Iain Sinclair – “The Man in the Clearing: Iain Sinclair Meets Gary Snyder” (2012)

July 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm (Gary Snyder, Reviews & Articles, The Beats)

Taken from the London Review of Books, May 24, 2012…

Coming through the woods, down a soft winding track, two minutes shy of the time we have been instructed to arrive, 10 a.m. on a bright Sunday morning, we see the man already there in the clearing, his right hand on the dog’s collar. Two minutes later, you feel, and he’d be gone. But this is the right person, undoubtedly, the one we have come to see. In a solid, heavy, hired car, a Chevrolet Impala, we have driven down the coast, on 101, from Seattle to Eureka, where a mudslide after weeks of rain diverted us over the mountains to Red Bluff, and on to goldmining country, Nevada City and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The man in the clearing, thin silver hair lit from behind, long blue work shirt over pink, is lean, of modest height, and steady as a post. The dog is more enthusiastic, a superior hillbilly poodle. It bounds forward to lick the passenger window, avid for society. As the man is not: he can take it when it comes, assess a situation, shape unshapely events to a predetermined programme and deliver what’s required, before returning to his proper business, a measured life in a portion of territory he has made his own.

The dog is called Emi. Beyond that pointy elongation of nose, and the wet welcome, this promiscuously affectionate, warm-breathed female is a canine in sheep’s clothing: a tumbling knotted rug of a thing. Emi has a supporting role in The Practice of the Wild, a documentary film featuring her human companion and the writer Jim Harrison, recently shot at San Simeon, on Hearst property; a leisurely senior citizen conversation on wilderness, Native American myths, the Beat Generation, mortality and memory. ‘Nature is not a place to visit,’ the man says, ‘it is home.’ Read the rest of this entry »

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Gary Snyder – “Buddhism and the Coming Revolution” (1969)

June 30, 2009 at 8:47 am (Gary Snyder, Reviews & Articles, The Beats)

This is a slightly revised version of an article Snyder wrote in 1961 called “Buddhist Anarchism” for a City Lights publication called Journal for the Protection of All Beings #1. This revised version came out in 1969 in a collection called Earth House Hold 


Buddhism holds that the universe and all creatures in it are intrinsically in a state of complete wisdom, love and compassion; acting in natural response and mutual interdependence. The personal realization of this from-the-beginning state cannot be had for and by one-“self” — because it is not fully realized unless one has given the self up; and away.

In the Buddhist view, that which obstructs the effortless manifestation of this is Ignorance, which projects into fear and needless craving. Historically, Buddhist philosophers have failed to analyze out the degree to which ignorance and suffering are caused or encouraged by social factors, considering fear-and-desire to be given facts of the human condition. Consequently the major concern of Buddhist philosophy is epistemology and “psychology” with no attention paid to historical or sociological problems. Although Mahayana Buddhism has a grand vision of universal salvation, the actual achievement of Buddhism has been the development of practical systems of meditation toward the end of liberating a few dedicated individuals from psychological hangups and cultural conditionings. Institutional Buddhism has been conspicuously ready to accept or ignore the inequalities and tyrannies of whatever political system it found itself under. This can be death to Buddhism, because it is death to any meaningful function of compassion. Wisdom without compassion feels no pain.

No one today can afford to be innocent, or indulge himself in ignorance of the nature of contemporary governments, politics and social orders. The national polities of the modern world maintain their existence by deliberately fostered craving and fear: monstrous protection rackets. The “free world” has become economically dependent on a fantastic system of stimulation of greed which cannot be fulfilled, sexual desire which cannot be satiated and hatred which has no outlet except against oneself, the persons one is supposed to love, or the revolutionary aspirations of pitiful, poverty-stricken marginal societies like Cuba or Vietnam. The conditions of the Cold War have turned all modern societies — Communist included — into vicious distorters of man’s true potential. They create populations of “preta” — hungry ghosts, with giant appetites and throats no bigger than needles. The soil, the forests and all animal life are being consumed by these cancerous collectivities; the air and water of the planet is being fouled by them.

There is nothing in human nature or the requirements of human social organization which intrinsically requires that a culture be contradictory, repressive and productive of violent and frustrated personalities. Recent findings in anthropology and psychology make this more and more evident. One can prove it for himself by taking a good look at his own nature through meditation. Once a person has this much faith and insight, he must be led to a deep concern with the need for radical social change through a variety of hopefully non-violent means.

The joyous and voluntary poverty of Buddhism becomes a positive force. The traditional harmlessness and refusal to take life in any form has nation-shaking implications. The practice of meditation, for which one needs only “the ground beneath one’s feet,” wipes out mountains of junk being pumped into the mind by the mass media and supermarket universities. The belief in a serene and generous fulfillment of natural loving desires destroys ideologies which blind, maim and repress — and points the way to a kind of community which would amaze “moralists” and transform armies of men who are fighters because they cannot be lovers.

