Gary Snyder's long view.

Author:Hammer, Langdon

With modesty and persistence that could simply be called wisdom (although the wisdom isn't simple), Gary Snyder has been writing poetry of unaffected clarity and moral seriousness for more than 50 years. Snyder's art insists that poetry is no more and no less important than other daily forms of craft and contemplation. Snyder remains known--misleadingly because reductively--as a Beat, one of the poets who read at the Six Gallery in San Francisco in 1955 (when Allen Ginsberg debuted "Howl"), and as the model for Japhy Ryder in Jack Kerouac's novel The Dharma Bums. The compact, elfin young man Kerouac admired combined knowledge of the sea and forests (Snyder worked as a seaman and as a logger and fire lookout) with interests in Native American folklore, Chinese and Japanese poetry, and Zen Buddhism.

Snyder brought these diverse materials and perspectives together in his early poetry collections, including Riprap (1959, published in Kyoto), The Back Country (1967), and Turtle Island--a Native American name for the North American continent--which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. In the 1980s and 1990s, Snyder published prose books about wilderness, ecological awareness, and consumer culture. He seemed to have moved away from poetry until his long poem Mountains and Rivers Without End appeared in 1996, a work of four decades for which he won the Bollingen Prize.

The earnestness of Snyder's poetry disguises its wit, which can be gentle and sociable, as in "A Letter to M. A." or tough-minded and barbed, as in "Why California Will Never Be Like Tuscany." Once Tuscan forests...

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