What: Gary Snyder reading
When: 7 p.m. April 18
Where: Plymouth Congregational Church (1900 Nicollet Ave.)
Since 1970, the Pulitzer Prize winning American poet, essayist and environmental activist Gary Snyder has been living in a hand-built house in the Sierra Nevada region of northern California. Three miles of dense ponderosa pine forest separate the house from the nearest mailbox and the nearest road. What started out as a barn near the house has now turned into a library, practically full of books.
The Thoreau comparison, though initially inevitable, is misguided. To linger on it too long would indicate a flimsy understanding of Snyder’s life and work. Over the last half century, Snyder has reinvented the American poetic voice, tirelessly fought on behalf of the environment, contemplated civilization’s impact on the natural world — the list goes on.
Snyder’s life as an embodiment of his work has been spent swimming against the current of dominant cultural norms. Yet he asserts that what appear to be cultural norms are merely detached media conjurations.
“There are a certain number of people who are pulled along by what the media does, but it’s not the real world,” he said. “I don’t worry about what the abstract media image or the abstract governmental image of the world is.”
The first line of his Wikipedia page immediately associates him with The Beat Generation. Though he read at the famous Six Gallery reading and served as the inspiration for Japhy Ryder in Kerouac’s “The Dharma Bums,” Snyder said the emphasis of this association is merely more media distortion.
“The first thing I have to tell young people who are influenced by the media, I say, ‘Look, Kerouac was not a journalist. You have to allow that he was writing a novel,’” he said, laughing. “Jack was quite competent in using me as a model for his character Japhy, but not trying to describe me as Japhy.
“However, it’s true we were good buddies. We climbed mountains together. [Allen] Ginsberg and a number of those other guys out on the West Coast — Michael McClure, Lawrence Ferlinghetti — we were all close friends,” he added.
The self-imposed dissociation from his friends’ movement is not the product of diverging beliefs or any severed ties, but rather it is rooted in his own poetic voice and writing style.
“It would be hard to call me a Beat writer,” he said. “In 40 or 50 years down the line once writing, once life, and once art evolve, change, mature — anybody who looks at the books that I’ve put out would notice that.”
As a pioneer in the resurgence of poetry as an oral art, Snyder’s upcoming Loft Literary Center-sponsored reading will not be a forced accompaniment to the poems but rather an actuation of the poems as they were intended.
“I belong to that branch of modern American poetry that insists on orality and insists that a poem does not arrive at its ultimate form of existence until it is uttered on stage or uttered before people,” he said. “I take a lot of care with how I compose and edit to make sure that they sound the way I want them to sound.”
Tiptoeing the divide between intellectuals and the working class, Snyder’s work has a undeniably relatable and approachable charm.
“My poetry, I hope and trust, takes people back to their real life,” he said.
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