Avatamsaka (Kegon) Buddhist philosophy sees the world as a vast interrelated network in which all objects and creatures are necessary and illuminated. From one standpoint, governments, wars, or all that we consider “evil” are uncompromisingly contained in this totalistic realm. The hawk, the swoop and the hare are one. From the “human” standpoint we cannot live in those terms unless all beings see with the same enlightened eye. The Bodhisattva lives by the sufferer’s standard, and he must be effective in aiding those who suffer.

The mercy of the West has been social revolution; the mercy of the East has been individual insight into the basic self/void. We need both. They are both contained in the traditional three aspects of the Dharma path: wisdom (prajna), meditation (dhyana), and morality (sila). Wisdom is intuitive knowledge of the mind of love and clarity that lies beneath one’s ego-driven anxieties and aggressions. Meditation is going into the mind to see this for yourself — over and over again, until it becomes the mind you live in. Morality is bringing it back out in the way you live, through personal example and responsible action, ultimately toward the true community (sangha) of “all beings.”

This last aspect means, for me, supporting any cultural and economic revolution that moves clearly toward a free, international, classless world. It means using such means as civil disobedience, outspoken criticism, protest, pacifism, voluntary poverty and even gentle violence if it comes to a matter of restraining some impetuous redneck. It means affirming the widest possible spectrum of non-harmful individual behavior — defending the right of individuals to smoke hemp, eat peyote, be polygynous, polyandrous or homosexual. Worlds of behavior and custom long banned by the Judaeo-Capitalist-Christian-Marxist West. It means respecting intelligence and learning, but not as greed or means to personal power. Working on one’s own responsibility, but willing to work with a group. “Forming the new society within the shell of the old” — the IWW slogan of fifty years ago.

The traditional cultures are in any case doomed, and rather than cling to their good aspects hopelessly it should be remembered that whatever is or ever was in any other culture can be reconstructed from the unconscious, through meditation. In fact, it is my own view that the coming revolution will close the circle and link us in many ways with the most creative aspects of our archaic past. If we are lucky we may eventually arrive at a totally integrated world culture with matrilineal descent, free-form marriage, natural-credit communist economy, less industry, far less population and lots more national parks.

Gary Snyder

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Gary Snyder – “For Lew Welch in a Snowfall”

January 31, 2009 at 9:27 am (Gary Snyder, Poetry & Literature, The Beats)


Snowfall in March:

I sit in the white glow reading a thesis

About you. Your poems, your life


The author’s my student,

He even quotes me


Forty years since we joked in a kitchen in Portland

Twenty since you disappeared


All those year and their moments—

Crackling bacon, slamming car doors,

Poems tried out on friends,

Will be one more archive,

One more shaky test


But life continues in the kitchen

Where we still laugh and cook,

Watching snow.

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Gary Snyder – “December at Yase”

January 25, 2009 at 9:22 am (Gary Snyder, Poetry & Literature, The Beats)


You said, that October,
In the tall dry grass by the orchard
When you chose to be free,
“Again someday, maybe ten years”


After college I saw you
One time. You were strange,
And I was obsessed with a plan


Now ten years and more have
Gone by: I’ve always known
where you were—
I might have gone to you
Hoping to win your love back
You still are single


I didn’t.
I thought I must make it alone. I
Have done that


Only in dream, like this dawn,
Does the grave, awed intensity
Of our young love
Return to my mind, to my flesh


We had what the others
All crave and seek for;
We left it behind at nineteen


I feel ancient, as though I had
Lived many lives


And may never now know
If I am a fool
Or have done what my
karma demands.

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Scott Nicholson – “Gary Snyder: Nature’s Poetic Voice” (2007)

November 8, 2008 at 11:27 am (Gary Snyder, Reviews & Articles, The Beats)

An essay written for his blogsite Scottnsblog, Aug. 2, 2007. Hopefully he doesn’t mind me posting this here…

