Gary Snyder 1983 Naropa Reading – 1

Gary Snyders reading at the Naropa Institute, on the occasion of the 1983 publication of his collection Axe Handles is this weekend’s feature.

The transcription of the reading will appear in two sections.

The reading begins with an introduction by Allen Ginsberg

AG: (This will be) the first reading by Gary Snyder in Boulder since 1972, when there was a reading up at the University with the Japanese poet, Nanao Sakaki, myself, Robert Bly, Chogyam Trungpa and Gary. And this month (August 1983) there’s been a great series of poetry readings in the town, with Anne Waldman, as part of the month-long poetics workshop that Naropa has held, where the poet and students have read. Anne Waldman led it off, Michael Brownstein, Pat Donegan, Peter Orlovsky, Larry Fagin, Sidney Goldfarb, myself, Drummond Hadley, Robert Creeley, the last reader was William Burroughs, this last Tuesday, and now, as the last of the poetry readings for the tenth year, or tenth anniversary, of the founding of the Naropa Poetics Institute named after Jack Kerouac we’ll have Gary Snyder return to Boulder to read, present, with a distinguished audience, including various teachers for cultures and generations, like Gary, some of whom are present, who’ll also, incidentally, be giving workshops this weekend – Timothy Leary is here in the room and will be teaching at the Boulder Inn on “Evolution of Intelligence in Species and Individuals” and his workshop will be from ten to five, Saturday and Sunday – and William Burroughs will be over at Naropa, also giving a workshop on “Immortality”, likely enough, and his workshop will be four to six p.m tomorrow, and then Sunday, eleven to one.  Som actually, if you are either sane or schizophrenic, you can split and see both at once because they are concurrent, but there are edges that you can get in and out.

Gary Snyder, as most of you know, I’m sure, has been, an archetypal folk hero, intellectual working-man poet, an inspiration for many poets, Buddhists, ecologists, anthropologists, save-the-whale intellegensia, back-to-the-roots, back-to-the-land new age thinking and reconsideration for our hyper-industrialized civilization, has written a great many books regarding his preoccupations and studies, which have gone from linguistics and anthropology to high poetics and personal orgy, as well as meditation. His books include  Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems, Myths and Texts, Six Sections From Mountains and Rivers Without End, The Back Country, Regarding Wave, The Fudo TrilogyTurtle Island (which won the Pulitzer Prize in the (19)70’s),Earth House Hold, Passage Through India (a record of a trip taken by Gary, the poet Joanne Kyger,myself and Peter Orlovsky to India in 1962), The Old Ways, (his senior thesis at Reed College), He Who Hunted Birds in His Father’s Village (an examination of an American Indian  myth), The Real Work (a compilation of essays on neolithic civilization and its comparison with our own developing, speedy, evolving, metallic, heavy-metal mind), Songs For Gaia, and a new book, Axe Handles, which he has the proofs of and which he will read from tonight – new work – Axe Handles, which will be issued by North Point Press this year. So, it gives me great delight…

Gary Snyder comes to the podium approximately five minutes in

GS: Thank you, thank you. How’s the sound system?

Peter Orlovsky: Good

GS: Good. Well, I’m very pleased to be back in Boulder. I came over this time, driving all the way, with Masa (Masa Uehara, his then wife), and Kai and Gen, my two boys. Useful to see from the ground the unfolding and linkingacross the Great Basin, and I just want to share with you my increasing delight in the deserts of Nevada. From the time I first went there, when I was about seventeen and could see nothing of it, saw it as empty and bleak and barren, each time I have gone back I have seen increasing complexities and subtlety and beauty in it. So that this last trip, across the Great Basin, we came eastward on (Route) 50, rather than Interstate 80, out through Eli, then down south on 21, actually, to Beaver, in Utah. Delicate mosaic of many subtle colored desert plants and a wonderful rhythm of basin and range, basin and range, with each range, geologically, subtly different. It’s a marvelous province, and the last really empty place here in the lower 48.

