Thursday, February 15, 2007

Poet, essayist Gary Snyder to appear at Laxson Auditorium March 2 for free lecture


As part of Chico State University's On the Creek Lecture Series, which is dedicated to exploring sustainability issues, noted poet and essayist Gary Snyder will appear at Laxson Auditorium on March 2 at 7:30 p.m. The presentation is free.

Snyder has lived in the Sierra Nevada foothills since 1970. Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1975 for "Turtle Island," he has twice been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, in 1992 and 2005. He is a recipient of the Bollingen Poetry Prize, the Robert Kirsch Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2004 Japanese Masaoka Shiki International Haiku Grand Prize.

His latest book, "Back on the Fire" ($24 in hardcover from Shoemaker and Hoard), features recent essays, most previously published, that intermingle autobiography, reflections on the place of the writer in the modern world and a concern that those who have benefited from the natural world (all of us) become more thankful and "give something back."

Snyder sees the world through Daoist-Confucian-Mahayana Buddhist eyes and has little patience for those who romanticize nature with their "quasi-religious pantheistic landscape enthusiasms." In Snyder's "literature of the environment," "we will necessarily be exploring the dark side of nature -- nocturnal, parasitic energies of decomposition and their human parallels." He adds, in another essay: "Nature is not fuzzy and warm. Nature is vulnerable, but it is also tough, and it will inevitably be last up at bat."

Many of the essays deal with the forest, and fire, as a kind of symbol of changing public policy toward the wilderness. "Our wild forests have long had an elegant and self-sustaining nutrient and energy cycle, and staying within that should be a key measure of true sustainability." Periodic low-level fires are necessary for keeping the forest healthy; logging practices that remove the surviving trees after a major fire make it more difficult for the forest to sustain itself. Just as governments have to think in terms of thousands of years in dealing with nuclear waste, Snyder writes, we ought to be thinking of a "thousand year forest plan" as well. Ecology is about process, "a creation happening constantly in each moment. A close term in East Asian philosophy is the word Dao, the Way, dô in Japanese." As he writes in a poem, "--Nature not a book, but a performance, a / high old culture."

The art Snyder advocates "takes nothing from the world; it is a gift and an exchange. It leave the world nourished." "We study the great writings of the Asian past," he writes, "so that we might surpass them today. We hope to create a deeply grounded contemporary literature of nature that celebrates the wonder of our natural world, that draws on and makes beauty of the incredibly rich knowledge gained from science, and that confronts the terrible damage being done today in the name of progress and the world economy."

One November day, Snyder has cleared brush from around his house and sets fire to the pile. "Clouds darkening up from the West, a breeze, a Pacific storm headed this way. Let the flames finish their work -- a few more limb-ends and stubs around the edge to clean up, a few more dumb thoughts and failed ideas to discard -- I think -- this has gone on for many lives!

"How many times / have I thrown you / back on the fire."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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