Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Poet Laureate of Deep Ecology

by Drew Martin

There were two school assignments that stand out in my mind. One was a 40 page research paper I was required to write (on prosthetics) in the 8th grade and the other, for my 12th grade English class, was to interpret a Greek play in anyway we felt would honor the subject. I made a theatre mask out of clay and used it for a discussion with my fellow students. That was an interesting class. The teacher had Ph.D. (not common at his level: his dissertation was on E. E. Cummings), he wore jeans (which no other male teacher did at the time) and he set up a curriculum to be less about high school and more about college. Additionally, he took a little liberty with his room, with a couch, a record player and a few other man-cave elements. For another project, we were asked to select and analyze a poem, I felt free enough to choose Gary Snyder's Hiking in the Totsugawa Gorge.

The title has more words than the actual work. The entire poem is:

a waterfall

I brought attention to the cascading structure of the poem and how the reader assumes the writer is actually looking at a waterfall but that he himself is also creating his own little waterfall.

At 17, I was amused and overconfident, thinking I was writing A+ work; I got a B+. For 24 years I had not given Snyder much thought, so yesterday I looked up his work online.

Here is one poem I came across, not much longer, with a flipped look:

How Poetry Comes to Me

It comes blundering over the
Boulders at night, it stays
Frightened outside the
Range of my campfire
I go to meet it at the
Edge of the light

This next poem, written in 1958, reminds me of the moment Alexander Calder noted as the starting point for his life's work; sculpture that sought balance. He observed (from the deck of a ship he was working on) the sun on the eastern horizon and the moon, exactly opposite, on the western horizon.

Snyder, born in 1930, is often associated with the Beat Generation and the San Francisco Renaissance. In addition to being a poet, he was also an essayist, lecturer, and environmental activist (the "poet laureate of Deep Ecology").