As we enter into summer, let’s take a break for some poetry

Some of my worst grade school moments involved the rote memorization of poetry. The nuns would have us recite poems, which was a depressing experience. During seventh grade Sister Elenore Therese had us memorize “O Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman. I still have nightmares.

Thankfully, during high school, I found poetry, which I read for pure pleasure. My favorite poet was the doomed Welshman Dylan Thomas. The poor fellow drank himself to death at age 39. Then there was Gary Snyder, a more clean-living sort of guy. Still around, he’s now in his nineties.

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I love how Snyder writes about nature and our environment. He was a visionary way ahead of his time. The non-profit Library of America just published a handsome volume of Snyder’s collected poems. It contains every one of his books as well as numerous works which appeared in magazines, journals and obscure publications.

The thing that makes this collection special is he was involved in the project and added commentaries on some of his work. Snyder studied ancient texts and was influenced by masterworks from the Far East. He writes: “The idea of a poetry of minimal surface texture, with its complexities hidden at the bottom of the pool, under the bank, a dark old lurking, no fancy flavor, is ancient.”

Snyder’s short poem “Marin-an” marks the contrast between nature and human beings struggling inside artificial worlds:

“sun breaks over the eucalyptus

grove below the wet pasture,

water’s about hot,

I sit in the open window

& roll a smoke.

distant dogs bark, a pair of

cawing crows; the twang

of a pygmy nuthatch high in a pine-

from behind the cypress windrow

the mare moves up, grazing.

a soft continuous roar

comes out of the far valley

of the six-lane highway-thousands

and thousands of cars

driving men to work.”

Here’s another favorite. The title is “Cow.”

“An ayrshire cow

playing, rubbing her horns in the grass,

in the misty soil,

at her back the pulp factory fires

scorch the night clouds.

over the low dunes

the sea booms

a brass moon

like you could scoop up and swallow

so the cow feels pretty good

playing now

tapping the fence with her horns.”

If you like that sort of thing you might love this collection. There must be a thousand poems in here!

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit Contact him at

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed