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Back on the Fire: Essays [Kindle Edition]

Gary Snyder
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Following The Practice of the Wild, this new collection of essays by Gary Snyder blazes with insight. In his most autobiographical writing to date, these essays employ fire as a metaphor for the crucial moment when deeply held viewpoints yield to new experiences, and our spirits and minds broaden and mature. Snyder here writes and riffs on a wide range of topics, from explorations of southwestern European Paleolithic cave art to his own personal poetic history with haiku; from reminiscences of youthful West Coast logging and trail crew days to talks given in Paris and Tokyo on art and archetypes. He honors poets of his generation, like Philip Whalen and Allen Ginsberg, and meditates on art, labor, and the making of families, houses, and homesteads.
This is a work that requires us to make friends with impermanence and error — to make "wildfire" a partner — and to keep burning the hazardous, the excess, and even one's own dreams and attainments, over and over again. The final impression is holistic: We perceive not a collection of essays, but a cohesive presentation of Snyder's life and work expressed in his characteristically straightforward prose.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Poet and essayist Snyder, a Pulitzer and National Book Award winner, has been a committed environmentalist and student of East Asian thought for decades. For almost as long, he has lived in the Sierra Nevada, where he saw the changes in attitudes toward preserving forests. Any reader unfamiliar with these details of Snyder's life and outlook will be well acquainted with them by the end of this new collection of essays since he returns to them with numbing repetition, down to the very phrases used. While Snyder's goal is admirable—to alert readers to the need for a more balanced attitude toward land and forest preservation—he would have been more effective had he reworked his thoughts into a single essay. There are some lovely nuggets, such as a section about the Maidu Coyote myth and an elegiac piece about Allen Ginsberg's death. But most of this slim volume is dedicated to evaluating prescribed burns as a way of saving California's ecological environment. It's hard to argue with his conclusions—that we must learn to respect nature and live within it rather than just exploit it—but Snyder's writing betrays a level of self-satisfaction with his own enlightened viewpoint that may put readers off from thinking seriously about the subject. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Poet, Buddhist, man of the land, and scholar, Snyder uses breath as his lines' measure in poetry and prose as he celebrates nature's beauty and considers humankind's impact on the good earth. Following his most recent poetry collection, Danger on Peaks (2004), Snyder now presents remarkably personal and powerful essays. Noting that "the whole world is in the trust of humans now," Snyder looks to fire as an element that can teach us about destruction and regeneration. As he writes of his beloved Sierra Nevada home ground as "a fire-adapted ecosystem," Snyder asserts the importance of being "nature literate," and of recognizing that all living entities have a right to life. We are the "problem species," Snyder avers, yet we are capable of astonishing acts of creation. Writing in praise of cave art and haiku, he defines the role artists play in the "active defense of nature." Remembering lost loved ones--his wife and poets Allen Ginsberg and Philip Whelan--Snyder, sage and incisive, gazes into the flames and ponders "the challenge of living wisely for the long run." Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 1195 KB
  • Print Length: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint (January 2, 2007)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001T4YVSI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #803,477 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
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.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Distilled Wisdom from an Elder July 26, 2007
These essays, including those written as talks or prefaces to other people's books, are in no sense minor. They are often distillations--not so much argument as succinct statements of profound if still largely unacknowledged truths, simply and generously interwoven with history, anecdote, example, biography and autobiography.

Though there may appear to be no unifying theme, and though the specific subject of the role of fire in healthy forests recurs, this volume is a whole defined by itself, and by the quality of Snyder's observation, thought and expression. For me, the connection between his immersion in East Asian writing, in Buddhism, in the realities of living and working in the natural world, in American literature (Native and non-Native), and his own writing and approach to the world, has never been clearer. That impression is nourished by reading together such essays as "Ecology, Literature and the New World Disorder," "Thinking Toward the Thousand Year Forest Plan," "The Mountain Spirit's True (No) Nature," "Writers and the War Against Nature," "Coyote Makes Things Hard."

Some pieces are short and specific, and thanks to Snyder's writing, evocative, including a short piece on the death of one of the best known of his fellow poets who began in the "Beat" era, Allen Ginsberg, and a fond and informative remembrances of one of the least known, Philip Zenshin Whalen. But even these are important because of Snyder's knowledge of them and perspective over time. Others about particular people and places (especially about Snyder's own family, as in "Helen Callicotte's Stone in Kansas") are also fun to read, but always connect to larger mysteries.

In these essays Snyder writes with warmth as well as pith, and with occasional bursts of exuberant humor.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Snyder burning February 7, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Gary Snyder is able to capture in simple words and clear imagery the essence of many of the conditions found in his adopted home in northern California. He recognises problems and poses solutions that are not only reasonable, but possible. This book should be read by anyone concerned with the present state of affairs as regards both the local and the national environment.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Quick and easy January 11, 2014
By Mike
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book I ordered came as described, everything was clear and concise. No delay and no issues, thanks a lot.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A great read! September 18, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
These essays by Snyder, a forest-fire fighter who has traveled to the Orient, are really worth reading. I have read them all couple of times, some more than that, as the essays provide a thought-provoking view of man and nature, particularly the forests and mountains of the Western US. He would be great person to have a conversation with, or to hear present his views in some public forum, but lacking that, this book is a good substitute. I have given the book as a gift to friends, and will continue to do so. mwh Blacksburg, VA
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