Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A power that slips us by, swims upstream: An evening with Gary Snyder

On Tuesday evening, Lori and I went to a poetry reading and lecture by Gary Snyder, sponsored by Brown College at the University of Virginia. This was not the first time we've seen Snyder read his poems, but it is the first time we've seen him wear a necktie (it was red with little skulls on it). We figured that was his nod to the East Coast.

Hearing Snyder Tuesday evening was wonderful because he read poems about places I am from, mountains I have climbed, roads I have traveled, places I've lived.

For those unfamiliar with Gary Snyder, he is best known as one of the 1950s-1960s generation beat poets. But he is more than that. He is a scholar of Asian languages and culture, an environmental essayist, an iconoclast who lives in a house he made with his own hands up in the forest near Nevada City, California, and he is still an edgy commentator on our culture of waste and environmental degredation. He is also a Buddhist, though no religion seems to contain him. Gary Synder is my favorite poet.

The last time I saw Snyder, a few years ago, I sat next to him at an environmental writing conference at the University of California, Davis, where he was a professor for many years. The featured speakers that day were John McPhee of the New Yorker and my friend, geologist Eldridge Moores. No one wore a necktie that day, though Eldridge wore a bollo.

Here is a poem from Snyder's book Axe Handles:
Money Goes Upstream
By Gary Snyder

I am hearing people talk about reason
Higher consciousness, the unconscious,
looking across the audience
through the side door
where hot sunshine blocks out
a patch of tan grass and thorny buckbrush
There are people who do business within the law.
And others, who love speed, danger,
Tricks, who know how to
Twist arms, get fantastic wealth,
Hurt with heavy shoulders of power,
And then drink to it!
they don't get caught
own the law.
Is this reason? Or is it a dream.

I can smell the grass, feel the stones with bare feet
though I sit here shod and clothed
with all the people. That's my power.
And some odd force is in the world
Not a power
That seeks to own the source.
It dazzles and it slips us by,
It swims upstream.

1 comment:

Linda said...

Jim, thought you might be interested in this: