Thursday, May 8, 2008

Happy Birthday, Gary Snyder

I've stumbled across one of the few "Beat" writers I've never heard of. Damn it, now I'll have to add him to my long (and always getting longer) list of "writers to read some day." So many books, so little time ....

From the Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of Gary Snyder born in San Francisco (1930). He started out as one of the Beat writers of the 1950s and he's had a long steady career as a poet, an environmental activist, a Zen Buddhist, and a hero to the counterculture. He's one of first American poets since Henry Thoreau to think so much about how a person ought to live — and to make his own life a model. His book Turtle Island won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1975.

While he was a student, he spent his summers working as a forest ranger, a logger, and a seaman, and in 1955 he worked at Yosemite National Park on the trail crew. He said, "I had given up on poetry. … Then I got out there and started writing these poems about the rocks and blue jays. I looked at them. They didn't look like any poems that I had ever written before. So I said, these must be my own poems." They became his first book, Riprap (1959).

In 1956, he left the San Francisco Beat scene and went to Japan. He spent most of the next 12 years in a monastery studying Buddhism. He went to India too, where he and Allen Ginsberg and others had a conversation about hallucinogens with the Dalai Lama. His friend Alan Watts wrote, "He is like a wiry Chinese sage with high cheekbones, twinkling eyes, and a thin beard, and the recipe for his character requires a mixture of Oregon woodsman, seaman, Amerindian shaman, Oriental scholar, San Francisco hippie, and swinging monk, who takes tough discipline with a light heart."

He 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."

And he said, "True affluence is not needing anything."

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