared that the resulting poems "are almost celebrations of those moments when the mind's resistances have been overcome and the difficult transition has been made from ordinary consciousness to a state in which the mind has dropped its symbolic burden of words, books, abstractions, even personal history and identity—whatever might stand in the way of a direct, unhampered perception of things."
The structure of Snyder's poetry is influenced by the intellectual dilemma of using language—the medium of rational discourse—to disclose deeper, extra-rational states of being. Dictionary of Literary Biography essayist Alex Batman observed that Snyder realizes mere words may be inadequate for the articulation of his discoveries. The poet overcomes this problem by producing verse "based on the Oriental haiku—sharp, uncomplicated images that, like many Oriental paintings, form sketches that the reader's imagination must fill in." Gitzen wrote: "Snyder's poems in general possess [an] air of spontaneity, almost as though they were hastily written notes for poems, rather than finished constructions. Such unpolished form harmonizes with the Zen aesthetic." The critic added, however, that spontaneous and simple though the works may seem, they are in fact "the result of conscious and painstaking effort." Batman likewise found Snyder's pieces "deceptively simple rather than superficially simplistic." Altieri commented that for the skeptic or half-believer, "the real miracle is the skill with which Snyder uses the aesthetic devices of lyrical poetry to sustain his religious claims. His basic achievement is his power to make his readers reflect on the ontological core of the lyrical vision by calling attention to the way it can be things or processes themselves, and not merely the elements of a poem, which mutually create one another's significance and suggest a unifying power producing, sustaining, and giving meaning to these relationships." Steuding concluded that the "Buddhist perception of oneness … creates a poetry of immediacy and startling originality."
Buddhism is by no means the sole departure point for Snyder's work, however. Well-versed in anthropology and the lore of so-called "primitive" cultures, the author reveres myth and ritual as essential demonstrations of man-in-nature and nature-in-man. In The American West, Thomas W. Pew, Jr. wrote: "Snyder, like a handful of other writers since Carl Jung, has discovered the similarities of myth, religion, and his own personal dream content as well as the product of his meditations and has fashioned that collective material into words that set off little explosions in our thought process and our own deeper memory." Harking back to the Stone Age, Snyder sees the poet as a shaman who acts as a medium for songs and chants springing from the earth. McLeod explained: "The poet-shaman draws his songs from the [Earth] Mother Goddess and through the magic power of image, metaphor, music, and myth creates the artistic patterns that express the most deeply held knowledge and values of the community. Embodied in literary form, this knowledge and these values may survive and evolve, sustaining the group generation after generation." McLeod stated further that myth and ritual are for Snyder "far more than reflections of experience…. They are also a means whereby we can shape and control experience through the sympathetic magic inherent in the metaphysical connections that link myth and ritual to the quotidian world."
It is not surprising, therefore, that Snyder draws on the traditions of oral literature—chants, incantations, and songs—to communicate his experiences. Denver Quarterly contributor Kevin Oderman observed that the poet "writes out of a tradition of self-effacement, and his yearnings are for a communal poetry rooted in place." Scott McLean also addressed this idea in his introduction to Snyder's The Real Work: Interviews & Talks, 1964–1979. "All of Gary Snyder's study and work has been directed toward a poetry that would approach phenomena with a disciplined clarity that would then use the 'archaic' and the 'primitive' as models to once again see this poetry as woven through all the parts of our lives," McLean wrote. "Thus it draws its substance and forms from the broadest range of a people's day-to-day lives, enmeshed in the facts of work, the real trembling in joy and grief, thankfulness for good crops, the health of a child, the warmth of the lover's touch. Further, Snyder seeks to recover a poetry that could sing and thus relate us to: magpie, beaver, a mountain range, binding us to all these other lives, seeing our spiritual lives as bound up in the rounds of nature." McLean concluded that in terms of the human race's future, "Snyder's look toward the primitive may vouchsafe one of the only real alternative directions available." Addressing specifically the poetry, Jones admitted in Southwest Review that Snyder's shamanistic role is an important one for modern letters "as poetry seems to base itself less in sound than in the medium of print."
