Richard Sommer


Probably some of us are here in order to look at or touch the Gary Snyder who actually went and did all those semi-mythological things, who has climbed mountains and traveled in India with Allen Ginsberg, who provided Kerouac with a book character, who has lived in or on the edges of several different kinds of wilderness, who has lived in the precincts of Japanese Buddhist monasteries, who has fought, I think has fought hard, to keep other cultures than ours, and other kinds of life than human life, from obliteration. And who has written poems out of the consciousness of these things. For myself, Gary Snyder hasn't made poems so much as he has provided me with windows made out of words. These are windows that have had a way of, themselves disappearing, leaving me usually standing where I think I want to be, out in the open world. So, I came here, I've come here, to meet whoever it is that makes so many good windows. I'll let you discover for yourselves how much this window-maker is what a window-maker should be, himself, just open and clear. I'd like to present Gary Snyder.

Gary Snyder


General Introduction


[Aside] I forgot one more thing I wanted to have out here. Good evening. I'm going to read in two sets this evening, with a little intermission. And first of all, I'm not going to read any poems tonight from my published books, because those poems are available and what is interesting to me is always what I'm doing, where I'm moving. So I'm going to read from a cycle of short poems, moderately short poems, which I call "Charms," and then there'll be a break, and then I'm going to read recent sections that I've been working on from a long poem in progress called "Mountains and Rivers Without End." I came back to the United States from Japan with my wife and children about three years ago now, and went as rapidly as possible to settle in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, on the north slope of the south fork of the Yuba river at three-thousand foot elevation. And I've been living there for almost two years now. I'm saying this by way of introduction to this first cycle of poems called "Charms." I was brought up on a farm, and all of my ancestors that I know of, for the last few generations on both sides, were rural people, or miners, miners in Colorado, Leadville, places like that. And it amazes me in a mysterious way how to get back to doing what my father was doing when I was a little boy, and what, and which I remember as a little boy, and to get back to doing what my grandfather was doing, which is to say--again, looking at the fences, looking at the stumps, looking at the house, looking at the well, looking at the spring and saying, how are we going to do it--touches me more deeply than I can possibly explain. And at the same time, being confronted again with these choices, which are the choices of the American frontier, and also the choices of medieval Europeans, and neolithic Mediterranean people, and neolithic Japanese people, and neolithic Chinese people. With what I've come to understand, a little more now, about history, anthropology, and biology, I feel an extraordinary responsibility to understand why I make the choices I make, in such matters as, where does one break the ground and locate a garden, or which trees does one select to fall. In other words, I find myself again in that position of entering virgin land, and this time, I want to understand, in the process of making my own choices, I want to understand why we did it wrong, every time before, and hope to get some insights in how one goes about doing it right, this time. In moving toward that understanding, in making the choices that I have to make, about how we are going to live, in the semi-wilderness and true wilderness of the Sierra Nevada, my teachers have to be scientific foresters, biologists and ecologists on the one hand, and the American Indians on the other. There are no other teachers available for these choices.


Gary Snyder


And so these poems, in the cycle called "Charms," reflect those debts and reflect the search for that knowledge, insofar as I've gotten into it up to this point. It starts with a little chant, called "Grace for Love." Before we... grace, in the sense of the grace that we say before meals. Which is, grace is gratitude, an expression of gratitude for a meal. And the gratitude that we say at my rancheria is a kind of a rough translation from a Japanese Buddhist grace which goes like this in English: "We venerate the three treasures and are thankful for this meal, the work of other people, and the suffering of other forms of life."The need for grace, for love, is something I became aware of when I realized that there was a level of validity in the Catholic Church's objection to contraceptive devices, insofar as love, like food, is a sacrament, and that there is a level in which the act of love should inevitably be connected with the consciousness of its role in moving the seed, in transmitting the energy of the knowledge of the biomass, as transmitted down through time. But I felt that the Church is far too simple-minded in assuming that the energy aroused in the sacrament of love, in the direction of fertility, has to mean literally that the people who are acting that sacrament out have to necessarily procreate their own kind. And so we came to this, I and several other people, came to this, as what primitive people would call the transferral of merit, or species-increase ritual. In other words, we make love with gratitude to other beings, and wish to transfer our fertility from the human race to the vanishing species.




