Friday, April 20, 2012

Poem: Gary Snyder

Gary Snyder (l), Allen Ginsberg (r), 1965
Glacier Peak, Washington State (Photo © Allen Ginsberg)
When this Poetry Month posting business began, I said I was going to refrain from intros, précis(es), and the like. Or keep them brief.  But then I think every day as I'm selecting these poems, it isn't fair just to post them without saying something. Sometimes that something can fit into a tiny box of concision. Other times it just pours forth from my fingertips like a sluice. I guess it depends on the day. Today, in honor of my selection, Mr. Gary Snyder (1930-), a poet of such distinction (including a Pulitzer Prize, back in 1975, for Turtle Island (New Directions)) that he really needs no introduction, and who can pack an entire landscape into a small stanza, I shall be ultra-brief.

Of this figure allied with the Beats (he was the prototype of Jack Kerouac's character "Japhy Ryder" in The Dharma Bums) and the San Francisco Renaissance, this longtime Zen Buddhist and environmentalist, this former professor at the University of California, Davis, I will say that his poetry's attentiveness to nature and its material and spiritual dimensions, his gifts for simplicity, brevity and the telling detail, his openness to non-US influences, and his generosity as a poet, all recommend reading him as much as possible. The poem below also shows another gift of his, wit, which glides right up on you. I like to listen to podcasts of Snyder sometimes, just to hear his laugh. The seriousness of intent and lightness of touch in his work fit together like a hand in a glove, or, using a metaphor of his, a handle to an axe-head.

(NB: I am unable to replicate the glyphs that appear between stanzas in the original text.) 


As for poets
The Earth Poets
Who write small poems,
Need help from no man.

The Air Poets
Play out the swiftest gales
And sometimes loll in the eddies.
Poem after poem,
Curling back on the same thrust.

At fifty below
Fuel oil won't flow
And propane stays in the tank.
Fire Poets
Burn at absolute zero
Fossil love pumped backup

The first
Water Poet
Stayed down six years.
He was covered with seaweed. 
The life in his poem 
Left millions of tiny
Different tracks
Criss-crossing through the mud.

With the Sun and Moon
In his belly,
The Space Poet
No end to the sky-
But his poems,
Like wild geese,
Fly off the edge.

A Mind Poet
Stays in the house. 
The house is empty
And it has no walls.
The poem 
Is seen from all sides,
At once.

Copyright © Gary Snyder, "As for Poets, " from Turtle Island, New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1975. All rights reserved.

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