Snyder’s danger on peaks

I may have put poetry on hold lately, but I haven't forgotten that this is, after all, primarily a poetry blog. When I read that Gary Snyder's latest volume of poetry danger on peaks featured poems on Mt St Helens and, as the jacket notes, "poems in an American/Japanese hybrid, a form of haibun, "haiku plus prose," which will remind readers as much of William Carlos Williams as Basho" I knew that I would have to read it. First because I generally like Snyder, but secondly because, as you may have noticed, I've become intrigued with haibun and its many manifestations.

It turns out I was a little disappointed with the poems about Mt. St. Helens, but perhaps that's because I think I was even more familiar with the area than Snyder was, having lived just south of the mountain for thirty-five years and hiked the area many times both before and after the mountain erupted.

Luckily, I was more impressed with the different variations of haibun Snyder introduces.

My favorite haibun is in many ways quite traditional, but it's also very personal:

For Anthea Corinne Snyder Lowry 1932-200
She was on the Marin County Grand Jury, heading to a meeting, south of Petaluma on the 101. The pickup ahead of her lost a grass-mower off the back. She pulled onto the shoulder, and walked right out into the lane to take it off. That had always been her way. Struck by a speedy car, an instant death.

White egrets standing there
always standing there
there at the crossing

on the Petaluma River

The extended haibun "After Bamiyan" about the Taliban destruction of the giant Buddhas may well be worth the price of the book itself.

Strangely enough, though, my favorite poem turned out to be a rather traditional one:

Mimulus on the Road to Town

Out of the cracks in the roadcut rockwalls,
clumps of peach-colored mimulus
spread and bloom,
stiffly quiver in the hot
log-truck breeze-blast
always going by "
they never die.


2 thoughts on “Snyder’s danger on peaks

  1. Yes, because St Helens was relatively young, it had a nearly perfectly rounded top with little or no erosion.

    Apparently Snyder first climbed it in 1945, a little before my time since I was only four at the time. The first section of the book describes his early memories of the mountain and then his later return to the mountain.

    Having hiked that area extensively as recently as a year before the mountain blew, I had an awful lot of the same feelings he did when I returned, paricularly when Bill and I climbed the mountain and looked directly down into the crater.

    I suspect that you’d like Snyder’s book, Shelley.

What do you think?