Sunday, September 17, 2006


In a recent post my blog-mentor sfmike covered an art opening that included a wall hanging (oversized beach towel) supposedly some famous mandala, which was contributed by “poet Gary Snyder, no less.”

I chided Michael for being impressed by mere fame, and challenged him to identify two “really good” poems by Gary Snyder.

Later I googled upon an essay about Gary Snyder, supposedly a glowing one, by Kenneth Rexroth (same challenge). Rexroth’s essay includes the following:

I once long ago said to Gary that Buddhism was the assumption of unlimited liability for the community of love, and Gary said, “The best way to put that is unlimited interiority in the community of love.” For the Buddhist vision is the empirical, prime reality. Nirvana is samsara. The world is the transcendent. Illusion is illumination. The disciple holds up a flower and Buddha laughs, and all the Buddhas of all the Buddha worlds of all the infinities of infinities light up and laugh. The point is flower. How right the interbellum culture was to make a saint of that sick man, Kierkegaard. There is no interiority there, only a horrified utter exteriority. “Who is Buddha?” “I think I’ll cook bean cake for supper.” In the necklace of Shiva every diamond reflects every other and is itself reflected.

If you think that maybe the above paragraph is anything but nonsense, then you might be able to form a similar opinion about Gary Snyder’s poetry. For me Buddha-bullshit is no more or less interesting than Jesus-bullshit or Mohammed-bullshit.

Here’s some basic stuff by Gary Snyder. This is the kind of crap that gives poetry a bad name.

So, rather than be completely negative I’ll mention a really good poet who shows up in some of the modern poetry anthologies along with Gary Snyder. His name is Jackson Mac Low. I haven’t actually read much of him, except for a few delightful anthology pieces, but for some reason his name came to mind when I asked myself, Who of that generation (besides the obvious Allen Ginsberg, Edward Field, Michael McClure) was a “real” poet.

The first thing I found on the net by Jackson Mac Low is exquisite, “9 Light Poems.” They have the same strong voice, the same command that I remember from reading him years ago, and the same wonderful shtick--exasperation rescued by playfulness.

You be the judge.

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Trevor Murphy said...
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Trevor Murphy said...

Ha, Gary Snyder was kept like a prize panda in the english department of my alma mater, UC Davis. I don't know any students who read his poems -- or whether he even had to teach classes -- but occasionally they made him show up to sit on the dais at commencements to lend an air of Beatnik hip classiness to the occasion.

The tragic part, of course, is trying to find another Gary Snyder in hopes that they might reproduce.

Anonymous said...

Gary is not really a poet, thats what he has been labeled as, so we might better understand his being.
I am not really understanding why youve got the desire to use words like suck. I like to think of Gary Snyder as a breeze or maybe a cloud.