A Review of This Present Moment to be released mid-April 2015
What originally drew me to the poetry of Gary Snyder was the connectedness he has with nature with no hint of the sentimentality often found in nature poems. He also has a way of connecting scant words with deep thought and embracing what’s around him, not as a romantic but as a perceptive poet who pays attention to everything.
A student of wildlife, languages, and primitive cultures around the world, Snyder connects physical realities to a spiritual realm he has reportedly reached by practicing Zen Buddhism. As a meditative Christian who praises God as creator while warily watching the whereabouts of the alligator in my pond, Zen offers no appeal to me. Yet I’m impressed by the precedent Snyder has set for countless Zen poets extending the religious boundaries of poetry all over the world.
And so, as a lover of nature, the natural, and the spiritual too, I had the idea of studying his work more thoroughly in hopes of seeing what makes his books such prize-winners — a thought that initiated my request for a review copy of This Present Moment: New Poems by Gary Snyder, which the publisher, Counterpoint, kindly sent.
From the first page, “Gnarly” intrigued me with brevity buzzing through a log-splitter and a “beetle-kill/ pine tree” before ending on the sensual acknowledgement of “my woman/ she was sweet.”
How do you get from one to the other in eleven lines with the insinuation of a story behind each image? As the title says, you give yourself over fully to the present moment even though the “sweet” gets bittersweet in that one word “was.”
While each moment exercises its muscular lines, fully present to the telling, the past flickers by too. “The Earth’s Wild Places” becomes a love poem. “Siberian Outpost” offers narrative and social commentary in a vivid scene as shown in “swampy acres/ elk-churned mud.”
The sounds, the smells, the stories put readers in each present poetic moment, sometimes with humor, as in “Why I Take Good Care of My MacIntosh,” and sometimes with the pain of relationships gone wrong, as in “Anger, Cattle, and Achilles,” where “Two of my best friends quit speaking/ one said his wrath was like that of Achilles.”
Relationships in these poems extend to peoples around the world, such as in “Old New Mexican Genetics,” where “an 18th century listing of official genetic possibilities” defines:
“Indio. A Native American person
Mestizo. One Spanish and one Indio parent”
and “Coyote. Indio parent with Mestizo parent.”
Class systems, caste systems follow – and even a gentle chastisement of Thomas Jefferson for having slaves, yet the poems evoke no wistfulness nor preachiness. They simply tell it like it is in a pragmatic but entirely poetic voice – even to the heart-rendering poem “Go Now,” which ends the book and begins:
“You don’t want to read this,
be warned, turn back
from the darkness,
— about death and the
death of a lover — it’s not some vague meditation
or a homily, not irony,
no god or enlightenment or
acceptance — or struggle — with the
end of our life,
it’s about how the eyes
sink back and the teeth stand out
after a few warm days.
breath, and I still wasn’t ready
for that breath, that last, to come
This Present Moment: New Poems, paperback