Much has been said through the years about Gary Snyder’s Zen Buddhist philosophies, and how they influenced not only his writing, but also the lives of his contemporaries. Some have attributed his naturalistic style of prose and poetry to these very ideologies. My observations lead me to believe however, that more than Snyder’s religious views translating to his ecological writing style, that in fact, his love for his natural environment prompted his spiritual convictions. As one enters into a study of the collective works of Snyder, both of these dominions are clearly present in his writing. Through various talks and interviews conducted over his writing career, he openly shares his views on both topics, and gives insight into how precious and critical they are to him as a man, and an author. Nonetheless, after extensive research of several of his literary collections, I have arrived at the overwhelming conclusion that Snyder, more than a harbinger of Zen Buddhism, is the unmistakable poetic voice of nature.
In the Dictionary of Literary Biography, book critic Dan McLeod states in his article, “Gary Snyder,” “Snyder’s main impact on the Beat Generation, and on American literature has been as spokesman for the natural world and the values associated with primitive cultures” (McLeod). For over half a century Snyder has carried the standard of environmental issues, not only through his prolific writings, but into the classroom as well. One could easily make the statement that the ecological awareness that Snyder possessed and articulated during the heavily industrialized period post World War II, helped establish a basis for environmental awareness, and very possibly helped advance the environmentalist movement itself in the United States. Although environmental concerns have been discussed openly in the U.S. since the eighteen hundreds, they reached an all time level of public interest during the era of reconstruction after the Second World War, and with the employment of the atomic bomb by the U.S. military, radiation poisoning added a new component to the discussion. The contributions of Snyder, through his writing, and through his activism, helped raise awareness of these issues, and highlighted the importance of preserving our nations ecological integrity.
Snyder’s love and commitment to the natural world sometimes takes a form of pure allegiance. In his poem “For All,” we join the person of the narrative voice as he walks barefoot through a shallow stream in the northern Rockies on a cold September morning. He describes how the sun shines on the icy shallows, and how the stones turn underfoot. His nose is cold and dripping. He is singing inside as he pledges his allegiance. “I pledge allegiance to the soil of Turtle Island, and to the beings who thereon dwell one ecosystem in diversity under the sun with joyful interpenetration for all” (Snyder). Snyder’s adherence to nature as a vibrant, living, almost god-like entity is so apparent in this last stanza that we can almost feel it welling up and taking form on the page. Throughout the poem, but especially toward its conclusion, Snyder reveals a portion of his soul that appears to be impossible for him to restrain. It is as though the poem was not a product of any labor on his part, but rather an exuberant revelation that he shares because he could not contain it if he wanted to.
Snyder has made himself an approachable source of information over the course of his career, unlike the majority of his Beat cohorts who chose for themselves a more withdrawn, almost reclusive existence. He has given numerous lectures and granted countless interviews, and remains one of the nations most accessible crusaders of environmentalism. In one such interview with Trevor Carolan, which appears in the online journal “Modern American Poetry,” Snyder’s philosophies as nature’s champion are further chronicled. Carolan states “As an ecological philosopher, Snyder’s role has been to point out first the problems, and then the hard medicine that must be swallowed. Snyder has become synonymous with integrity-a good beginning place if your poetics honor ‘clean-running rivers; the presence of pelican and osprey and gray whale in our lives; salmon and trout in our streams; unmuddied language and good dreams’” (Carolan).
In several of Snyder’s works, rather than heralding the wonders and beauty of nature in more direct methods, he chooses to contrast them with illustrations and lifestyles that he clearly finds unsavory. In his poem “The Trade,” taken from a collection of his poetry entitled No Nature, the narrative voice takes us to a place that Snyder would have deemed cold and foreign. “I found myself inside a massive concrete shell lit by glass tubes, with air pumped in, with levels joined by moving stairs” (191). The narrative character is clearly inside a multi-story modern building, illuminated with artificial lighting, breathing circulated air. The descriptive words used to illustrate his surroundings are cold and lifeless. The verse continues, “It was full of things that were bought and made in the twentieth century. Layed out in trays or shelves” (191). We now see that we are in a department store or shopping mall, to which the narrative character is obviously ill at ease. “The throngs of people of that century, in their style, clinging garb made on machines, were trading all their precious time for things” (191). Unsettled tones exude from the narrative description of the place, and sadness for the throngs of people seems to leave the reader with an overwhelming feeling of repulsion. This is such an egregious departure from the natural environment that Snyder holds dear, that we can gain a much more appreciable understanding of how uncomfortable it must have made him feel to occasionally find himself in places such as that described in the poem.
Even when Snyder chooses to share something of his Zen Buddhist spirituality, his religious references are rarely unaccompanied by their deeper natural catalysts. The two are unmistakably intertwined in the mind and soul of the author, but his naturalist ideologies can stand alone without any religious foundation, whereas his spiritual inferences require the aid of natural illustration. The mystic views he shares in almost parabolic fashion always require the notation and use of things existing in the natural realm, without this component the message would be lost or pointless. A poignant example of this fact occurs in the poem “The Canyon Wren,” taken from one of Snyder’s later collections of poetry entitled Mountains and Rivers Without End. The narrative character is describing looking up at the cliffs while being swept downriver on a raft. He illustrates roils of water gently wobbling the raft, the shimmering boulders beneath the surface and a hawk soaring across the sky, backlit by a brilliant sun. “Above the roar hear the song of a Canyon Wren” (90). Snyder’s artistry of painting a vivid mental landscape is somewhat interrupted in the closing stanzas of the poem, with more mystical Asian influences coming to the foreground. “Dogen, writing at midnight, ‘mountains flow water is the palace of the dragon it does not flow away’” (90-91). Snyder’s frequent intermingling of mystic thoughts and spiritual references are always surrounded by the inspirational qualities of his natural world. His natural universe is critical to his spirituality, but his spirituality is merely a by-product of his nature.
In an interview by Paul Geneson taken from the book Gary Snyder, The Real Work: Interviews and Talks, 1964-1979, Geneson asks Snyder, in so many words, to evaluate the function or value of poetry to society. Snyder’s response, “I’m not sure that value is the same word as function. The value of poetry and the function of poetry in a society are two different things. The value and function of poetry can be said in very few words. One side of it is in-time, the other is out-of-time. The in-time side of it is to tune us in to mother nature and human nature so that we live in time, in our societies in a way and on a path in which all things can come to fruition equally, and together in harmony. A path of beauty. And the out-of-time function of poetry is to return us to our own true original nature at this instant forever. And those two things happen, sometimes together, sometimes not, here and there and all over the world, and always have” (73). The function and the value, the harmony and the path, human nature, and of course, mother nature at the center of it all, this instant, and forever.
So many of the Beat authors, and those who aspired to their ranks, lead such desperate and troublesome lives that Gary Snyder emerges from the group as a real breath of fresh air. The vast majority of their literary culture was not much more than chemically dependant malcontents, venting frustration and restlessness following World War II. Snyder stood among only a few of the Beats who took his work, and his ideals seriously enough as to convert them to something meaningful and lasting. One of the most prolific of all the beats, Snyder’s career transcended that of the stereotypical poet, and translated to the level of teacher and mentor. I have heard it said of Snyder that he remains to this day as one of our nations most approachable literary personalities, which I find very telling of a man who has risen to such iconic status within his realm. As he continues to teach at the University of California, Davis, the message remains the same, though I’m sure he would admit that the audience is more diverse now than ever. I can’t help but recall a poem by Snyder entitled “Hay For The Horses” in which the old man in the poem reveals to his partner that he had sworn to himself the very first day that he bucked hay that he sure didn’t want to spend his whole life doing it. In the end, of course he had. I don’t know if there was a cognizant point in Snyder’s life or his career when he asked himself whether or not his writing would occupy the better part of his lifetime, but I can only speculate that he would have no regret as to it’s outcome. Snyder lived, and continues to live, the life of a fulfilled man, as a husband, a father, and a grandfather. As a poet, a teacher and an activist. Unlike most of his Beat contemporaries, his work, his availability, and his ever-present environmental awareness have earned him the distinction of Nature’s Poetic Voice.

