Back on the Fire: Essays

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Counterpoint Press, 2007 - Literary Collections - 167 pages
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Following The Practice of the Wild and A Place in Space, this new collection of essays by Gary Snyder blazes with insight. In his most autobiographical writing to date, these essays employ fire as a metaphor for the crucial moment when deeply held viewpoints yield to new experiences, and our spirits and minds broaden and mature. Surveying the current wisdom that fires are in some cases necessary for ecosystems of the wild, Snyder contemplates the evolution of his view on the practice while exploring its larger repercussions on our perceptions of nature and the great landscapes of the West. In two sections, he writes and riffs on a wide range of topics, from explorations of southwestern European Paleolithic cave art to his own personal poetic history with haiku; from pungent reminiscences of youthful West Coast logging and trail crew days to talks given in Paris and Tokyo on art and archetypes. He honors poets of his generation, like Philip Whalen and Allen Ginsberg, and meditates on art, labor, and the making of families, houses, and homesteads. All of these essays maintain Snyder's reputation as an intellect to be reckoned with, while often revealing him at his most emotionally vulnerable. This is a work that requires us to make friends with impermanence and error--to make "wildfire" a partner--and to keep burning the hazardous, the excess, and even one's own dreams and attainments, over and over again, for a lifetime practice. The final impression is holistic: We perceive not a collection of essays, but a cohesive presentation of Snyder's life and work expressed in his characteristically straightforward prose.

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Back on the Fire: Essays

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This essay collection by Pulitzer Prize winner Snyder (A Place in Space ) contains the latest thoughts of a great poet with a lifelong devotion to the world, humanity, and literature. Snyder discusses ... Read full review


1 Fires Floods and Following the Dao 3
2 The Ark of the Sierra 9
Wandering South and North Erasing Borders Coming to Live on Turtle Island 17
Gathered on Okinawa 21
5 Thinking Toward the ThousandYear Forest Plan 37
6 The Mountain Spirits True No Nature 43
7 The Path to Matsuyama 51
8 Writers and the War Against Nature 61
6 Coyote Makes Things Hard 111
7 Shell Game 117
8 The Way of Poisons 121
9 Regarding Smokey the Bear Sutra 123
10 On the Problems Lurking in the PhraseBefore the Wilderness 129
11 Allen Ginsberg Crosses Over 133
12 Highest and Driest 137
13 Afterword to a New Edition of Riprap 141

9 Entering the Fiftieth Millennium 73
10 Lifetimes with Fire 81
1 With Wild Surmise 95
2 Sustainability Means Winning Hearts and Minds 97
3 Can Poetry Change the World? 99
4 Three Way Tavern 103
5 The Will of Wild Wild Women 107
14 The Cottonwoods 145
15 Harriet Callicottes Stone in Kansas 149
16 Empty Shells 155
17 Grown in America 159
Acknowledgments 163
Publications Record 165

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About the author (2007)

Gary Snyder was born in San Francisco and received a B.A. in anthropology at Reed College. He attended Indiana University and pursued the study of oriental languages at the University of California at Berkeley. When he was 18, he shipped out of New York as a sailor. He later worked as a logger and forest lookout in Oregon, Washington, and California. Before moving to Japan to study in a Zen monastery under a Bollingen Foundation grant, Snyder worked on an American tanker in the Persian Gulf and South Pacific Islands, then spent four months in India (1961--62). Snyder is one of the most famous Beat poets, along with Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. He is the most controlled and concise of that school; yet his adventurous life has given his verse a unique range of subject and feeling. Close to nature since childhood, he also is the most widely known poet of the ecology movement. Often his poems have a Zen-like stillness and sharpness of perception, which serves to define the connective web between humanity and the natural universe. Snyder is deeply interested in the American Indian and the idea of the tribe as an alternative to modern culture, or at least an example for modern culture. Besides receiving the first Zen Institute of America Award in 1956, Snyder was the recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Sciences poetry prize in 1966. His essays, Earth House Hold (1969), composed of journal notes and diary excerpts, have become a classsic in the underground ecology movement.

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