'Bear-Shit-on-the-Trail' School of Poetry

One of my early influences when I began trying to write poems was the poetry of Gary Snyder from the West Coast of America, a friend to Jack Kerouac but not someone who wanted to be hemmed in by the Beat Generation-writer label. Kerouac had made him a minor literary legend with the portrait of Japhy Ryder, the mountain-climbing poet with the Zen soul in Dharma Bums, (1958) which paired with On the Road (1957) made Kerouac a must-read writer in the 1960s. I admired Snyder's spare, smart nature poems and enviro-political consciousness as well as his firm stance in support of community-building at the hyperlocal level. His book Turtle Island won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, just when I was "getting" what he offered. It was one of my go-to books for a long time. I still buy every new Snyder book in hard cover and have a Snyder shelf in one bookcase.

Snyder's popularity sparked a following among young writers, guys particularly, who could not help themselves from emulating his work. Pretty soon there was a Snyder-type poem showing up in little magazines and chapbooks that was so prevalent that a mocking category of poem was coined by some critic: the bear-shit-on-the-trail poem. Knowing Snyder's sense of humor, I figure that he laughed about it. I wrote more than a few of those poems myself in the late 70s and early '80s when I was knocking around the northern precincts of New England, from Maine to Vermont. It was my semi-"rugged outdoors" phase before I went all in on the urban front in Lowell. After a while I was not yearning to camp out in the woods. 

Digging through old files this week, I found one of "those" poems typed on a page ready for submission to a literary journal when I was in graduate school in California in 1983. Here's the short composition, which even has the word "bear" in it. You can't make this up. I'm guilty as charged.

Bear Bells

on my pack

winking

as I hike north

to that star

between the pines.