Scott Nicholson

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Gary Snyder – “The Dharma Eye of d.a.levy” (1977)

October 27, 2008 at 9:30 am (Gary Snyder, Reviews & Articles, The Beats)

Taken from The Old Ways (1977)…


d.a.levy – Darryl Levy – I try out his names, reaching to know the man; his poems, his polemics. I feel brother to Levy not only as poet but as fellow-worker in the Buddha-fields. Levy had a remarkable karma: he saw who he was, where he was, what his field of activity was, and what his tools were to be.


                     “if in the past
                     i was of the black
                     and sat at night
                     in cemeteries
                                            & silence
                           even that
                           was transient”

In Indian thought the truth/law/absolute is called the Dharma. The Buddhadharma (“Buddhism”) is the Dharma as transmitted by a line of enlightened men and women. Gods exist, but even the Gods are subject to the laws of karma; and because of their tiresomely long omnipotent lives they are somewhat handicapped in the achievement of liberation. Gods have been known to gain insight by attending little talks given by poor wretched mendicant human wise men. There are religious-minded people who strive for purity and solitary illumination, to be “God” like-but the Dharma is without dualism. Great Buddhist yogins of the past often sat through the night in graveyards, meditating while seated on corpses. Some of these yogins in their exhaustive search through all the components of mind and transformations of thought-energy became “of the black” – showing no dualistic distaste for “impurity” – and hoping to reach the depths where there is the basest lead, the raw material for the alchemical transformation into “gold.”

“it was feb. 63 when i had enough money to buy a 6X9 letterhead hand press & type. Spent al most a year at my aunt and uncles printing sometimes 8 to 16 hours a day for days and days. . .”

The “right-handed” yogins and mystics have been an integral part of the conspiracy of civilization to degrade women and mis-use nature. They have become “established religion” living off of money provided by the state, or the pious gifts of workers and peasants.

The yogins of the left-hand, both women and men, have lived in the world doing their work and supporting themselves by crafts or labor. The Tantric siddha (“powerman”) Saraha was an arrow-maker. Naropa’s teacher Tilopa was a pounder of til seeds. Many were poets. Long apprentice ships were spent, in the mastery of a craft.


“i have a city to cover with lines”

His hometown, Cleveland, that he wouldn’t move from. Like the Sioux warriors who tied themselves to a spear and stuck it in the ground, never to retreat. Why? An almost irrational act of love–to give a measure of self-awareness to the people of Cleveland through poesy.


“you will not confront yourself
so you leap to the aid of others”

–Levy’s self-criticism also. But the Bodhisattva view does not imply that first, you perfect your selfrealization and second, enter the world to “cure illnesses and loosen bonds.” The waterwheel swings deep into the water and spills it off the top in the same turning.


