Gary Snyder Gave Me Goose Bumps
(photo: Kate Moos)
Gary Snyder, at 81, strong-voiced and vital, gave a reading in Minneapolis last night at Plymouth Congregational Church, part of their Literary Witness Program.
Snyder is often characterized as one of the Beats, but his habits of exploration and inquiry led him to a different experience and a different poetry than we associate with Kerouac and Ginsberg. Early, he became a student of Asian literature and Buddhism. His pioneering devotion to the environment and the idea of wildness in the American West has made him an icon for generations of poets, Buddhist aspirants, and defenders of the natural world.
He read his old poems, including his translations of Han-Shan, the famous Cold Mountain poems. He also read poems that are not yet in print — a generous gesture from a senior figure of his stature.
When I first read the Cold Mountain poems years ago, this stanza got stuck in my brain. I don’t know why.
It’s a kind of explanation of everything for me, and I’ve been reciting it to myself inwardly for the better part of my life. Hearing him read it aloud in person last night gave me goose bumps.
When men see Han-shan
They all say he’s crazy
And not much to look at —
Dressed in rags and hides.
They don’t get what I say
And I don’t talk their language.
All I can say to those I meet:
“Try and make it to Cold Mountain.”