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Buddhadharma : Spri 2007
spring 2007| 68 |buddhadharma Ben Howard is a professor emeritus of englisH at alfred university in alfred, new york, and tHe autHor of several Books of poetry. He is a longtime student of Zen and vipassana. feature reviews not long ago, the poet and essayist Gary Snyder was asked whether his poems were determined by inspi ration or by a more deliberate method of composition. “Not exactly either,” he replied. “Every day I just vow to be open.” If one may judge by his newest book, the poet has kept his vow. Openness to experience – and to the world’s manifold cultures – is everywhere apparent in the present volume, which gathers Snyder’s recent essays, memoirs, forewords, and elegies, some of them expansive and others as brief as two pages. In these bold, engros sing pieces, which interweave verse and prose, scholarly discourse and informal reminiscence, Snyder addresses subjects as diverse as sustainable forestry, Paleoli thic cave paintings, the “Japanese psyche,” the battle of the Alamo, Noh drama, the poultry industry, the haiku of Masaoka Shiki, and the etymologies of the words “nature” and “environment.” What uni fies these wideranging explorations is, as Snyder’s title suggests, the subject of fire, viewed here as a “partner in the ecosys tem” and considered in both its literal and metaphoric contexts. But a more pro found connection may be seen in Snyder’s insistent iteration of fundamental Bud dhist themes, most prominently those of interdependence, nonviolence, and the impermanence of all conditioned things. Examined in relation to Snyder’s chang ing subjects, these persistent themes give unity and momentum to an otherwise miscellaneous collection. Snyder’s awareness of the interde pendence, or mutuality, of all phenom ena may be traced to an experience that occurred early in his adult life. While still in his twenties, as he was laying the slabs of rock known as riprap on a mountain trail, he had what he would later call his “first glimpse of the whole universe as interconnected, interpenetrating, mutually reflecting, and mutually embracing.” Over the next five decades, Snyder’s revelatory glimpse would become a com pelling poetic vision, projected most ambi tiously in his magisterial poetic sequence, Back on the Fire: essays By Gary snyder shoemaker and hoard, 2007 176 pages; $24 (hardcover) reviewed by Ben howard explorer of the wild Mind ©DiannaSmith