“in the background i sense
clannish emasculated
masonic mafia rites”

You’d think a hard-working young printer and poet would incur no particular wrath and blame. Or would you. The problem goes deeper than the celebrated American anti-intellectualism or guilt-filled prurient repressive over-permissive sexual attitudes or the compulsive accumulation of X


the police try to protect
the banks – and everything else
is secondary”

(Luther’s outhouse a national institution.) The problem goes back to when the powers, beauties, and deep knowledges of the age-old women’s traditions were supplanted by military-caste mystiques & the accumulation of heavy metals. The poet/yogin still speaks for that other, saner, consciousness. The Occidental poet, with his “Muse.”


 “lady you have to be realistic
sending all your poets to the looney bin
ain’t helping the profession very much
your blue hair in the wind
& yr eyes full of diamonds.”

Not an easy row to hoe. Nature a network of de-pendent transformations and the Muse can be Maya, mistress of the ecosystem of delusion; who will perpetually keep tricking, or be the means of seeing through (herself) – a challenge, Levy’s Cleveland is not, exactly, his adversary: but his witch-Muse he needs must convert to the Path (more paying-back for spooky experiments in previous lives – that muse -)


                     “What form of energy is used to
                     create the original thoughts?
                     Try to become THAT!”

This takes us to the heart of Levy’s strength. All manipulations of politics or magic – things, images, from inner or outer worlds; reduce down to this mustard seed that blows away when you try to look at it.


“Cherokee, Deleware, Huron            [sic]
We will return your land to you”

It is curious how even a glimpse of the Mind-essence creates such primal respect for the land and for the dignity of men who live lovingly in the web of life – the primitives-

“it is not a Cathouse of the rising sun
or the deathwagon of the beat
generation, but a bridge of clouds
to a new culture.”

Traditional orthodox Buddhists are not concerned with building new cultures any more than they are interested in nature religion or girls. Poets must try to get them together – playing a funny kind of role, today, as pivot-man, between the upheavals of culture-change and the persistence of the Single Eye of knowledge. d. a. levy finished up his karma early – “reborn as a poet in an industrial society”       but he did his job well.


“the traditions we follow
make the gods look young”

Thus the name of Padma Sambhava’s line of Tibetan Buddhism, Ning-ma, means “Ancient Ones.” The sophistications of Mahayana metaphysics harmonized with archaic and primitive systems … Goddesses; sexual yoga. Too rich to manage without the bitter tea of Zen as well – and here in North America, Turtle Island, we begin now to look for the next switchback in the path: something drawing on the wisdom traditions of Asia, incorporating the profound lore of our Semitic, Celtic, African, & Germanic roots – something that walks with the land and animals of Turtle Island in “a sacred manner” as the Indians do.

Levy gone up ahead, with that tinkle of bells (which is also how you hear the dakini approaching)

“when riding the winter pony
a trail of bells
soft/y ringing
deep in the mind

& if one listens
perhaps this sound
will guide
the young rider through the

Gary Snyder
4.V I 11.40071
(Reckoning roughly from
the earliest cave paintings)

NOTE Books by d.a.levy – find them where you can –      ukanhavyrfukncitibak. Cleveland, Ghost Press 1970.
     Suburban Monastery Death Poem. Madison, Wis., Quixote Press, Vajrayana Reprint Series #1.
     The Tibetan Stroboscope. Cleveland, Ayizan Press, 1968.
     and, issues of The Buddhist Third Class Junk Mail Oracle.

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Gary Snyder – “Four Changes” (1970)

August 2, 2008 at 7:10 pm (Gary Snyder, Reviews & Articles, The Beats)


Humanity is but a part of the fabric of life — dependent on the whole fabric for our very existence. As the most highly developed tool-using animal, we must recognize that the unknown evolutionary destinies of other life forms are to be respected, and act as gentle steward of the earth’s community of being.

There are now too many human beings, and the problem is growing rapidly worse. It is potentially disastrous not only for the human race but for most other life forms. 


First, a massive effort to convince the governments and leaders of the world that the problem is severe. And that all talk about raising food-production — well intentioned as it is — simply puts off the only real solution: reduce population. Try to correct traditional cultural attitudes that tend to force women into childbearing — remove income tax deductions for more than two children above a specified income level, and scale it so that lower income families are forced to be careful too — or pay families to limit their number. Take a vigorous stand against the policy of the right-wing in the Catholic hierarchy and any other institutions that exercise an irresponsible social force in regard to this question; oppose and correct simple-minded boosterism that equates population growth with continuing prosperity. Work ceaselessly to have all political questions be seen in the light of this prime problem. 

Share the pleasure of raising children widely, so that all need not directly reproduce to enter into this basic human experience. Adopt children. Let reverence for life and reverence for the feminine mean also a reverence for other species, and future human lives, most of which are threatened.


Pollution is of two types. One sort results from an excess of some fairly ordinary substance — smoke, or solid waste — which cannot be absorbed or transmuted rapidly enough to offset its introduction into the environment, thus causing changes the great cycle is not prepared for. (All organisms have wastes and by-products, and these are indeed part of the total biosphere: energy is passed along the line and refracted in various ways. This is cycling, not pollution.) The other sort is powerful modern chemicals and poisons, products of recent technology, which the biosphere is totally unprepared for. Such is DDT and similar chlorinated hydrocarbons — nuclear testing fallout and nuclear waste — poison gas, germ and virus storage and leakage by the military; and chemicals which are put into food, whose long-range effects on human beings have not been properly tested. 

The human race in the last century has allowed its production and scattering of wastes, by-products, and various chemicals to become excessive. Pollution is directly harming life on the planet: which is to say, ruining the environment for humanity itself. We are fouling our air and water, and living in noise and filth that no “animal” would tolerate, while advertising and politicians try to tell us “we’ve never had it so good.”


Effective international legislation banning DDT and related poisons — with no fooling around. The collusion of certain scientists with the pesticide industry and agribusiness in trying to block this legislation must be brought out in the open. Strong penalties for water and air pollution by industries. Phase out the internal combustion engine and fossil fuel use in general — more research into non-polluting energy sources; solar energy; the tides. No more kidding the public about atomic waste disposal: it’s impossible to do it safely, and nuclear-power generated electricity cannot be seriously planned for as it stands now. 

Stop all germ and chemical warfare research and experimentation; work toward a hopefully safe disposal of the present staggering and stupid stockpiles of H-Bombs, cobalt gunk, germ and poison tanks and cans. Laws and sanctions against wasteful use of paper etc. which adds to the solid waste of cities. Develop methods of recycling solid urban waste. Recycling should be the basic principle behind all waste-disposal thinking. Thus, all bottles should be re-usable; old cans should make more cans; old newspapers back into newsprint again. Stronger controls and research on chemicals in foods. A shift toward a more varied and sensitive type of agriculture (more small scale and subsistence farming) would eliminate much of the call for blanket use of pesticides. 

Use fewer cars. Cars pollute the air, and one or two people riding lonely in a huge car is an insult to intelligence and the Earth. Share rides, legalize hitch-hiking, and build hitch-hiker waiting stations along the highways. Also — a step toward the new world — walk more. Boycott bulky wasteful Sunday papers which use up trees. It’s all just advertising anyway, which is artificially inducing more mindless consumption.

Refuse paper bags at the store. Organize Park and Street clean-up festivals. Don’t work in any way for or with an industry which pollutes, and don’t be drafted into the military


Everything that lives eats food, and is food in turn. This complicated animal, homo sapiens, rests on a vast and delicate pyramid of energy-transformations. To grossly use more than you need to destroy is biologically unsound. Most of the production and consumption of modern societies is not necessary or conducive to spiritual and cultural growth, let alone survival — and is behind much greed and envy, age old causes of social and international discord.

Humanity’s careless use of “resources” and our total dependence on certain substances such as fossil fuels (which are being exhausted, slowly but certainly), are having harmful effects on all the other members of the life-network. The complexity of modern technology renders whole populations vulnerable to the deadly consequences of the loss of any one key resource. Instead of independence we have over-dependence on life-giving substances such as water, which we squander. Many species of animals and birds have become extinct in the service of fashion fads — or fertilizer, or industrial oil. The soil is being used up; in fact humankind has become a locust-like blight on the planet that will leave a bare cupboard for its own children — all the while in a kind of Addict’s Dream of affluence, comfort, eternal progress — using the great achievements of science to produce software and swill. 

Goals: Balance, harmony, humility — growth which is a mutual growth with Redwood and Quail (would you want your child to grow up without ever hearing a wild bird?) — to be a good member of the great community of living creatures.


It must be demonstrated ceaselessly that a continually “growing economy” is no longer healthy, but a Cancer. And that the criminal waste which is allowed in the name of competition must be halted totally with ferocious energy and decision. Economics must be seen as a small sub-branch of Ecology, and production/distribution/consumption handled by companies or unions with the same elegance and spareness one sees in nature. Soil banks; open space; phase out logging in most areas. 

Plan consumer boycotts in response to dishonest and unnecessary products. Politically, blast both “Communist” and “Capitalist” myths of progress, and all crude notions of conquering or controlling nature.

The inherent aptness of communal life: where large tools are owned jointly and used efficiently. The power of renunciation: If enough Americans refused to buy a new car for one given year it would permanently alter the American economy. Recycle clothes and equipment. Support handicrafts — gardening, home skills, midwifery, herbs — all the things that can make us independent, beautiful and whole. Learn to break the habit of unnecessary possessions — a monkey on everybody’s back — but avoid a self-abnegating, anti-joyous self-righteousness. Simplicity is light, carefree, neat, and loving — not a self-punishing ascetic trip.

It is hard to even begin to gauge how much a complication of possessions, the notions of “my and mine,” stand between us and a true, clear, liberated way of seeing the world. To live lightly on the earth, to be aware and alive, to be free of egotism, to be in contact with plants and animals, starts with simple concrete acts. Simplicity and mindfulness in diet is a starting point for many people.


We have it within our deepest powers not only to change ourselves but to change our culture. If we are to survive on earth we must transform the five-millennia-long urbanizing civilization tradition into a new ecologically-sensitive, harmony-oriented, wild-minded scientific/spiritual culture.

Goal: Nothing short of total transformation will do much good. What we envision is a planet on which the human population lives harmoniously and dynamically by employing a sophisticated and unobtrusive technology — in a world environment which is “left natural.”

Specific points in this vision:

  • A healthy and spare population of all races, much less in number than today.
  • Cultural and individual diversity, unified by a type of world tribal council. Division by natural and cultural boundaries rather than arbitrary political boundaries.
  • A technology of communication, education, and quiet transportation, land-use being sensitive to the properties of each region.
  • A basic cultural outlook and social organization that inhibits power and property-seeking, while encouraging exploration and challenge in things like music, meditation, mathematics, mountaineering, magic, and all other ways of authentic being-in-the-world. Women totally free and equal. A new kind of family — responsible, but more festive and relaxed — is implicit.


Since it doesn’t seem practical or even desirable to think that direct bloody force will achieve much, it would be best to consider this a continuing “revolution of consciousness” which will be won not by guns but by seizing the key images, myths, archetypes, eschatologies, and ecstasies so that life won’t seem worth living unless one is on the transforming energy’s side.

New schools, new classes, walking in the woods and cleaning up the streets. Create an awareness of “self” which includes the social and natural environment. Consider what specific language forms, symbolic systems, and social institutions constitute obstacles to ecological awareness. Let no one be ignorant of the facts of biology and related disciplines; bring up our children as part of the wild-life. Some communities can establish themselves in backwater rural areas and flourish — others maintain themselves in urban centers — and the two types work together, a two-way flow of experience, people, money, and home-grown vegetables.

Investigate new lifestyles. Work with political-minded people where it helps, hoping to enlarge their vision, and with people of all varieties of politics or thought at whatever point they become aware of environmental urgencies. Master the archaic and the primitive as models of basic nature-related cultures — as well as the most imaginative extensions of science — and build a community where these two vectors cross. 

We are the first human beings in history to have all of humanity’s culture and previous experience available to our study — the first members of a civilized society since the early Neolithic to wish to look clearly into the eyes of the wild and see our selfhood, our family, there. We have these advantages to set off the obvious disadvantages of being as screwed up as we are — which gives us a fair chance to penetrate into some of the riddles of ourselves and the universe.

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Gary Snyder – Essay (1977)

August 2, 2008 at 7:06 pm (Gary Snyder, Reviews & Articles, The Beats)

Taken from his book of essays – The Old Ways from 1977…

When I was a graduate student at Berkeley studying Chinese and Japanese and planning to go to the Orient, in a perhaps excessively orderly fashion I decided I should get my teeth fixed. I didn’t realize they had dentists all over the place. Anyway, I signed up with the University of California dental school, and for two years I bicycled from Berkeley to San Francisco once a week and put myself in the hands of a Japanese-American dental student. On one of those occasions I took along New World Writing No. 7, and I read the little thing by a fellow named Jean-Louis, which was one of the most entertaining things I’d read in a long time, and it always stuck in my mind. I didn’t know anything of Jack or Allen at that time, but I never forgot that little piece of prose, “Jazz of the Beat Generation.” It was the first time I saw the term Beat Generation. What I liked was the writing, of course, and the energy that was in it, and the evocation of people. Of course it didn’t say “Jack Kerouac,” it said “Jean-Louis.”

Later I met Allen. Shortly after that, I met Jack. When I met Jack, and hearing Allen speak of his projects and hearing Jack speak, I flashed that he was Jean-Louis.

Allen asked Rexroth who was doing interesting poetry in the area. Allen had the idea of trying to put together some kind of poetry reading, and Kenneth mentioned my name as one person he might want to look up. So Allen just turned up at my place when I was fixing my bicycle in the backyard, and said that he had been talking to Kenneth. So we sat down and started comparing who we knew and what we were thinking about. 

Jack was, in a sense, a twentieth-century American Lithographer. And that’s why maybe those novels will stand up, because they will be one of the best statements of the myth of the twentieth century. just as Ginsberg represents one clear archetypal aspect of twentieth century America, I think Jack saw me, in a funny way, as being another archetypal twentieth-century American of the West, of the anarchist, libertarian, IWW tradition, of a tradition of working outdoors and fitting in already with his fascination with the hobo, railroad bum, working man. I was another dimension on that.

