Gary Snyder | Critical Review by Michael Strickland

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Gary Snyder.
This section contains 661 words
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Critical Review by Michael Strickland

SOURCE: Review of The Practice of the Wild, in The Georgia Review, Vol. XLVI, No. 2, Summer, 1992, pp. 382-83.

In the following review, Strickland praises Snyder's wisdom and attention to craftsmanship in the essays from The Practice of the Wild.

Reading the essays in The Practice of the Wild one can almost see Gary Snyder, the new-age hunter-gatherer so enamored of "good tools" and "high quality information," pecking away at his Macintosh computer (to which he has written a celebratory poem)—the consummate Zen craftsman of words. None of the 1960's rhetoric sometimes found in his earlier essays is here, only eloquence and an "ecology of language." Whether the subject is the history of communal lands and the development of wilderness areas, or the implications of an imposed Western-culture curriculum for the education of twenty-first-century Alaskan Inupiaq children, Snyder's tone is always careful and driven by a pinpoint focus of thought. Such focus was already there in the earlier work, with its even-handed weighing of alternatives in favor of "the old ways," but what makes his new collection of essays so riveting is its exquisite craftsmanship and new maturity in style.

The Practice of the Wild offers a series of deeply entwined discourses on geography, ecology, history, ecofeminism, linguistics, and Native American culture. In the tradition of Montaigne and Thoreau, Snyder refuses to follow a prescriptive formula; instead, we are invited to follow the consciousness of the author as he explores his subject, to participate in learning rather than observe a performance. This is the essay as meditation, what William Covino calls "the art of wondering."

One of Snyder's most effective devices is the personal anecdote, which he uses throughout these essays as metaphor—rather like the discursive Zen koan. One of my favorites has Snyder standing with a climbing partner on the peak of a glacier, observing the vast beauty of the wilderness around them, and the partner saying, "You mean there's a senator for all this?" Such are the gemstones of these essays, scattered throughout, as when we are reminded that we too are wild: "Our bodies are wild. The involuntary quick turn of the head at a shout, the vertigo at looking off a precipice, the heart in the throat in a moment of danger … all universal responses of this mammalian body. They can be seen throughout the class."

Snyder has been one of our most ardent spokespersons for the bioregionalism movement, and he describes himself as "foremost a person of the Yuba River country in the Sierra Nevada of northern California." Bioregionalism is the concept that political borders should not be arbitrarily imposed, but should reflect natural boundaries of geography, flora, and fauna. For instance, the Douglas fir is the definitive flora of Snyder's "Shasta bioregion" of Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. As he points out, "[t]he presence of this tree signifies a rainfall and a temperature range and will indicate what your agriculture might be, how steep the pitch of your roof, what raincoats you'd need."

To understand one's bioregion in Snyder's terms is to know "the spirit of a place." At a conference of Native American leaders and activists, Snyder hears a Crow elder say, "You know, I think if people stay somewhere long enough—even white people—the spirits will begin to speak to them…. [T]he spirits and the old powers aren't lost, they just need people to be around long enough and the spirits will begin to influence them."

Critics have sometimes complained about a surface simplicity in Snyder's work, particularly in his poetry. Yet what seems to be simplicity is nearly always the reflection and influence of his Zen and Native American roots. There is a deep wellspring of wisdom and tradition that runs throughout his writing and urges us to "make a world-scale 'Natural Contract' with the oceans, the air, the birds in the sky." Any serious consideration of Snyder's work, whether critical text or classroom study, now must include The Practice of the Wild.

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This section contains 661 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Michael Strickland
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