Earth Day book: Turtle Island by Gary Snyder

Turtle Island by Gary Snyder

My copy of Turtle Island by Gary Snyder is  dog-eared and bookmarked, notated and scribbled over.  It is a Pulitzer prize-winner and instantly accessible.  It is over 35 years old, and immediately relevant.   It is mostly poetry,  with a few poetic essays on legislating a better world.  It is a small book that is full of much more than many big books.  It is a book that I have often used at readings.

Oh, where to start?  The factoids and essays condemning our fossil fuel economy and its turn toward nuclear energy is timing as the US funds the first new nuclear plant in 30 years, but this is a book of poetry after all.

In the section called Magpie’s Song, a selection from the poem Mother Earth: Her Whales:

The whales turn and glisten, plunge
and sound and rise again,
Hanging over subtly darkening deeps
Flowing like breathing planets
in the sparkling whorls
of living light —

______

No Nature by Gary SnyderDescription by New Directions Publishing

These Pulitzer Prize-winning poems and essays by the author of No Nature range from the lucid, lyrical, and mystical to the political. All, however, share a common vision: a rediscovery of North America and the ways by which we might become true natives of the land for the first time.

Review: Turtle Island

Editorial Review – Kirkus Reviews

Snyder’s lifestyle has been disparaged as Beatnik/hippie/dropout (do we still believe they don’t wash?) and pseudo-mystic, but anyone who follows the middle-class drum beat needs only a glance at his food or fuel bill or a whiff of dirty urban air for a reminder that all’s not well with the man-made world. Or for a remembrance of how nice it used to be, read Gary Snyder’s keenly observant poems about logging, hunting, “”burning,”” camping, and the call of the wild; ridges, valleys, creeks and falls; manzanita boughs, red-tailed hawks, curlews, whales, pine needles, Boletus mushrooms, night herons who “”nest in the cypress/by the San Francisco/ stationary boilers/ with the high smoke stack,”” and “”the Delight/ at the heart of creation.”” They’re like the water colors hanging on the walls of your country home, little rough-hewn visions of the living things with whom we share our planet (the “”Turtle Island”” of the title). No cosmic verities or trendy folderol here — just the poems shining in their own light.

Review: Turtle Island

Editorial Review – Kirkus Reviews

Unfortunately, poets are not legislators — unacknowledged or otherwise — of the human race, or Gary Snyder, who calls the wilderness his “”constituency,”” would create “”a new definition of democracy that would include the nonhuman. . . . This is what I think we mean by an ecological conscience.”” American Indian pantheism and the nonegoism of Buddhism underlie Snyder’s poetry — values he calls “”archaic,”” “”primitive,”” the ancient roots of human civilization, and redefines as the alternative to the bankruptcy of materialistic technological society. Snyder’s lifestyle has been disparaged as Beatnik/hippie/dropout (do we still believe they don’t wash?) and pseudo-mystic, but anyone who follows the middle-class drum beat needs only a glance at his food or fuel bill or a whiff of dirty urban air for a reminder that all’s not well with the man-made world. Or for a remembrance of how nice it used to be, read Gary Snyder’s keenly observant poems about logging, hunting, “”burning,”” camping, and the call of the wild; ridges, valleys, creeks and falls; manzanita boughs, red-tailed hawks, curlews, whales, pine needles, Boletus mushrooms, night herons who “”nest in the cypress/ by the San Francisco/stationary boilers/ with the high smoke stack,”” and “”the Delight/ at the heart of creation.”” They’re like the water colors hanging on the walls of your country home, little rough-hewn visions of the living things with whom we share our planet (the “”Turtle Island”” of the title). No cosmic verities or trendy folderol here — just pretty poems shining in their own light.

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