Monday, August 16, 2004

Gary Snyder's 'danger on peaks'

We went to Borders today and browsed. Unexpectedly I came upon a new book of poetry by Gary Snyder. My initial reaction was one of simple surprise. But then as I perused the copy, delight spread as I a growing awareness woke that this was a true collection of new poetry, his first since Axe Handles in the early eighties.

I’ve read a number of pages and I’m exhilarated, like one who has begun a hike up a great mountain, and is now witnessing brilliant views from the ridges. The first section (in which he deftly mixes prose and poetry) is centered on Mt. Saint Helens, which he first hiked in 1945. Just after his descent he read of the bombing of Hiroshima.

In following sections, he then depicts the changed environment of the mountain after the eruption in 1980. It’s a work of comparison and metaphor but one mostly of attentiveness. It’s difficult to select one passage that does justice to the whole, but this one I think is a nice snapshot of the prose and poetry and of the Hiroshima/Loowit (Indian name for Mt. St. Helens) relationship:

Sit on folded groundsheets on the ashy pumice hard-packed soil and pick up our conversations again. Fred clarifies distinctions such as “original” and “restored.” What’s old? What’s new? What’s “renew”? I then hold forth on the superiority of the Han’-gul writing system of Korea over all other alphabets, but what got me started on that? Our hissing Primus stove. I talked about ten years of living in Japan, “Two hundred miles of industrial city-strip along the railroad, and tenth-growth forest mountains as far as you can see. Went twice through Hiroshima, great noodles, full of activists, green and leafy—doing fine.”

Fred’s mind is as open as a summer morning in the Sierra. We talk about a lot. But when we come back to forests, eruptions, and the balance of economy and ecology, I shit up and listen.

Green tea hotwater
Sunball in the fog
Loowit cooled in white
New crater summit mist-wisps—“Hah”…”Hah”

One final trip before leaving: a walk to Ghost Lake: pearly everlasting, huckleberries and fireweed, all the way.

Out to Ghost Lake through white snags,
threading down tree deadfalls, no trail work lately here,
light chaco sandals leaping, nibbling huckleberries, walking logs
bare toed dusty feet
I worked around this lake in ‘49
both green then

Gary Snyder: danger on peaks (pp17-18)



2 comments:

Greg said...
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Loren said...

Shoot, now I have to go out and buy another book of poetry, though judging from the bookstores around here I may have to visit Amazon again, and that's dangerous territory considering the length of my "wish list."

I was backpacking around St Helens the summer before it blew, and it contained some of the prettiest country I've seen here in the Northwest.

I was more than a little awed a few years later when I climbed to the top of St Helen's and looked down into that gaping canyon where steam vents constantly created new clouds. It was a weird, scary feeling, one that made me want to get down off that mountain as quickly as possible, though I was too macho to convey those exact feelings to my hiking partner.