[Gary begins with the inscription to Axe Handles]

“How do you shape an axe handle?/Without an axe it can’t be done./How do you take a wife?/ Without a go-between you can’t get one/Shape a handle, shape a handle, the pattern is not far off./And here’s a girl I know,/The wine and food in rows

That’s a 5th Century BC  or earlier folk song from the country, the territory, of Pin, in Ancient China, and that’s a little poem from the Shih-ching, or the Book of Songs, or the Book of Odes, my own translation.[Gary then reads the title poem of his new collection]  “Axe Handles – “One afternoon the last week in April/Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet..”…”To be shaping again, model/And tool, craft of culture,/ How we go on”)

[This is followed by “For/From Lew”] – “This is for Lew Welch, whom many of you know, a life-time comrade and friend, poet, and fellow-worker, who disappeared while camping with us, early in the years when we were living in the Sierra Nevada, leaving behind a suicide note, 1972. We searched for him for five days in the canyons and cliffs and then said, Anyone who wishes so clearly to disappear should be allowed to disappear. And never a trace has since been seen. Lew Welch successfully vanished, but, some years later, in the sauna, taking a sweat, Lew came into my mind, and gave me this instruction.”
– “For/From Lew”  – ( “Lew Welch just turned up one day,/  live as you and me.”Damn, Lew”, I said,/”you didn’t shoot yourself after all.”/”Yes I did” he said….”  “What I came to say was,/teach the children about the cycles/ The life cycles. All other cycles./ That’s what it’s all about and it’s all forgot.””)

So…   “River in the Valley” –  (“We cross the Sacramento River at Colusa,/follow the road on the levee south and east….”….”One boy asks, “where do rivers start?”/ in threads in hills, and gather down to here – / but the river/ is all of it everywhere/ all flowing at once, all one place.”)

“Among” – (This is personal contact with a forty-year cycle) – (“Few Douglas fir grow in these pine woods/ but one fir is there among south-facing Ponderosa Pine…”….“This year, with roots down deep, two live./A Douglas fir will be among these pines.”
And I checked that out with a forester, a man, a friend of mine in forestry, and he said, “Yes, that’s precisely it. The twice-a-century July rainfall in the summer..  the summer drought of the Sierra Nevada  is what allows the continued presence of a few Douglas firs in an otherwise predominantly Ponderosa Pine forest habitat.

A couple other examples, because it’s fun to unravel these, and, following on the instructions I was given by Lew (Welch) in that dream poem, I pursued, on a materialistic and literal level for a while, the study of cycles.
1959 or (19)60, there was a great flood year in Northern California  and the Eel River overflowed, washed out a number of small towns along its banks, and in the following Spring, downstream, and in some of the side branches of the Eel, they found countless redwood seedlings sprouting from cone seed (which was astonishing because very seldom (is) ever seen redwood reproducing from seed, usually they seem to reproduce from red runners) So, experimenting a little bit with that, (I) kept cones, little tiny redwood cones in cold water in a refrigerator for six months, at about forty degrees. Then took it (them) out and found it (they) would germinate. And that’s how they discovered how to make redwood germinate. The conclusion was that the cone-reproduction cycle of redwood was tied to a flood that comes only twice in a millennium, because that was a five-hundred year flood that came through that year. “River in the Valley” – The water cycle.. The water cycle is this – All of the molecules of water in the ocean are up and out of the ocean, through the atmosphere and back down into the ocean in a cycle of once every two million years ( which isn’t very long! ) –

[Gary continues]
“Changing Diapers” (“How intelligent he looks!/on his back/both feet caught in my one hand/his glance set sideways,/on a giant poster of Geronimo”…“you and me and Geronimo/ are men.”)

[then] – This little lyric called “All in the Family. I must honestly confess I did not know there was a television program by that name at the time I wrote it. In fact, I didn’t find out for some years. I’m a really odd kind of bird, I guess. I’ve only seen television a total of probably forty-five minutes in my whole life – I don’t take any credit for it, it’s just that I never lived in a house with a television set . And the forty-five minutes I did see it was in a bar – (“For the first time in memory/ heavy rain in August/tuning up the chainsaw/begin to cut oak.…”….”Oregano, lavender, the salvia sage/wild pennyroyal/ from the  Yuba River bank/all in the family/ of Mint.”)