Chants "Grace for Love"




Reads "A Curse on the Man In the Pentagon, Washington"


Gary Snyder


That's from a Cheyenne ghost dance song, that little last chorus.




Reads "I went into the Maverick Bar…"


Gary Snyder

00:18:25.99The Navajo word "Anasazi" means "the ancient ones." It's the name that the Navajo gave to the people who lived in the canyons and cliffs of Chaco Canyon and Canyon De Chelly and Mesa Verde and many other sites. Probably the people were the ancestors of the present Pueblo people, living there probably up until the twelfth century, till the great drought of the thirteenth century. The people who more than any others, to judge from what the Pueblo people are still able to transmit today, the people who more than any others have achieved what could truly be called "civilization" on this continent, and whose lore embodies perhaps two millennia of deep experience. I wrote this at Canyon De Chelly.




Reads “Anasazi”


Gary Snyder


The Canyon De Chelly, which will come up in another poem I'm going to read later today, and in fact, all over the West, all over the Great Basin, and in other parts of North America too, notably on the granite outcroppings on the northern shores of Lake Superior, for example, are designs pecked into the rocks, petroglyphs. Anthropologists, Americanists, whatever you call 'em, haven't had much time to study those petroglyphs yet, because they've been engaged through all the years of this century in a hasty, half-successful salvage operation. Salvaging the remnants of this or that dying culture, recording and taping the last words of a dying language, and they've had no time to give to studying these older things that they know are there, such as the petroglyphs. But the petroglyphs have a repeated vocabulary of motifs which are found in patterns distributed all over North America, and particularly in the West. One of the most widespread is a hand, that someone has put on a cliff or a boulder face, apparently outlined, and then filled it in with red, hematite, or a red hand. That red hand often is lacking a finger, or lacking a finger-joint. This would not be notable in itself if it weren't that in the caves of southern France and northern Spain, there are dated, back as far as 40,000 years, the same red hands, with missing fingers and missing finger-joints are found. This is only one of a number of things which are found all the way. And so this next poem, "The Way West Underground," is one of a number of poems, and this is perhaps the most intellectual of them, in which I'm trying to trace out how you get back to make the line of connection between what I know the American knows, what I am beginning to know the American Indian knew, and what I am beginning to know our prehistoric ancestors knew, which was not a different knowledge. And the question of why our prehistoric ancestors lost it is another question. Actually the main impetus of this poem deals with the bears, because there's an international mystery religion called the Bear Cult, that runs all the way from Finland to Utah, across Siberia, and it shares the mysterious central theme, which is a girl who marries a bear. I've written several poems about that girl. And about the bears. And so this is coming in on that from another angle.




Reads "The Way West Underground."






Gary Snyder at SGWU, 1971, Part 2

Catalog numberI006-11-106.2
Sound qualityStereo. Very good.
SpeakersGary Snyder

00:00- Interjects comment about poem.

02:21- Snyder is talking (not sure if it’s about the poem). 30:11- Reads “The Song of the Taste”.

04:51- Introduces “Song for the Raw Material”.

08:12- Reads “Song of the Raw Material”. 09:12- Reads “Steak”.

10:53- Introduces “No matter, never mind”.

11:28- Reads “No matter, never mind”.

12:24- Introduces “The Bath”.

14:00- Reads “The Bath”.

19:31- Introduces “Front Lines”.

19:59- Reads “Front Lines”.

21:36- Explains parts of “Front Lines”, introduces “Control Burn”.

24:00- Reads “Control Burn”.

25:37- Reads “The Great Mother”.