Like on one occasion I remember we spent a number of hours in which I simply explained to him how logging camps worked and what all the steps in a logging operation are. Now I don’t believe he ever used that in a book, but he was collecting that kind of information and enthusiastically digesting it all the time.

If my life and work is in some sense a kind of an odd extension, in its own way, of what Thoreau, Whitman, John Muir, etcetera, are doing, then Jack hooked into that and he saw that as valuable to him for his purposes in this century.

And Allen was the New York radical, Jewish intelligentsia. Jack really was skillful in identifying these types, recognizing them as being a particular image that would become part of the mythology of America that he was working at. When he talked about his great novel that he was writing, it was like Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a collection of stories which sketch out the view of the times. And he saw himself on the scale of a mythographer. The legend of Duluoz.

The dialectic that I observed in Jack, which was kind of charming, really, and you see it at work in his novels, was that be could play the fool and he could play the student very well. “But see, I really don’t know anything about this. Teach me!” “Wow! You really know how to do that?” and lead you on. ‘I’hat was balanced by sometimes great authoritativeness and great arrogance, and he would suddenly say, “I am the authority.” But then he would get out of that again. It was partly maybe like a really skillful novelist’s con, to get people to speak. And be uses that as a literary device in his novels, where he presents himself often as the straight guy and he lets the other guys be smart. 

I much appreciated what he had to say about spontaneous prose, although I never wrote prose. I think it influenced my journal writing a lot, some of which would, say, be registered in the book Earth House Hold. I think that I owe a lot to Jack in my prose style, actually. And my sense of poetics has been touched by Jack for sure.

Our interchanges on Buddhism were on the playful and delightful level of exchanging the lore, exchanging what we knew about it, what he thought of Mahayana. He made up names. He would follow on the Mahayana Sutra invention of lists, and he would invent more lists, like the names of all the past Buddhas, the names of all the future Buddhas, the names of all the other universes. He was great at that. But it was not like a pair of young French intellectuals sitting down comparing their structural comprehension of something. We exchanged lore. And I would tell him, “Now look. Here are these Chinese Buddhists,” and that’s how we ended up talking about the Han-shan texts together, and I introduced him to the texts that give the anecdotes of the dialogues and confrontations between T’ang Dynasty masters and disciples, and of course he was delighted by that. Anybody is. ‘I’hat’s what we did.

I didn’t then, and I don’t now, think in terms of whether or not people are genuinely committed Buddhists or not. We’re working with all of these things, and it doesn’t matter what words you give to them, and if I thought that there was some point where I would say, “Jack, you’re thinking too much about how the world’s a bad place,” that would be my sense of a corrective and his understanding of the Buddha-dharma, but that wasn’t in my interest, or anybody else’s interest, to think: “Is this guy a real Buddhist or not a real Buddhist?” He was worried about it later, but I never was, and I don’t think Philip Whalen ever was, or anybody else.

When Jack came I was living over on Hillegass, and Philip had come back from the mountains. I had spent the summer up in the Sierra Nevada working on a trail crew and, naturally, we were talking a lot about the mountains. We were just back fresh from it, from the season’s work, and I had rucksacks and climbing rope and ice-axes hanging on the walls around my place. Naturally we talked some about all of that.

I perceived that there was a kind of freedom and mobility that one gained in the world, somewhat analogous to the wandering Buddhist monk of ancient times, that was permitted you by having a proper pack and sleeping bag, so that you could go out on the road and through the mountains into the countryside. The word for Zen monk in Chinese, yun shui, means literally “clouds and water,” and it’s taken from a line in Chinese poetry, “To float like clouds, to flow like water,” which indicates the freedom and mobility of Zen monks walking around all over China and Tibet and Mongolia on foot.

With that in mind I said to Jack, “You know, real Buddhists are able to walk around the countryside.” So he said, “Sure. Let’s go backpacking.” I think John Montgomery said, “There’s time for one more trip into the mountains before it gets too much colder.” It was around the end of October.

So we headed up over Sonora Pass, leaving at night in Berkeley, and went over to Bridgeport, up to Twin Lakes and went in from there, over Sonora Pass.

It was very funny. It’s very beautifully described in The Dharma Bums, actually. It was very cold. It was late autumn. The aspens were yellow, and it went well below freezing in the night and left frost on the little creek in the canyon we were camped at. There was a sprinkle of fresh white’snow up on the ridges and peaks. We made it up to the top of the Matterhorn and came back down again. Actually, Jack didn’t. I guess I was the only one that went up there. I was the persistent one.

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Gary Snyder – “Riprap” (1959)

August 2, 2008 at 6:56 pm (Gary Snyder, Poetry & Literature, The Beats)

Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
              placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
              in space and time:
Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall
              riprap of things:
Cobble of milky way.
              straying planets,
These poems, people,
              lost ponies with
Dragging saddles –
              and rocky sure-foot trails.
The worlds like an endless
Game of Go.
              ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word
              a creek-washed stone
Granite: ingrained
              with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot
              all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.

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