Friday, 6 December 2013


A week-end book review led me to the prose writer, Rebecca Solnit.  Reading her most recent book The Faraway Nearby led me to her earlier Wanderlust: a History of Walking which led me to the American poet, Gary Snyder.  I asked the Scottish Poetry Library for something to give me a taster of Snyder’s poetry and they sent me Axe Handles.

Two things struck me immediately about these crafted free-verse short poems: the scarcity of metaphor and the everyday subject matter.

In “I:VI:40077” Snyder observes
                  “Kid coming out of the outhouse
                       at dusk in pajamas
                           still tucking them in,
                                    ‘how many eggs?’”
Then the next verse
                  “Last night, the first time,
                        racoons opened
                        the refrigerator.
                                    You can’t slow down

“Strategic Air Command” centres on a camping expedition.  Someone, perhaps a child, asks
                  “How many satellites in the sky?
                    Does anyone know where they are?
                    What are they doing, who watches them?”
Meanwhile “Frost settles on sleeping bags” and the campers have a last drink by the dying fire:
                  “The cliffs and the stars
                    Belong to the same universe.
                    This little air in between
                    Belongs to the twentieth century and its wars.”

The cumulative effect of these poems is to emphasise the values of family, practical work and the environment, in contrast to those
                  “ ... who know how to
                    Twist arms, get fantastic wealth,
                    Hurt with heavy shoulders of power,
                    And then drink to it!
                                    they don’t get caught
                                    they own the law”
(“Money Goes Upstream”)

The recording of the everyday and the ordinary language of the poems reminded me of William Carlos Williams’ famous poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow”.     

Reading Snyder’s poems has made me see the apparently ordinary in a new light.  Simplicity? No.  Clarity? Yes.

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