Gary Snyder: Collected Poems

Editors: Jack Shoemaker & Anthony Hunt

The Library of America 2022

ISBN 978-1-59853-721-5

American poet and essayist Gary Snyder, still living at age 92, remains a staunch advocate for protection of the earth. That’s clearly evident in a new Library of America assemblage of his decades-long writing efforts, “Gary Snyder: Collected Poems.”

This compilation delivers a rare opportunity to have a writer such as Snyder to take an active role in assembling his works …

Unlike an array of other Library of America books I’ve reviewed which focus on deceased writers, this volume was put together with Snyder’s involvement. It includes eleven of his poetry books and some unpublished works.

Snyder, often associated with the Beat Generation because of his political and environmental writing, is best known for “Turtle Island” which netted him a Pulitzer Prize. The book, released after the Vietnam War, outlines his dream of a world where humans and creatures live in harmony. In one poem, “Tomorrow’s Song,” included in Turtle Island, he writes: “We look to the future with pleasure/we need no fossil fuel/get power within/grow strong on less./”

Likewise, an essay, “Four Changes,” written as the 1960s environmental movement unfolded, is a visionary manifesto, suggesting solutions to overpopulation, overconsumption, pollution and dependence on nuclear energy.

Another poem, “Danger on Peaks,” is autobiographical, revealing his ecological views and his Zen teachings. When Snyder summits Mt. St. Helens in 1945, he is profoundly affected by the wonder of nature. But when he descends a few days later, he learns to his horror that the USA dropped an atomic bomb on Japan two days earlier. “By the purity and beauty and permanence of Mt. St. Helens, I will fight against this cruel destructive power and those who would seek to use it, for all my life,” he writes.

Always invaluable in the Library of America editions is a chronology at the end of the book where in this case Snyder’s life’s journey can be linked to his poetic voice. He’s spent days working and trekking outdoors, and years practicing Zen Buddhism, retiring in 2002 as Professor Emeritus at UC-Davis.

This compilation delivers a rare opportunity to have a writer such as Snyder to take an active role in assembling his works, but it’s also disappointing that a final essay, or foreword, from Snyder was not included. It would have been invaluable to know his thoughts on global warming, the possibility of a nuclear war and other environmental issues.

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