Aspen Times Weekly: A Poetic Pilgrimage to Cold Mountain
‘The Book of Cold Mountain’
Cameron Keller Scott
73 pages, softcover; $15.95
Blue Light Press, 2016
For a certain kind of outdoors-person, Gary Snyder’s “Cold Mountain Poems” is a sort of Bible. You’ll often see dog-eared copies of the paperback poking out of a backpacker’s rucksack, on a climber’s dashboard at a trailhead, on the bookshelf in a 10th Mountain Division hut.
For many mountain folk, Snyder’s translations of poems by the legendary Han Shan — the smirking Buddhist sage and wise recluse who scribbled poems on bark in the wilderness of the mythical Cold Mountain 13 centuries ago in China — have come to embody the boldness and folly of contemporary adventures in nature.
Local poet Cameron Kellar Scott tussles with that legacy and dances with the ghost of Han Shan in his new collection, “The Book of Cold Mountain.” Scott channels Han Shan here in the Roaring Fork Valley, retreating to Cold Mountain and grappling with the mundane and the maddening in 2016. There are allusions and some direct quotes from Snyder’s translations, but Scott’s Han Shan also battles traffic on Highway 82. He contemplates the Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” He misses out on “hula hoops, jam bands, Indian food and beer” at Mountain Fair.
Han Shan also does a lot of fishing, as does Scott, who works as a fly-fishing guide here in the summers and teaches writing in Oregon in the winters.
Scott wrote the poems while living in his own sort of Cold Mountain, caretaking in a remote home 9,800-feet above sea level in Old Snowmass. He’d been testing out various poetic personas in recent work, and Han Shan stuck over the course of a summer as Scott fished in the mornings and retreated to his remote refuge in the evenings.
“It was a literary trigger for me,” Scott told me in August. “It was fitting, just thinking about a crazy mad monk living so far away and so far up above everything and then also immersing in the valley below.”
Our valley is dubbed “Happy Valley” in the new poems, which aren’t quite autobiographical and certainly aren’t simple homages to Snyder. Borrowing the Han Shan voice, he’s able to write strikingly original poems — sometimes goofy, often gorgeous — about solitude and the mountains.
“You get so dang tired talking about ‘I’ — it’s nice to able to write fiction in poetry and still talk about truths through something that’s not completely true,” he explains. “So Han Shan was comforting to me in that way.”
The collection was published by Blue Light Press as the 2016 winner of the Blue Light Book Award. It follows Scott’s cat-themed “Book of Ocho” and his co-edited Aspen Poets’ Society anthology “A Democracy of Poets” — both published in 2014.
Looking ahead, the angler/poet said he’s hoping to find a publisher for a long-in-the-works, oft-rejected collection of fly-fishing poems.
“It represent me better as a writer than anything,” Scott says. “But it’s hard. The fly-fishing world doesn’t think much of poetry. And the literary world doesn’t think much of fly-fishing poetry.”