Saturday, October 9, 2010

Gary Snyder

On Thursday night I went with some friends to hear Gary Snyder read at the Poetry Center at the University of Arizona. There were tons of people there. He talked and read for about an hour. He read new poems and old poems and talked about his time in Japan and on Mt. St. Helen. If you're not familiar with Snyder, he's a naturalist, a Buddhist, an ecologist, an anthropologist, a linguist, and about anything else you can think of. He's a literal and literary factotum. But most of all, he's a wonderful poet and writer.

"Rip Rap" is probably Gary Snyder's most famous poem, so I'll add it here. You can find it in the collection Rip Rap and Cold Mountain Poems. My buddy likes "Axe Handles," so I'll add that one too.

"Rip Rap"

Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
          placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
          in space and time:
Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall
          riprap of things:
Cobble of milky way.
          straying planets,
These poems, people,
          lost ponies with
Dragging saddles --
          and rocky sure-foot trails.
The worlds like an endless
Game of Go.
          ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word
          a creek-washed stone
Granite: ingrained
          with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot
          all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.

"Axe Handles"

One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own
A broken off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
"When making an axe handle
the pattern is not far off."
And I say this to Kai
"Look: We'll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with--"
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It's in Lu Ji's Wên Fu, fourth century
A.D. "Essay on Literature" -- in the
Preface: "In making the handle
Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand."
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see Pound was an axe
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

read gary snyder's poem about making stew in the pinacate desert. it is humorous and some older arizona beat life