Many of Snyder's poems aim specifically at instilling an ecological consciousness in his audience. Jones observed that the poet advocates "peaceful stewardship, economy, responsibility with the world's resources, and, most importantly, sanity—all still within the capabilities of modern societies, and bound up in the perception of the world and its life-sources as a glorious whole." This theme pervades Snyder's 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning volume, Turtle Island, a work in which the poet manages "to locate the self ecologically in its actions and interactions with its environment, to keep it anchored to its minute-by-minute manifestations in (and as a part of) the physical world," to quote Robert Kern in Contemporary Literature. According to Gitzen, Snyder assumes that "while man neither individually nor as a species is essential to nature … nature is essential to the existence of all men. Consideration for our own welfare demands that we abandon efforts to dominate nature and assume instead an awareness of our subjection to natural law…. Snyder repeatedly seeks to impress upon his readers the awesome immensity of space, time, energy, and matter working together to generate a destiny beyond the reach of human will." Some critics, such as Partisan Review contributor Robert Boyers, found Snyder's commitment "programmistic and facile," a simplistic evocation of the "noble savage" as hero. Others, including New York Times Book Review correspondent Herbert Leibowitz, applauded the poet's world view. "Snyder's sane housekeeping principles desperately need to become Government and corporate policy," Leibowitz wrote. "He is on the side of the gods."
"The curve of Snyder's career has been from the factlike density of perceptual intensity to the harmonious patternmaking of the immanently mythic imagination," Molesworth stated. "Such a course of development has taken Snyder deeper and deeper into the workings of the political imagination as well." Snyder's more recent works reflect a growing concern for the environment and the plight of the American Indian as well as the new insights engendered by his domestic responsibilities. McLeod noted that a "shift from the examination of the self to the exercise of social responsibility is clearly reflected in the development of Snyder's writing which has moved from the still, almost purely meditative lyrics in Riprap, to the celebration of the human family as a vital part of a broad network of relationships linking all forms of life in Regarding Wave, to the eco- political poems and essays in Turtle Island." Axe Handles, Snyder's 1983 collection, returns to the domestic environment—especially the relationship between father and sons—as a central motif. Poetry magazine reviewer Bruce Bawer contended that the work "conveys a luminous, poignant vision of a life afforded joy and strength by a recognition of the essential things which give it meaning. It is, to my tastes, Snyder's finest book."
Not all reviewers felt that Snyder's more recent poetry scales the heights he reached with Turtle Island. Reviewing No Nature, a collection of old and new poems published in 1992, David Barber commented in Poetry that "the vigor and output of Snyder's poetry has clearly been on the wane over the last twenty years…. The poet who was formerly adept at elucidating intimations now seems to be content with simply espousing positions." However, Richard Tillinghast, writing in the New York Times Book Review, claimed that Snyder possesses "a command of geology, anthropology and evolutionary biology unmatched among contemporary poets," adding that "there is an understated majesty about the ease with which Mr. Snyder puts the present into perspective." Both Tillinghast and Barber in particular commended Snyder's evocation of the subject of work. Noted Barber, "Few contemporary poets have written with such authentic incisiveness about the particulars of work and the rhythms of subsistence, and done so without succumbing to class-rooted righteousness or rural nostalgia."
One project that spanned much of the poet's career—a long poem, Mountains and Rivers without End, titled after a Chinese sideways scroll painting—was finally published in 1996 to glowing praise from critics. As Steuding claimed, "One finds directness and simplicity of statement, clarity and brilliance of mind, and profundity and depth of emotional range. In these instances, Snyder's is a poetry of incredible power and beauty." Similarly, a Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that Mountains and Rivers without End "is a major work by a venerable master of post-[World War II] American poetry." The poem is a conscious effort to recreate the social function of ancient epics: to tell a good story, while offering instruction in life by way of myth and history. Snyder's narrative is "less heroic in tone than Homer's," found Tom Clark in his San Francisco Chronicle review, but like classic works such as the Odyssey, Mountains and Rivers without End is "a universalizing, picaresque spiritual journey, the story not only of one man, but also of the human event on this planet," explained Clark. Ancient values are evoked and celebrated: fertility, the magic of animals, the power of dance, and the importance of tribal work. Snyder evokes an ancient civilization blessed by self-awareness, thriving in an unpolluted world. The narrative is "continually teetering perilously on the great divide between human and nonhuman worlds, demonstrating all over again the curiously ambivalent evenhandedness that has always created an interesting tension in his work," commented Clark. Conflicting desires to escape and redeem civilization form another part of the work, which show the poet in concrete landscapes of freeway and megalopolis. Taken as a whole, the poem celebrates "not only nature's exquisite delicacy and fragility but also its immense ruggedness, resilience and durability." Snyder's personal journey of several decades is reflected in the verses that took him so long to complete, and he commented to Jesse Hamlin in an interview for San Francisco Chronicle that those years were "a time of tremendous change, and yet I can see that the initial impulses with which I opened the work—which were curiosity and affection and respect for the whole natural world—naive in some ways as they were, were basically going in the right direction." He concluded: "I'm pleased with the poem," but he added: "I don't think in terms of masterpieces…. You do the work you do and you leave it for the world to judge where it fits. I did what I was impelled to do. It got me to the point where I could let go of it."
