Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Gary Snyder: A Natural Selection

When I was an undergraduate student, I began my college career as a chemistry major and math minor. Although during my high school years I had an equal interest and about as much aptitude in English and writing, I originally had been convinced my path to a profitable profession lay in the pursuit of these studies for which I had registered at freshman orientation. However, in my sophomore year when I entered an introductory creative writing class that I had chosen as an elective course, I discovered a renewed enthusiasm for literature and poetry writing, and I switched my major to English.

Indeed, I remember the first book assigned that semester by my teacher, poet and fiction writer Steve Katz, opened my eyes to an appreciation and understanding of contemporary poetry that I had not yet known. The volume, Gary Snyder’s Regarding Wave, seemed to reveal a relationship between language and the land, the spiritual and the physical, humans and nature, that proved aesthetically pleasing while accurately rendered. I remember admiring how the poet’s combination of concern for humans with an apparent affection for his environment—delivering to readers a celebration of the natural world—could be created in such a way by a blending of personal perspective (though never confessional or self-centered) and persuasive expression.

With his background as an individual who once worked as a merchant seaman or in logging camps, and who labored among the elements of nature he described, Snyder’s related experiences contributed to an authentic and convincing tone in his poetry. In addition, Snyder’s seeking to integrate into his writings an awareness of other beliefs (as in his devotion to Zen Buddhism) or behaviors witnessed in different cultures (such as Japanese, Chinese, or American Indian) offered a fresh approach one would not find elsewhere. In her book of criticism, Soul Says, Helen Vendler has stated: “Snyder is one of the many modernist poets to have brought English lyric into conjunction with Chinese and Japanese poetry. The long history of Western fascination with ‘the Chinese written character as a medium of poetry’ (Pound out of Fenollosa) has reached its apogee with Snyder, if only because Snyder (unlike Amy Lowell, Pound, Stevens, Williams, Rexroth, and others) really knows Japanese and Chinese.”

In fact, his biographical acquaintance with a diverse set of principles and his participation in a wide variety of activities seemed to add to the scope of his poetry. Perhaps for those reasons I often found it difficult to readily group Snyder among the Beat poets, as most critics appeared to do. Instead, for me Gary Snyder’s work remained unique, even though his connections to Jack Kerouac (who depicted Snyder as a fictional character in The Dharma Bums), Allen Ginsberg, and the other Beat writers were frequently cited—including Snyder’s reading with Ginsberg at the Six Gallery (in San Francisco in 1955, when “Howl” startled listeners) where, in the minds of some, the Beat movement may have been born.

In the decades since that crucial initial encounter with Gary Snyder’s poems, I have maintained my respect for the consistent characteristics evident in his consciousness of a fragile ecology, his display of a moral conscience, his explorations of self, and his continuing care for craft as exhibited in the fine writing. Shortly after my introduction to Snyder’s poetry, his next collection of poems, Turtle Island, which many may consider his most significant book, won the Pulitzer Prize. For a couple of decades, Snyder’s new poetry appeared sporadically (although a collection of selected poems, No Nature, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1992) and his reputation as a poet seemed to be solidified mostly by those earlier poetry volumes.

However, in 1996 Snyder published Mountains and Rivers Without End, a book-length poem uniting personal and universal themes that he’d begun forty years before in 1956. This work won a number of awards and garnered great praise upon its release. Additionally, its long and at times elevated explanation or interpretation of humans’ relationship with nature exposed Gary Snyder’s poetry to a new audience—including a number of my students, as I now recommended they read his work, just the way I had been advised to engage Snyder’s poetry when I was an undergraduate.

In 2004, for the first time in a couple of decades, Gary Snyder released a collection of completely new individual pieces of poetry within Danger on Peaks. And only a few weeks ago the Poetry Foundation announced Gary Snyder as the 2008 winner of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the lifetime achievement award that carries a $100,000 purse, which will be presented at a ceremony later this month. The choice of Gary Snyder for this recognition seems like a natural selection, logical and laudable.

In the press release noting the granting of this award to Snyder, the Poetry Foundation’s judges (Eavan Boland, Sandra M. Gilbert, and Christian Wiman) reported: “Gary Snyder is a true nature poet: there’s no sentimentalism to his work, and he never uses the natural world simply to celebrate his own sensibility. A deeply learned and meditative artist, an impassioned ecologist, and a poet of great scope as well as intense focus, Snyder has written poems that we will be reading for as long as we’ve been reading Robert Frost.” Wiman, editor of Poetry, remarked: “His poetry is a testament to the sacredness of the natural world and our relation to it, and a prophecy of what we stand to lose if we forget that relation.”

Gary Snyder was born on this date (May 8) in 1930. Today, as an acknowledgment of Gary Snyder’s birthday and as an indication of appreciation for his work, I extend the recommendation of his poetry—which I received as an undergraduate thirty-five years ago and that I now repeat to my students each semester—to all readers who wish to discover poems celebrating our regard for nature’s great beauty, or its correspondingly immense power, even while conscientiously confronting us with a complementary sense of personal and social responsibility.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your retrospective on Snyder. Several of his poems are among my touchstones. When I read the last syllable of "Gaia"--"ah"--I am reminded that's how I feel whenever I encounter a poem of his.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading your text and watching Snyder reading. Lovely earthy and yet spiritual poetry.

Poet's Platform said...

Very nice writing on Snyder. Thoughtful. Insightful. Your introduction to him is similar to my own experience. I agree that Snyder is not fundamentally a Beat poet. Not nearly as urban. Not quite so angry. His crafting style too is different. More clipped, clear, concise. Less prone to stream of consciousness rants. I learned to "trim the fat" from my own poetry by his example. I met him once many years ago with a group of student poets in Olympia, Washington. He didn't talk much about poetry. Instead, he showed us how to peel the fibers off the inside of cedar bark and weave them together as Salish Indians once did and still do.

Michael Fike

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