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This review is taken from PN Review 137, Volume 27 Number 3, January - February 2001.

DUALITIES AND DING DONGS GARY SNYDER, The Gary Snyder Reader: Prose, Poetry and Translations (Counter point) $18.00

In his introduction to The Gary Snyder Reader Jim Dodge gives a brief account of dinner at the poet's home in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains ending with a dessert of that great American contribution to junk foods, Hostess Ding-Dongs. The anecdote is offered as testimony to how well grounded in his American roots Snyder managed to remain despite his many years spent in Japan studying Zen Buddhism. Dodge's point is well taken; while Snyder's poetry and prose draws deeply from Zen, much of the material of his work returns time and again to the landscapes of the American West and the lives of farmers and the American working class. Intentionally or not, Dodge's anecdote also points to a still persistent uncomfortableness in the US with understanding Buddhism as anything but something Other and a skepticism that an Anglo-American can experience Eastern philosophy in a way that is more than so much cultural tourism.

Is this duality really necessary? The question could serve as a theme for the first half of this survey of Gary Snyder's work. Farm boy, seaman, mountain climber, linguist, anthropologist and environmental activist, Snyder has the background of a Woody Guthrie and the credentials of a scholar. He has managed to outlive and outlast the Beat movement that nurtured him without rejecting it, and he has achieved recognition from the spheres of high-culture without losing touch with popular culture. The Reader covers the length of Snyder's career, from his early days ...


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