In addition to his many volumes of verse, Snyder has published books of prose essays and interviews that can be read "not only as partial explanation of the poetry but as the record of an evolving mind with extreme good sense in treating the problems of the world," according to Parkinson. Snyder's prose expands his sense of social purpose and reveals the series of interests and concerns that have sparked his creative writing. In The Practice of the Wild, published in 1990, Snyder muses on familiar topics such as environmental concerns, Native American culture, ecofeminism, language, and mythology. Praising the author's "exquisite craftsmanship and new maturity in style," Michael Strickland in the Georgia Review noted, "Any serious consideration of Snyder's work, whether critical text or classroom study, must now include The Practice of the Wild." Environmental writer Bill McKibben expressed a similar view in the New York Review of Books, stating that the collection represents Snyder's "best prose work so far." Remarking on the author's wide-ranging skill, Parkinson suggested that Snyder is distinguished "not only as a poet but as a prose expositor—he has a gift for quiet, untroubled, accurate observation with occasional leaps to genuine eloquence. He has taken to himself a subject matter, complex, vast, and permanently interesting, a subject so compelling that it is not unreasonable to assert that he has become a center for a new set of cultural possibilities."
The Gary Snyder Reader: Prose, Poetry, and Translations, 1952–1988 was published in 1999, offering a rich selection of Snyder's work in one volume. Discussing the book in the Seattle Times, Richard Wallace remarked that many consider Snyder "one of the best poets to write about nature and wilderness since the early Chinese." The Reader presents poems, travel writings, letters, interviews, and portions from Snyder's prose works Earth Household, The Practice of the Wild, and A Place in Space. The prose selections clearly show "how fluid and original a thinker Snyder is," advised Wallace. He is not a "cranky wilderness freak" who believes man should keep nature completely pristine. He is in fact "much more revolutionary than that," looking for ways to deepen personal involvement in community, family, and nature. His philosophy is marked by repeated emphasis of the "witty and irritating idea that we are no smarter, and maybe less skilled, than our Paleolithic ancestors." But it is in his poetry that the writer truly shines, according to Wallace, as he lends his voice "to the ferocious energy of nonhuman beings. He has done it with a direct, masculine, and beautiful talent for more than four decades."
The collection Danger on Peaks: Poems, published in 2004, was released eight years after Mountains and Rivers without End. The book is Snyder's first collection of entirely new poems, however, to be published in more than twenty years. Although some of the closing poems in the volume address historically current events, including September 11, the bulk of the poems in the volume are set in the past. "As Snyder himself admits, 'most of my work/such as it is/is done,'" reported Library Journal contributor Rochelle Ratner. In addition, many of the poems discuss human relationships. This is of note since Snyder is predominantly known as a nature and wilderness poet. While Carol Volk, writing in Reviewers Bookwatch, commented that the collection highlights Snyder's "unique voice," a Publishers Weekly reviewer observed that the book "seeks a kind of fraught peace."
