Sunday, July 29, 2007

Old Guy (Still) on the Road

Gary Snyder, great poet of the Pacific coast and its biotic worlds, came through North Carolina recently for the first time since the late 70s - 1978, I think, when Paul Gallimore of Long Branch organized a reading for him at UNCA. The after party back then was actually at my humble abode - which was even more humble in those post grad-school days. This past April 19, he read at Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory as part of the school's great reading series.

Snyder's history is well-known, thanks in some part to the efforts of his fellow writers - especially Jack Kerouac, who based his character Japhy Rider, of Dharma Bums, on the Snyder of the early fifties. As a student, Snyder had found summer work as a forest ranger, a logger, and a seaman. In 1955 he worked on a trail crew at Yosemite National Park, and there he began writing the first poems that he later published. He was integral to the Beat scene in San Francisco (attended the 1955 Six Gallery reading of Ginsberg's Howl that signaled the beginning of its major momentum), but then, the next year, went to Japan. He spent most of the following 12 years there, studying Buddhism in a monastery. He returned to the US more-or-less for good in 1968, and has since had a long, enlightening career as poet and environmental activist, one who, in both roles, brings a deeply informed (and practiced) Buddhist perspective to his work.

Snyder said, "As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the Neolithic: the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe."

Strikes me those are still good values.

Update, July 31 : Excerpts from Snyder's reading undulated through the airwaves this past Sunday on WordPlay, and the show is now available for streaming or podcast from the WPVM website; just click on the Archive link and scroll down.

And another update, August 6: Other members of the WordPlay team were out of commission yesterday, so I ran the Snyder show again - which means it'll be available for play/download for another week.

I took the photo of Gary Snyder and Thomas Rain Crowe at the reception following Snyder's reading in Hickory. There are more here, over on Facebook (no membership required) .

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