“So Old” –  (“Oregon Creek reaches far back into the hills/Burned over twice the pines are returning again/Old roads twist deep into canyons..”…. “Back to our own dirt road, iron stove, and the chickens to close in the dusk/And the nightly stroll of raccoons.”)

“Soy Sauce” … This first section of poems I’m reading from, I should have probably mentioned, the whole first section is titled “Loops”  – This is dedicated to Bruce Boyd and Holly Turnheim at whose house it transpired – “Standing on a step-ladder under a hot ceiling..”..”I know how it tastes- to lick those window-frames in the dark..”

The poem I just read reflected an earlier spell of time in the (19)60’s, (19)50’s and (19)60’s, ten years, that I spent in Japan. A few of them now, turning up, are reflecting a visit back in the Summer of (19)81.  Myoshin-ji  – This is titled “Walking Through Myoshin-ji” – Myoshin-ji is in Kyoto.  It might be interesting for you to hear this scale, because, I was at a little Zenstudies center recently, doing a little practice, and one of the students there said to me, “Well, I hear Zen is dead in Japan”. And I said, “What do you mean?”. He said, “Well, nobody practices it, there’s just nothing there. I hear that the center of Zen has moved to America”.  (And) I said, “Yeah? Really?”. I said “What about Myoshin-ji?”. And he said, “Well, what about Myoshin-ji?”. I said, “Well, Myoshin-ji’ is on the west side of Kyoto and it’s the headquarters temple, full of the Myoshin-ji branch, lineage. It has, oh, about seventy acres, with thirty-fivesizable temples in it, including one really huge complex which is the Hanazono,the main mountain, the headquarters, temple of the whole thing, and there are, scattered through the Japanese countryside, thirty thousand temples that are connected with Myoshin-ji that are all functioning and alive”. His face dropped. Then there’s Daitokuji with fifteen thousand temples and Nanzenji with five thousand temples and Kenninji with a thousand temples and Tofukuji with about nine thousand also. Zen is alive and well somehow with all that..

[Gary reads “Walking Through Myoshin-ji”] –  (“Straight stone walks up lanes between mud walls…   needless lumber ash”)

Myoshin-ji, the largest head temple in the Japanese Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, with approximately 3,500 temples under it

“Sierra Nevada, August of (19)82), Coit Peak , 15,000 foot peak , just above Mono Lake – “Strategic Air Command” is the title of this – Kai and I were out climbing together, just the two of us, up on Coit Peak, summer, a year ago – (“The hiss and flashing lights of a jet/Pass near Jupiter in Virgo…”…”This little air in between/ Belongs to the twentieth-century and its wars.”)

[Audience applauds]

I dote on applause but lets save it to the end because I like to sometimes just swim on.

“Working on the ’58 Willys Pickup Truck” wow, the ’58 Willys was still in that generation of Willys trucks that were built like little tanks.. American Motors.. Willys was sold out to American Motors in 1961, and the patterns for the old tank-like trucks went to Argentina, where they still make them, I found out. Anyway, this truck is still running today, it’s still in good use – “Working on the ’58 Willys Pickup Truck”  – This poem is dedicated to the eleventhcentury Chinese poet  Lu You who was the most prolific poet who ever lived possibly  – over ten thousand poems are known to have come from his brush and about three thousand of those were concerned with gardening – (“The year this truck was made I sat in early morning darkness/ Chanting sutras in Kyoto..”I fix truck and lock eyebrows/ With tough-handed men of the past”

“Getting in the Wood” (“The sour smell,/blue stain/water squirts out round the wedge…”…  – “.. death-topple of elderly ok./ Four cords.” ) – (What I liked about that poem was that I gave me the opportunity to use the verb “peen”. [“the poll of the sledge a bit peened over”] – Every once in a while you get a chance to use something – (peening on the backof the ball-peen hammer) – to “peen” is to round over, like rounding down a rivet…

to be continued tomorrow

[Audio for the above can be heard here, starting at the beginning of the tape and concluding at approximately thirty-two-and-three-quarter minutes in]

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