Critics and general readers alike have responded to Snyder's "new set of cultural possibilities." Steuding proposed that the writer's work "truly influences one who reads him thoroughly to 'see' in a startling new way. Presenting the vision of an integrated and unified world, this heroic poetic effort cannot but help to create a much needed change of consciousness." Robert Mezey noted that Snyder "has a compelling vision of our relationship with this living nature, which is our nature, what it is and what it must be if we/nature survive on this planet, and his art serves that vision unwaveringly." According to Halvard Johnson in the Minnesota Review, the "unique power and value of Snyder's poetry lies not simply in clearly articulated images or in complex patterns of sound and rhythm, but rather in the freedom, the openness of spirit that permits the poems simply to be what they are, what they can be…. They respond to the rhythms of the world." Molesworth offered perhaps the most succinct appraisal of Gary Snyder's poetic vision. "Snyder has built a place for the mind to stay and to imagine more far- reaching harmonies while preserving all the wealth of the past," Moles-worth concluded. "This, of course, is the world of his books where he is willing and even eager to give us another world both more ideal and more real than our own. The rest of the work is ours."
In an essay published in A Controversy of Poets, Snyder offered his own assessment of his art. "As a poet," he wrote, "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."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Allen, Donald M., editor, The New American Poetry, Grove (New York, NY), 1960.
Almon, Bert, Gary Snyder, Boise State University Press (Boise, ID), 1979.
Altieri, Charles, Enlarging the Temple: New Directions in American Poetry during the 1960s, Bucknell University Press (Lewisburg, PA), 1979.
American Nature Writers, Volume 2, Scribner (New York, NY), 1996.
Charters, Samuel, Some Poems/Poets: Studies in American Underground Poetry since 1945, Oyez, 1971.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 1, 1973, Volume 2, 1974, Volume 5, 1976, Volume 9, 1978, Volume 32, 1985.
Contemporary Poets, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Cook, Bruce, The Beat Generation, Scribner (New York, NY), 1971.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, 1980; Volume 16: The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America, 1983; Volume 165: American Poets since World War II, second series, 1996; Volume 212: Twentieth-Century American Western Writers, Second Series, 1999; Volume 275: Twentieth-Century American Nature Writers: Prose, 2003.
Faas, Ekbert, editor, Towards a New American Poetics: Essays & Interviews, Black Sparrow Press, 1978.
Howard, Richard, Alone with America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States since 1950, Atheneum, 1969.
Kherdian, David, A Biographical Sketch and Descriptive Checklist of Gary Snyder, Oyez, 1965.
Leary, Paris and Robert Kelly, editors, A Controversy of Poets, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1965.
McCord, Howard, Some Notes to Gary Snyder's "Myths & Texts," Sand Dollar, 1971.
McNeill, Katherine, Gary Snyder, Phoenix (New York, NY), 1980.
Molesworth, Charles, Gary Snyder's Vision: Poetry and the Real Work, University of Missouri Press, 1983.
Rexroth, Kenneth, Assays, New Directions (New York, NY), 1961.
Rexroth, Kenneth, American Poetry in the Twentieth Century, Herder & Herder, 1971.
Schuler, Robert Jordan, Journeys toward the Original Mind: The Long Poems of Gary Snyder, Lang (New York, NY), 1994.
Shaw, Robert B., editor, American Poetry since 1960: Some Critical Perspectives, Dufour (Chester Springs, PA), 1974.
Sherman, Paul, Repossessing and Renewing, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1976.
Snyder, Gary, The Real Work: Interviews & Talks, 1964–1979, edited and with introduction by Scott McLean, New Directions (New York, NY), 1980.
Steuding, Bob, Gary Snyder, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1976.
Alcheringa, autumn, 1972.
American Poetry Review, November, 1983.
American West, January-February, 1981; Volume 25; August, 1988, p. 30.
Austin American-Statesman, October 11, 2001, Mary Alice Davis, "The Gentle Message of a Poet," p. A17.
Beloit Poetry Journal, fall-winter, 1971–72.
Booklist, September 15, 1996, Ray Olson, review of Mountains and Rivers without End, p. 205; June 1, 1999, Ray Olson, review of The Gary Snyder Reader: Prose, Poetry, and Translations, 1952–1998.
Boundary II, Volume 4, 1976.
Colorado Quarterly, summer, 1968.
