Gary Snyder

Beat Generation poet Gary Snyder spent 40 years on “Mountains and Rivers Without End,” his epic poem about Zen Buddhism, Native American mythology and man’s connection with nature. “I have found that if you let a poem sit around long enough, you come to see and hear it better,” Snyder says. A longtime environmentalist who has worked as a fire lookout and meditated with Japanese monks, Snyder has lived off the grid in the Sierra Nevada for over four decades. He joins us to talk about the release of the newest edition of “Mountains and Rivers,” and how nature, politics and religion shape his poetry.

Gary Snyder, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and professor emeritus at UC Davis

  • Fyza Parviz

    I recently saw a mini documentary of Mr. Snyder by Richard Moore at the writing from California conference at the SF public library. I wanted to know if Mr. Snyder thinks the influence of poetry has changed in California since the 60s? And who is Mr.Snyders favourite contemporary poet?

  • Tom Buoye

    Mr Snyder, just after you first published Mountains and Rivers, i
    picked up an old battered copy of Keroacs Dharma Bums, where he records
    that you, as Japhy, had started work on your life’s work, Mountains and
    Rivers without End. I was amazed that 40 years ago, he chronicled you
    so accurately . Could you talk about your relationship with him.
    could you talk about your relationship with your Zen mentor to whom i
    believe dedicate your book to. He was the grandfather of a friend of
    mine. Thanks so much.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    A better schooled friend than I, a buddhist historian, said the Dalai Lama delivers a hodgepodge of advice, not purely buddhist. Can Gary take on the big guy – the 14th Dalai Lama – and speak truth to power? The unquestioning acceptance of the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, reminds me of Sheldon Kopp’s 1970s book, ‘If You Meet a Buddha on the Road, Kill Him’!
    Tongue in cheek, but quite seriously asking this question,

  • Ben Rawner

    Do u sometimes find it difficult to translate one way or another a thought into a particular language? For instance Japanese to English or vice versa?

  • Alan Soldofsky

    I was recently doing research in Kenneth Rexroth’s archive at USC, and found a poem in typescript called “Two Poems by Han Shan at Old Age.” Do you know if Rexroth had been interested in Han Shan, or was this something he developed later, learning about Han Shan from you? I don’t know if Rexroth ever published this poem, which in typescript seems a very rough draft.

    • Alan Soldofsky

      Glad to hear Gary talk about Kenneth Rexroth and Robert Duncan, who should
      be read seriously as foundations of not only Bay Area poetics but also
      central to the evolution of American poetry.

      Good to know what I suspected, that Rexroth learned about Han Shan’s work from Gary Snyder. Thanks, Gary for your cogent answer, and to you Michael for reading my question. I took a photo of the mss. page of this poem, which I can share with Gary. I have also transcribed it, and I’ll email to Gary (at his UC Davis account). don’t have permission yet to publish the poem.

  • Alyssa Stone

    Love this interview!

  • Kenn Fong

    I hope, Michael, that you will ask Mr. Snyder back very soon even when he doesn’t have a new book to promote. He is a treasure and we are so lucky to have him.

  • msdamselfly

    Just loved this interview. Can’t wait for more of Gary Snyder! What a precious outlook- could spend hours listening to him.

  • Kenn Fong

    Is Mr. Snyder doing any readings this visit to the Bay Area?

  • Ranjeet Tate

    I really enjoyed Snyder’s reading of his poem “We wash our bowls in this water” and his drawing attention to the physicality of water by referring to its disassociation, not least because I think science and art are equally valid ways of studying nature and expressing oneself.
    So it was a distraction to hear Snyder read “… water … split by photosynthesis …”. Photosynthesis (emphasis on “synthesis”) has nothing to do with the disassociation of water, the correct term is “hydrolysis”, or if the cause of the disassociation is light, then “photolysis”.
    Poets clearly pay a lot of attention to their choice of words. As Krasny pointed out,
    Snyder himself makes of poetry a dynamic thing by changing words on the fly during readings. So what explains a malapropism that could have been avoided by 5 seconds of looking up a dictionary or googling? If metering or syllable count is an issue surely there is a choice of other words or structure that allows the pentasyllabic “photosynthesis” to be replaced by either “hydrolysis” or “photolysis”.
    This kind of cavalier misrepresentation of nature in art is as jarring to me as seeing paintings (by both adults and children) of a primary rainbow depicted as an ellipse or with red on the inside and violet on the outside.

    • Anne Donjacour

      Actually, water IS split during photosynthesis. the hydrogen goes into the carbohydrate and the oxygen is released.

      • Ranjeet Tate

        Yes, “during” or “as part of the process” but not “by”. It is still careless use of the term and it puzzles me since there doesn’t seem to be any required artistic value that it satisfies. At any rate, I did find the poem and have read it multiple times since hearing it the first time this morning.

  • Highway

    If I had been able to call in to speak with Gary, I’d have asked him: Is it a burden to you to be called a beatnik, a beat writer, one of the last of the writers of the Beat Generation, etc.? I ask because much of those writers wee identify more with the urban landscape than your landscape of mountains and rivers. The urban writers seemed so steeped in toxic self-medication: caffeine, nicotine, speed, etc. I liked your mention of Ginsberg’s Howl but glad the conversation with Michael didn’t linger too long on the beat era. As much as I like the whole Kerouac thing, glad your radio time was more fixed on zen poetics, nature inspired phrases and recollections of the landscape far from North Beach clammer.

  • aestewart

    When you read the local press in the Grass Valley Union, residents of the San Juan Ridge in Nevada County residents are bunch of losers. We show up in the police blotter for everything from shooting bears, shooting each other, “hoarding dogs,” crank labs, pot fields and every manner of miscreant behavior on the books. On Nevada County FB pages there is an almost non-stop flood of toxicity, about dysfunctional politics, dogs, Fukushima, dead elephants, animal abuse, the NSA, neighbors that don’t get along and impending global doom…

    So, in tuning to to Michael Krasny this morning on Forum, it was more than a pleasure, but with a rather deep of relief to hear their conversation, Gary reading excerpts from his culminative work “Mountains and Rivers Without End.” So my day was improved, their discussion of Buddhism & Turtle Island…

    After the interview, I tuned in Dreamwalk on KVMR (89.5) where I was instantly met by Leonard Peltier reading his account of the events that led up to his arrest and imprisonment. It was an odd, poignant almost sad dialectic, the juxtaposition of the two, Snyder and Peltier. The celebrated poet, the imprisoned Native American activist – both having been lodestars for me in so many ways, so many days – and I was feeling back to the reasons I chose to settle here on the San Juan Ridge, how I thought I would live here, the ways in which I have had to survive here…

    So today started out a little rocky, everything frozen – a dead goat in covered pen, busting up the ice on the water trough for the others. Just enough wood to take the chill off the house. It’s winter, its the Ridge, its the way it is for me. It’s odd having lived on the here, this way for this long; it’s was odd to hear someone extolled for “living off the grid;” and then I thought; but, yeah, -if its good enough for Gary Snyder, it’s still good…

    So from the San Juan Ridge, thank you Michael for interviewing one of our “best” neighbors and thank you Gary for being – you made today bearable. anthony stewart


    • mervie

      and you my unknown friend made my day that much better. thank you.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor