Occasional Moments of Peace, Gratitude, and Delight

I first learned of Gary Snyder through Kerouac’s novel, The Dharma Bums, where he was fictionalized as “Japhy Ryder,”   who, according to Alvah Goldbook [aka Allen Ginsberg], was  “a great new hero of American culture.”  Snyder’s Back on the Fire: Essays jazzed me many times, a sample of which follows…

This Sierra ecosystem has been fire-adapted for millions of years, and fire can be our ally. 14

Biodiversity… only means variety of life, and it means “Right to Life for Nonhuman Others,” a moral sentiment I religiously support. 16

What we refer to as nature or the “environment” or the wild world is our endangered habitat and home, and we are its problem species. 24

We study the great writings of the Asian past 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. 30

We must work on a really long time frame. 40

… the most important single ethical teaching of the Buddhist tradition is nonviolence toward all of nature, ahimsa… 52

Poetry always comes down to language—if the choice of words, the tricks of the syntax, are not exactly right, whatever other virtues a piece of writing might have, it is not a poem. 56

… in the rest of the world [Haiku]  is received as fresh, new, experimental, youthful and playful, unpretentious, and available to students and beginners alike who want to try out a poetic way of speaking. 58

The mystery of language, the poetic imagination, and the mind of compassion are roughly one and the same, and through poetry perhaps they can keep guiding the world toward occasional moments of peace, gratitude, and delight. One hesitates to ask for more. 60

We need poets and novelists who pay no attention to literary critics. But what we ultimately need most are human beings who love the world. 70

I believe that more people staying put, learning their place, and taking on some active role would improve our social and economic life. 98

Advice to writers: Think like a craftperson, learn your materials, your tools, and then read a lot of poetry so you don’t keep inventing wheels. 100

Ezra Pound introduced me to Chinese poetry, and I began to study classical Chinese. When it came to writing out of my own experience, most of modernism didn’t fit, except for the steer toward Chinese and Japanese. 141

The world is made of stories. Good stories are hard to come by, and a good story that you can honestly call your own is an incredible gift. These stories are part of a bigger story that connects us all. 160


Lincoln County, Missouri; photo by Liz Burkemper


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