I confess that I hadn't read any Gary Snyder before yesterday. It was his reputation (a Pulitzer) that compelled me to attend his free reading at the UAA campus last night. I'm so glad I did. As he read from a few of his books and some new, unpublished works, I was moved by the way he wrote about life: from the day-to-day activities of keeping his off-the-grid power working to his first climb on Mount St. Helens in 1945 and comparisons he drew from the volcano's eruption in 1980 to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (which he learned about the day after that first climb).
He reminded me of how events early in our lives help shape our ideals and our way of seeing the world. It was clear that he has tried to live a life in balance with our planet. As much as that's possible when considering the impacts of air travel and other human activities.
Today, I sat down with one of the books I bought, Danger on Peaks. Prose poems. Un-rhymed verse. Haiku-inspired works. I'm no poetry scholar, so I don't know all the terms for the styles of poetry he writes. But I am enjoying his view of the world, his bringing together of thoughts from different continents, different teachings. He appears to be a man who lives with eyes and mind open; aware of the world around him on all scales, from the spruce beetle to the polar ice fields.
I've had to go to the dictionary a few times - yes, he's giving the gift of new words for my vocabulary - yet it doesn't make the poems less accessible. In fact, this is the kind of book I would want in my backpack on a camping trip. Pull it out, share a few pages aloud over a campfire, ponder the ideas into the night. Most of all, he reminds me of how I like to write my poetry: sometimes adhering to form; sometimes writing without restriction, following the material.
Something Gary said last night on the question of whether he writes every day (we writers like to study other writers' habits) was this: "It (a poem) has to really insist on it before you let it into the world." So, there it is, permission to take a day off to live, do, ponder and read. I will also remind myself that if I'm writing and the material tells me it should be poetry, to not deny the material its form. Because sometimes poetry is the best way to say something. I think I need to say "yes" to poetry more often.