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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

15. Poetry of Liberation

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- John Ashberry
- Amiri Baraka
- Lorna Dee Cervantes
- Allen Ginsberg
- Joy Harjo
- Audre Lorde
- Sylvia Plath
- Adrienne Rich
- Gary Snyder
- James Wright
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Gary Snyder (b. 1930)

Grant County, Oregon. Malheur National Forest. Lumberjack Hitching Cable on Log which Will Be Loaded onto Trucks
[7377] Lee Russell, Grant County, Oregon. Malheur National Forest. Lumberjack Hitching Cable on Log which Will Be Loaded onto Trucks (1942), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USF34-073482-D DLC].

Gary Snyder Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Gary Snyder was raised on a dairy farm in the Pacific Northwest. He graduated with a B.A. in anthropology from Reed College and worked as a logger in the Pacific Northwest before going to Berkeley to study Asian languages from 1953 to 1956. During this time, he also met Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and many of the other writers identified with the Beat movement. After spending three years in California, Snyder moved to Japan for roughly eight years. Although he returned to America briefly to teach at Berkeley, he returned to Japan to study Buddhism, an experience that deeply influenced his poetry.

As his life suggests, Snyder is fascinated by travel and ancient cultures, and the metaphor of the journey appears often in his poetry. His educational background in anthropology also shapes his investigation of rituals and history. Snyder's training in Zen Buddhism seems to unite his interest in foreign cultures, ancient ritual, and the serenity of nature; Asian influences in his work align him with Pound and Williams. Unlike Romantic poets, who used nature to mirror their emotions, Snyder does not use natural images to reflect his inner feelings, but rather appreciates the serene otherness of nature. Experimental language, conversational diction, unconventional line breaks and visual spacing, and abundant dialogue also characterize Snyder's poetry. The juxtaposition of American landscapes, particularly of the Pacific Northwest, with Eastern images and allusions, makes Snyder's poetry unique and powerful.

Like Robert Bly, James Wright, and W. S. Merwin, Gary Snyder turns to nature as an antidote to the problems of modernization and industrialized civilization. His poetry celebrates the Pacific Northwest as an alternative to the fast-paced modern world that seems impossibly separated from nature, simplicity, and manual labor. Snyder looks to the American Indians and to ancient Buddhism out of a genuine desire to learn wisdom from these traditions and rituals. Nature and meditation, he believes, are windows to the self. As might be expected, Snyder's interest in nature and the Orient aligns him with imagism and Pound. His affinity with nature led him to become active in the ecological movement, and his own lifestyle, which included growing his own vegetables, cutting wood, and hunting, made him virtually independent from modern civilization. Snyder has published numerous books of poetry, as well as many translations of ancient and modern Japanese poetry. In 1975, he received the Pulitzer Prize.

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