Turtle Island is Gary Snyder’s volume of thematically related verse which earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1974 and is considered by many the zenith of his career. After publishing half a dozen volumes that barely managed even to qualify for the term modest success, Snyder seemed to disappear off the poetry map completely. Five years later he returned with a vengeance with Turtle Island, making a mark not just by literary standards, but by takling political issues on the fringe of society that today stand front and center in the mainstream discourse around the globe.
Initial reaction did not bode well as some of the reviews remarked that while Snyder’s master of the language was undeniable, his handling of his broad subject matter was too introspective and limited. Many of the poems had been published individually before being collected into the thematically rich Turtle Island and most of the publications that chose to publish his works were decidedly left of center, some even more than verging into outright early 70’s hippie territory. Issues related to ecology, environmentalist and the rights of the Native Americans were, of course, still primarily relegated to the political outskirts of such ideological concerns at the time.
Most of the poems that are found in Turtle Island were written during the turbulent counterrevolutionary period of the 60s and 70s, but they were also written during a 12 year period of self-exile in Japan. As a result, the volume is a curious glimpse into the world of ecological and environment politics made local and personal as result of Snyder’s application of them to aspects of his daily style tempered with a healthy dozen of Zen Buddhist philosophy and all a good two decades or so before such a commingling of interests became commodified for sale to poseurs.
A serious of essays included along with the poetry lays out the basic foundation of Snyder's own ideology: if the planet is to survive and continue being a health place to live, all natural inhabitants must be allowed to take part, including "the creeping people, and the standing people, and the flying people, and the swimming people."
Turtle Island’s collection of poetry and prose represents the real deal before so much of what it touches upon became fodder for fads and repackaged for resell to those standing in line at Starbucks.