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80 Western American Literature company is not simply a Beat clearinghouse but, along with Robert Bly, has been instrumental in presenting new writing of many strains from many countries to the poetry public. (Read the roster of Pocket Poets.) And then it needs to be said, as the Europeans have always recognized, that Ferlinghetti is a force in American poetry, a revisionist evaluation I think this collection will promote. His poems are strong and clear and deeply felt, inspired by the angel of lucidity. (Read “The Old Italians Dying,” his tribute to San Francisco’s North Beach.) Sentimentality, finally, is a bad rap, often pinned on poets whose work sells well, as Ferlinghetti’s has, blaming the poet for his audience. Kenneth Rexroth’s judgment of the man and his work is a better one. “Many contemporary poets,” Rexroth writes, “perhaps the most significant ones, have simply left the society, deserted it as doomed, or already dead. Ferlinghetti is very much inside it. He feels its evils as directed against him; as they say, he takes it personally.” Ferlinghetti has risked the “absurdity” of his sentiments and his sanity, the “absurdity” of those who “Awake and walk in the open air.” JOHN TRIMBUR Community College of Baltimore Above Timberline: A Wildlife Biologist’s Rocky Mountain Journal. By Dwight Smith; edited by Alan Anderson, Jr. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1981. 246 pages, $16.95.) This is an unpretentious book, in spite of the dramatic implications of its title. It is the fourth in the New Explorer Series which places individual biologists in various natural environments alone for an extended time. For Dwight Smith the place was a miner’s cabin at timberline in the Colo­ rado Rockies. As he “lived into” his environment day by day, becoming acquainted with the animals, the plants, the weather, the very atmosphere of life at timberline, Smith recorded his experiences, and his response to them, on a tape recorder. The book is primarily an edited transcription of those tapes. There is plenty of opportunity for drama. Blizzard winds that shake the cabin, exposure on bare ridges during electrical storms, navigation across unfamiliar territory in blinding snow: there are plenty of occasions for sus­ pense and high drama as the author sometimes skirts the edge of survival in an unforgiving environment. Yet even these passages are low key, unadorned. In an age given to chronic overstatement, this is refreshing. Here is a man modest about his own courage, resourcefulness, and endurance even while his actions demonstrate those very qualities. Yet, in a curious way, this becomes the book’s weakness as well as its strength. Reviews 81 Readers who know the country at timberline — who have puffed in the thin air, felt hair prickle in a thunderstorm, leaned into howling winds, squinted in brilliant high altitude sunlight, or wondered in their shelter whether the sky would run out of snow before they ran out of food and fuel— will identify with and appreciate Smith’s narrative. They will recognize the authentic voice of a man at home spiritually and physically in the moun­ tains. Readers who have spent time alone in such country will share Smith’s annoyance at intrusions by those not in harmony with the land or with Smith’s way of living in it. One is reminded of Colin Fletcher in the Grand Canyon, annoyed by the intrusion of a fellow hiker, even though a friend. The reader who does not know the country or the experience about which Smith writes, however, may miss in his quiet tone the courage and endurance and insight into land and self implicit in the book. Beyond these general matters of theme and tone, the author offers interesting pictures of animals and flatlanders at play in the mountains. Smith’s comments on residents of the area, on the “professionals” (foresters, wildlife specialists), and on such diverse types as trail bikers and conservation­ ist David Brower are interesting, sometimes humorous, and always perceptive. His view of the uses to which the mountains should and should not be put is balanced — neither for extreme preservation nor heedless exploitation. The focus of the narration is blurred at times by...


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pp. 80-81
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