Danger on Peaks: Gary Snyder’s Latest

Near the beginning of Gary Snyder’s new Danger on Peaks, the poet asks, “Who wouldn’t take the chance to climb a snowpeak and get the long view?” While the question is part of a piece about climbing Mt. St. Helens, it can be read as an invitation as well — who wouldn’t take the chance to follow him into Danger on Peaks and see the view? The long view — mountains and loved ones (past and present) and the land — offers glimpses of “beings living or not, beings or not,/ inside or outside of time”, and is one well worth beholding.

But the book is more than just a pretty view. Informed by Snyder’s Buddhist ethic, it gives us a way to look at what we see, and it’s clear throughout the book — from the peaks of upheaval to the valley between them — that the cycle itself has something to teach us if we’ll pay attention.

Danger on Peaks is Snyder’s first collection of entirely new poems since Axe Handles, which was published in 1983. With a mixture of styles ranging from prose poems to haiku, the book is divided into six sections and takes its title from a poem in its fifth, “For Carole”:

Her lithe leg
proud, skeptical,
passionate, trained
by the
by the
danger on peaks

The whole book is a journey, and each successive poem leads the reader (in this case, me) a little further; it’s definitely not a random collection that can be skipped through at will. Reading the entire collection is an experience akin to going on a pleasantly challenging hike with a knowledgeable guide who loves the land he travels. The path Snyder takes here goes from the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens to reflections on people — friends and family — he’s known to the Taliban’s destruction of the large Buddhas in Bamiyan and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Near the beginning of the book, he writes of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and says in the poem “Atomic Dawn”:

Horrified, blaming scientists and politicians and the governments of the world, I swore a vow to myself, something like, “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.”

I think this book is a testament to that. Whether it’s more direct, as in the poems in the “After Bamiyan” section, or less so, like the poems written about friends and family, the book is constructive and respectful, understanding of life, both in place and part of a whole.

I could choose many examples of this from the book, but I’ve decided to leave you with a couple of passages from this poem.

For Philip Zenshin Whalen
d. 26 June 2002

(and for 33 pine trees)

Load of logs
chains cinched down and double-checked
the truck heads slowly up the hill

I will think of you
pines from this mountain
as you shelter people in the Valley
years to come

Though our roles may change, we’re all part of something. Gary Snyder does well to remind us.

16 Responses

  1. Gary SnyderGary Snyder is,
    Gary Snyder

    Gary Snyder is, pardon my french, une bordel de super chouette. But what else would you expect from the guy who introduced me to Han-Shan? I have yet to read his new work, but two of my favourite poems of his are Nansen and Building.

  2. seeing Gary………I’ve had
    seeing Gary…..

    ….I’ve had the privledge of seeing Gary Snyder read 3 times, all the readings being in D.C., ranging from a reading at a big churh on Capitol Hill, where he was accompanied by Paul Winter’s music, to a small bookstore downtown where we were crammed in real tight, somebody shouted “read louder!” and Gary responded by simply saying, “I do not shout my poetry.”, he was also asked later, “how do you make a living as a poet in America?”, and his response was, “stick to your day job, mine is teaching poetry at U.C. Davis.”, what a great night it was. The other time I saw him was at the Folger Shakepeare Library reading from Mountains and Rivers Without End upon it’s publication, I got to meet and shake his hand that night.
    Well I guess you can see that he’s perhaps my favorite living poet and if he’s reading anywhere close by I’ll be there, in fact it was a search for Gary Snyder that led me to LitKicks a few years ago. That Japhy Rider man has been a big inspiration in a wired man’s life for sure, thanks for the turn on Jamelah, I’m heading for Amazon.com right now……mark

  3. yes, JamGreat review of a
    yes, Jam

    Great review of a unique poet.
    The lines to Philip Whalen brought tears to my eyes


  4. The Long View”we’re all a
    The Long View

    we’re all a part of something.” Gary has always been an inspiration for me. His gentle soul, his appreciation and respect for nature, his sweet and poignant words.

    I came across something today concerning the gray wolves in Yellowstone Park. There were only twenty some odd wolves in the park when a few more where reintroduced and now there are close to 700. Now that may seem like a lot of wolves but not when you consider how many humans visit the park each year. It has come to the point that we ‘allow’ wilderness to exist on our planet, only at our whim or at least we think so. Yet, the blast of St. Helens, the tidal waves in India, the hurricanes of Florida, all of those destructive forces of nature prove how fragile, not powerful, we humans are.

    Gary and his kind are also an endangered species. His respect for nature, mountains, rocks, trees and sea turtles is mostly forgotten in the quest for acquisition, greed and power and other such human foolishness. Gary has the long view from the mountaintop. If only more could see…

  5. Wireman,i think i knew that

    i think i knew that you got to the kicks via Snyder, but it’s touching to hear it again.
    (i got there through Ginsberg) – a statement about our paths, i think. All roads lead to Rome.
    All hearts find the philosopher’s stone (with luck we’ll know it when we see it)

  6. In the flesh is always best
    In the flesh is always best and so you are blessed. Even from a distance, I can see. =)

  7. I think my tears come from
    I think my tears come from the fact that so few found this subject or Gary worth commenting on. Ahh, but we are an endangered species, are we not?

  8. Sounds greatI’ve never read
    Sounds great

    I’ve never read Snyder before, but this sounds good. It sounds like a lot of subjects have been tied in together, and it’s strange, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the time of the atomic bomb back in the old days, and how we’re all taught about it in school, and it’s just we’re supposed to just accept that it happened, but here I am in my twenties, and it’s bothering me now. How wrong it seemed. It seems like many things in the world are tied in together, good and bad. World peace one day, wars the next. I believe maybe the earth’s tsunamis and volcano eruptions could be the earth reacting to our actions. Maybe not. But anyway, I get back on track. Sounds like some good literature reading. Mountains are awesome. People are always seeing interesting visions in them. What is it about mountains?

  9. I remember back in grade
    I remember back in grade school in the early sixties, being taught to “duck & cover” in the classroom in case of nuclear attack. All us kids were told to crouch under our desks, put one hand over our eyes and one hand over the back of our neck. As if that would protect us from an atomic blast. Weird…so weird…

  10. Looks Like Another Good
    Looks Like Another Good Snyder book

    Looks like another Good Snyder book. I have a copy of Snyder’s collection, No Nature. I have seen him in person and on TV. Gary Snyder is one of our greatest living poets.

    This newest title appears to be a book I would probably check out in the library or may BUY in the near future. (That is, after I buy Action Poetry…after all I did contribute to it.)

  11. SnyderI only read some poems

    I only read some poems by him through the net and I liked them. Great that he keeps writing.

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