Gary Snyder’s No Nature

Reading much of Gary Snyder’s later poetry it’s easy to forget that he is often classified as a Beat poet, and not just because he was friends with many of the most important people in that movement. One rediscovers those ties while reading early poems in No Nature: New and Selected Poems.

His early emphasis on Buddhism dovetails with other Beats like Kerouac, Whalen, and others. More importantly, the informal nature of his themes, particularly the emphasis on sex, places him in the same stream.

I’m not always fond of the poems that include sex as a theme, particularly since it often seems at odds with the Buddhist themes that can often be found in the same poems, but when done well the inclusion of sex in a poem seems to capture a sense of reality that is often lacking in more formal poetry.

One of my favorite of these poems is:

The shack and a few trees
float in the blowing fog

I pull out your blouse
warm my cold hands
you laugh and shudder
peeling garlic by the
hot iron stove.
bring in the axe, the rake,
the wood.

we’ll lean on the wall
against each other
stew simmering on the fire
as it grows dark
drinking wine.

Of course, I probably like this poem because the playful gesture that opens the poem reminds me of fond memories in my own life. It also offers a nice contrast to the image that ends the poem, an image that offers rather different sexual overtones.

Still, this simple scene, simply conveys an image of love that is as comforting as mother’s tomato dumplings or homemade chicken soup.