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Poets on the Peaks

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  213 ratings  ·  16 reviews
A beautifully illustrated portrait of beat icons Kerouac, Snyder, and Whalen and the years in the Cascades high country that shaped their lives and work
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 3rd 2002 by Counterpoint (first published April 2002)
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Average rating 4.21  · 
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 ·  213 ratings  ·  16 reviews

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Mar 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
It seemed absolutely appropriate to finish this book on Earth Day. It's a knock-out account of Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, and Jack Kerouac's times as fire lookouts in the north Cascade range of Washington state - my backyard, albeit about an hour from my back door.

In its own way, Poets on the Peaks is a love story: love of nature and wilderness, brotherly love between the poets and the "community of lookouts," and if love can be applied to their, "craft or sullen art," and immersion in Buddhism
Feb 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is a little dry if you're not already interested, but if you ARE interested in Snyder, Whalen & Kerouac (and to a lesser extent Ginsberg), it's great stuff. An in-depth look at a really formative period and experience for all of them -- serving as fire-lookouts in the Cascades. The author does a great job of tracing how the experience plays out in their later work and how it fostered their interest in Zen. Beautiful photos, too. ...more
Jim McDonald
May 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This biography is a snapshot of the lives of three accomplished writers; Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen and their time as fire lookouts in the North Cascades in the early 1950s.
As there is currently no biography of Snyder it is an important source of material about his early life.
Porter Fox
Oct 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The best biography of the Beats I've ever read. Their time as fire lookouts in the North Cascades is fascinating. ...more
Diana Rose
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
A part of my collection I will never part with..takes you on a journey into nature with the Beats with their eye view of rhe world.
Robert Steelquist
Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
John Suiter has compiled a masterpiece of decoding Snyder, Whalen and Kerouac and their relationships with each other, with Zen, with literature and with the North Cascades landscape. The perceptiveness and research that went into this book set it apart. Of course, the writers' own works tell part of the story, but Suiter draws from letters, third-party accounts, and his own interviews to fill out a story that is, after all, about solitude and its influence on these writers. Snyder and Whalen pr ...more
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
The Beats seem like they were in another country; I don't think we heard about them where I grew up. I know for sure my grandfather lost his mind over the Beatles, and then died not long after, so perhaps he did hear about these guys. However, they were so influential, and this book is more about Gary Snyder and Phillip Whalen than Kerouac and the rabid rejection of capitalism and embrace of bohemia, so overall, it was a fascinating look into the nature experiences that helped inform their art a ...more
Sep 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful, gracefully written book covering the early-mid fifties when first Gary Snyder, and then Philip Whalen and Kerouac, took summer jobs as fire lookout in the Cascade mountains to practice Buddhism and hone their writing. The book weaves biographies of the 3 authors back and forth, and the enhanced focus on just a few summers gives you a vivid, condensed sense of the passage of this crucial time. A great chapter on the famous Six Gallery reading in SF that everyone now says launched the b ...more
Sep 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
I love unique books. And this definitely fits that category. What begins as a book about two guys who spent summers as fire lookouts in the early fifties becomes a study of the intertwining of zen, poetry, and the solitude of nature contrasted with the realities of civilization in the off-season - particularly the political blacklisting of the McCarthy era. I would have liked to see more poetry included and more historic photos of the lookouts and area. However, the story of Gary Snyder and Phil ...more
Jan 08, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: people who like Kerouac, nature fans, fans of Buddhism
This read a little like a magazine profile, which would have been fine if it were a magazine profile - somewhere classy, right, with intellectual pretensions - but it's a book and I want something a little meatier.

My other problems were personal problems I have with the Beat poets, but they do not bear going into. I did like the parts that talked about human interaction with nature a lot. (And also the mostly tangential stuff about the labor movement.)
Jul 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: grown-up-books
A really great and inspiring book! The writing and the photos are both beautiful. The unique thing about this book is that it is as much a portrait of the mountains themselves as of the poets. It's also a well researched account of the early days of Snyder and Whalen, their friendship with Kerouac and Ginsberg, and how these mountains played a part in all of their development as writers and as people.

Jul 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
An essential spark that helped to ignite my senior thesis at Middlebury College. The photos and writing in this book are beautiful, and will make you wish that you had lived the life of the Beats. This is the nice, not the naughty side of these guys.
Wayne Stone
May 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
the growth of poetry on the west coast - berry good!
Jim Parker
Oct 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Tales of Kerouac, Snyder, and Whalen in their role as fire lookouts in watchtowers. Fascinating reading for anyone interested in the Beats.
Gene Curry
Jul 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
A beautiful book about the poets, such as Gary Synder, influenced by their time spent in the Pacific Cascades
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