Route 7 Review - Page 97

Gary Snyder This Present Moment Review By William Nesbitt With his last book of poetry having arrived in 2005, Snyder’s latest collection demonstrates a steady, unhurried, concentrated mind. If every initial poem in a poetry book is a key or introduction to the rest of the poems, “Gnarly” sets us up for the themes of severance to follow. The poem discusses the splitting of wood with images such as “Splitting 18″ long rounds from a beetle-kill / pine tree we felled.” In the tenth line, the narrator abruptly shifts focus and says, “my woman / she was sweet.” The key word is was indicating a lost, former state of being. “Anger, Cattle, and Achilles” details two of the speaker’s “best friends” that “quit speaking” and have split apart like the dead pine of “Gnarly.” One of the friends encourages Snyder to “‘listen to that music’” because “‘the self we hold so dear will soon be gone.’” “How to Know Birds” reminds me us that a name is just a superficial label, shorthand for “The place you’re in / The time of year.” “How they move and where,” social behavior, “Size, speed, sorts of flight,” “quirks,” “calls and songs,” “colors, / details of plumage”—all of “That will tell you the details you need to come up with a name.” The irony is that if you have all of this information, then “you already know this bird” to a depth beyond words and no longer have any need for the name. In “Fixing the System” the narrator works on a “leaky gate-valve” and realizes that “every valve / leaks a little” and “there is no / stopping the flow,” no fixing things completely, no preventing loss. There is no reason to stop trying, but we must always realize that this world, and all systems within it, will always be imperfect—this “flow” is the natural order of all things. “The Shrine at Delphi” details Snyder’s memories of a night in Kyoto “where one night I dreamed of you / forty years ago.” This leads to another remembrance of “eight years even further back / to an apple orchard, / us making love in the shadow of leaves / curled up together, happy, green.” Snyder reflects that “I knew even then / I’d never quite feel like that / with anyone, / ever again.” In the ancient Greek world, Delphi was a place for oracles. Snyder’s recollections foreshadow the immensity of Carole Koda’s life and death (the “sweet woman” “Gnarly” references). Giving the destabilization of the traditional, physical print format, a few thoughts about the book, a review of the physical book may be in order. The cloth edition is luscious with its deep green like the green of a bushy plant or algae on an old river stone. The cover art, “Glacial Erratic, Tuolumne Meadows” by Tom Killion from his High Sierra series shows a field of snow, with a few trees, no one around, and what appears to be a jagged tree stump. The style is reminiscent of traditional Japanese woodcut prints. The front cover both connects and contrasts well with the back cover, a black and white photograph of a blooming tree framing a solitary Snyder wearing several cloth shirts as if he is going to finish some outdoor work as soon as the photographer finishes. In a way, the two covers—the black and white, the coldness evoked in both pictures, the lone stump of a tree—prepare us for the final two poems. “GO NOW” is a stark poem “about death and the / death of a lover,” Snyder’s wife, Carole Koda. While the rest of the poems are classic Snyder, this poem is the gem. There is no romantic glorification or smoothing out of death and the process of dying. Instead, we read descriptions of just what is: “how the eyes / sink back and the teeth stand out.” Observing her body after a couple of days, his “sweet lady’s body / down to essentials” the poem limits itself to the essentials in just three and one-third pages. The only consolation Snyder allows himself is the realization that although going through the pain of someone dying “is the price of attachment,” that the pain is “‘Worth it. Easily worth it.’” The final poem, white print