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Poet As Shaman

Gary Snyder

Note: If anyone has any news and dates for upcoming readings, classes or appearances by Gary, please let me know. I will gladly post the info here, and I would find it very helpful to me. I very much want to hear Gary in person (never have, just discovered his work last summer!), but I keep encountering info about readings too late to attend! So email me or leave a message on my Guestbook!

All help very appreciated, thank-you!

Summer of 1997, I was reading Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bums for the first time. As my DharmaBum page relates, I was having a stormy reading! After I had finished it, I found myself very curious about Gary Snyder, upon whom the story's hero --Japhy Ryder --is based. Now whether Japhy is a very accurate picture of Snyder at that time, I can't say. It think it's a fair picture of Kerouac's vision of Snyder, but that's all that can be assumed. However, it was an intriguing description, and I decided this was one "Beat" I might find even more interesting than Jack. This proved more than accurate.

Branching off from Dharma Bums, I soon was reading everything I could find about Snyder. Starting with RipRap and Cold Mountain Poems and then The Back Country --serendipitously, it later seemed, since I chose them mostly because they were the first inexpensive, second-hand books I found. I was soon immersed in these extraordinary poems and passages that really felt *authentic* to me. I talk a bit more about this on my Homepage at HotSprings.

Before long, I had found more and more works of Gary's and began to have a sense of comradery that would make my second approach to Dharma Bums an entirely different project. I came across a wonderful collection of stories about Gary called Dimensions of a Life. On one spectacular day, I found Axe Handles; and then stumbled onto a gold mine of little poem collections sitting on dusty shelves of another used book store: Regarding Wave, Earth House Hold, and Turtle Island. There I was, sitting indian-style on a dusty floor, absolutely wedged into the narrowest of aisles, happily surrounded by Snyder and Whalen and Welch and Ferlinghetti:-)

I soon found it was simple a matter of turning a page or two and I could find something of Gary's that would start tears pouring down my face. With complete economy of words, he penetrates to the heart of the matter. Complete precision.

I found The Real Work, a collection of interviews, with more than enough material to keep one insight spinning off of another! Finding a bibliography of Gary's work helped me in searching out more titles.Giving in to the price of new books, I went to Powell's here in Portland and bought Myths and Texts and Mountains and Rivers Without End. I might add, it's not that I begrudge authors and publishers the price of a new book, it's simply that my book budget is strictly limited and the lower the price -- the more books I can buy. Do you ever pick up a book, and simply get an overwhelming feeling based on simply holding that book? Well, certainly, it's not an everyday experience for me. But simply picking up Mountains & Rivers... was its own perceptible alteration of mind. Without even opening the book!:-) Some works have a tangible energy. I have come to associate it with the presence of the spiritual... of powerful doorways to increased perception. Laugh or shake your head if you want, but it seemed to me that when I placed my hands on either side of the book, I could feel the most intense energy surging back and forth between my hands. The broken circuit, suddenly connected. A circle complete.

A used video of an interview/public reading of his own work by Gary wandered onto the shelves there at Powells, so I had my first chance to hear him then. Watching and listening to his reading was a powerful release of emotion I cannot remember experiencing in such a way since my first encounter with Breitenbush.

Through my very first readings of Snyder, I gained a sense of a productive and inspiring life that I could take back to my reading of Dharma Bums. Now I knew that the future of all these characters wasn't going to be solely a vortex of impending melancholy and early death (more about that on my Dharmabum page). This was helpful to my mood in re-reading it.

I also was fortunate to have another Dharma Bums reader give me his impression of that book, which has to do with friendship. And I (after a second reading) I had to agree. In many ways, that abiding sense of friendship is what eventually made Dharma Bums my favorite Kerouac book, accentuated by my gratitude that it introduced me to Gary's work. But, accurate description of Gary or not, Jack's book underlines themes about Gary that I am encountering over and over in other people's descriptions of him: a good friend, widely liked and respected by very diverse groups, able to maintain a place of balance for self and others, and a man who can find words that challenge, inspire, and heal.


The Circumnabulation of Mt Tamalpais by Gary Snyder, 1996. Accompanied by photos of the '96 hike.

Gary's UC Davis faculty web page.

Stanford Online Report on Gary's October '97 reading of Mountains and Rivers Without End.

Interbeing, writer Gary Gach's page, has a wonderful page on Gary: Pacific Rim Paradigm. This is a response and tribute to the release of Gary's --words fail me: insert your own superlative adjective here...or remain wisely silent-- 40-years-in-progress work Mountains and Rivers Without End. Great page; the portrait of Gary is priceless.

Ann Arbor Observer article

The Art of Poetry: Interview

Poems & notes: I noted that the poems on this webpage are printed with permission from the copyright holder.

There's an excellent list of links to articles about Snyder here, and you can also read Snyder's Smokey the Bear Sutra.

Here's a little bio bit from Ann Charter's book, The Portable Beat Reader.

"Gary Snyder - basic materials for the counterculture," from the poetry page of Alan Filreis (wonderful pages!) at the larger Upenn site.

The Wild Mind of Gary Snyder

This little ad for a lecture and workshop is worth going to simply for the great picture of Gary:-)

CityLights Bookstore has a nice little display of Gary's books on this page.

Some comments at Amazon from readers can be found by going to the Quicksearch page and entering "Gary Snyder."

Listening to Gary

This site is supposed to have Audio recording of a conversation between Snyder, Watts, and Leary. (Turns out to be a very short little byte of several sentences. Just a taste:-)

Sound Sampler: "Poetry and the Primitive", July 16, 1965.

Well, I listened to this short little byte. It's a poem about Gary's values as a poet. I listened to it over and over, until I totally knew it. Maybe you know the one I mean? I had read it prior to this, but hearing it in Gary's own voice had some additional... magic. I believe magic is the appropriate word, in the same way that natural events can move the soul down a novel yet familiar ...forgotten, path. I went home on the bus, and the poem just kept ...not exactly repeating ...but just kept moving through my mind, like a song in cyclical motion. It lasted to the shores of sleep, and then came singing back at wakefulness on the other side. It was immediately followed by the my own true voice exclaiming:

"But those are my values, too. Or they were for a long time ...

What exactly ARE my values right now?

Am I acting on them?"

And thus a new cycle of existential soul searching began ...Dang Shamans! :-)

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