Gary Snyder’s New Beginner Enlightenment

Patrick James Dunagan

The poem itself being so often very koan-like that poets are comfortable thinking within the world of a koan, indeed they often make their writing life a practice of it. The dvd of the film includes an extended set of Snyder reading his poetry. His remarks mentioning the poet Lew Welch leading up to reading his poem “They’re Listening” are worth quoting in full.
One night, when he [Welch] was still alive was sitting with me by a campfire outside under the pine trees and stars up around in the Sierra Nevada…& after a long while of silence, he said to me, “Gary, do you think the rocks pay attention to the trees?” and I said, “Why, I don’t know Lew. What are you driving at?” and he said, “Well, the trees are just passing through.” So, later I came up with this little poem:
As the crickets’ soft autumn hum
is to us
so are we to the trees

as are they
to the rocks and the hills.

This film makes it clear that Snyder is still at work. Sitting with words as much as the rocks and hills, reminding any who care to listen what the real work is which remains as ever unfinished. So it goes, and perhaps shall continue if our luck and persistent urge to learn and adapt holds for a good long while. If not, there’s other beings out there living amongst the trees and rocks that have centuries of their own living to continue on with. And in the meantime, since poems are among the oldest records of shared human endeavor why not focus on being sure to make them count for something.

The Etiquette of Freedom: Gary Snyder, Jim Harrison, and The Practice of the Wild. Ed. by Paul Ebenkamp (a companion to the film directed by John J. Healey) Counterpoint, 2010.
ISBN: 978-1-58243-629-6, 1-58243-629-O

The Practice of the Wild
by Gary Snyder
Counterpoint, 1990/2010
ISBN: 978-1-58243-638-8, 1-58243-638-X
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