Contemporary Literature, spring, 1977; winter, 1998, Timothy G. Gray, "Semiotic Shepherds: Gary Snyder, Frank O'Hara, and the Embodiment of an Urban Pastoral," p. 523.
Critical Quarterly, winter, 1973.
Criticism, spring, 1977.
Denver Quarterly, fall, 1980.
Environment, December, 1996, Kenneth A. Ollif, review of A Place in Space: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Watersheds, p. 25.
Epoch: A Magazine of Contemporary Literature, fall, 1965.
Explicator, fall, 2001, M. Bennet Smith, review of The Call of the Wild, p. 47.
Far Point, Volume 4, 1970.
Georgia Review, summer, 1992, p. 382.
Holiday, March, 1966.
Iowa Review, summer, 1970.
Journal of Modern Literature, Volume 2, 1971–72; summer, 1999, Anthony Hunt, "Singing the Dyads: The Chinese Landscape Scroll and Gary Snyder's Mountains and Rivers without End," p. 7.
Kansas Quarterly, spring, 1970.
Library Journal, July, 1999, Cynde Bloom Lahey, review of The Gary Snyder Reader, 1952–1998, p. 91; November 15, 2004, Rochelle Ratner, review of Danger on Peaks: Poems, p. 64.
Los Angeles Times, November 28, 1986.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 1, 1979; November 23, 1980; November 13, 1983; December 28, 1986.
Minnesota Review, fall, 1971.
Nation, September 1, 1969; November 19, 1983.
New Republic, April 4, 1970; March 24, 1997, Christopher Benfey, review of Mountains and Rivers without End, p. 38.
New Statesman, November 4, 1966.
New York Review of Books, January 22, 1976; April 11, 1991, p. 29.
New York Times Book Review, May 11, 1969; June 8, 1969; March 23, 1975; December 27, 1992, p. 2.
New York Times Magazine, October 6, 1996, p. 62.
Partisan Review, summer, 1969; winter, 1971–72.
Poetry, June, 197; June, 1972; September, 1984; June, 1994, p. 167.
Prairie Schooner, winter, 1960–61.
Progressive, November, 1995, p. 28.
Publishers Weekly, August 17, 1990, p. 62; August 10, 1992, p. 58; July 31, 1995, p. 62; August 26, 1996, p. 94; May 31, 1999, review of The Gary Snyder Reader, p. 87; October 18, 2004, review of Danger on Peaks, p. 61.
Reviewer's Bookwatch, October, 2005, Carol Volk, review of Danger on Peaks.
Sagetrieb, spring, 1984.
San Francisco Chronicle, September 1, 1996, Tom Clark, review of Mountains and Rivers without End, p. 1; Jesse Hamlin, interview with Gary Snyder, p. 30.
Saturday Review, October 11, 1969; April 3, 1971.
Seattle Times, July 11, 1999, Richard Wallace, review of The Gary Snyder Reader, 1952–1998, p. M9.
Sierra, March-April, 1997, Scott McLean, review of Mountains and Rivers without End and A Place in Space, p. 112.
Sixties, spring, 1962; spring, 1972.
Southern Review, summer, 1968.
Southwest Review, spring, 1971; winter, 1976; spring, 1982.
Spectator, December 25, 1971.
Sulfur 10, Volume 4, number 1, 1984.
Tamkang Review, spring, 1980.
Times Literary Supplement, December 24, 1971; May 30, 1980.
Village Voice, November 17, 1966; May 1, 1984.
Washington Post Book World, December 25, 1983.
Western American Literature, fall, 1968; spring, 1980; fall, 1980; spring, 1981.
Western Humanities Review, spring, 1975.
Whole Earth Review, winter, 1988, p. 22; spring, 1991, p. 80; spring, 1996, p. 7; summer, 1997, Rick Fields, review of Mountains and Rivers without End, p. 91; winter, 1997, review of Turtle Island, A Place in Space, and The Practice of the Wild, p. 59; fall, 2000, William Pitt Root, review of The Gary Snyder Reader, p. 98.
World Literature Today, summer, 1984; spring, 1997, Bernard F. Dick, review of Mountains and Rivers without End, p. 392.
Yale Review, July, 1997, Stephen Burt, review of Mountains and Rivers without End, p. 150.