Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Giving thanks for inspiration: Gary Snyder

Gary Snyder,
at Columbia University

I came face to face with Gary Snyder, one of my icons, at a poetry reading Wednesday night at Columbia University. The Pulitzer Prize winner spoke about the influence of Japanese poetics on his work and read selections from his early and more recent poetry to illustrate this influence. It was wonderful to hear his measured cadence reading poems I had read many times before but which now came to life.

Snyder was a friend of Jack Kerouac, who based the autobiographical novel "The Dharma Bums" on his relationship with Snyder, portrayed as protagonist Japhy Ryder in the book.

Reading "The Dharma Bums" and Snyder's poetry years ago stoked my growing interest in Japan and figured big in my decision to move there in the mid-1990s.

After Wednesday's reading and after I took my photographs of Snyder, I shook his hand and thanked him for his wonderful poetry. I told him how his work inspired my own journey across the Pacific, which seemed to please him. "And how'd it go?" he asked. "It changed my life," I told him. "I went there expecting to learn lots about Japan, which I did. But I wound up learning more about myself." He smiled.

There was a reception going on in the room behind where he spoke. I saw him sitting at one of the tables, patiently signing the books and photos that people were placing in front of him. Earlier, I saw a star-struck but earnest fellow give him a manila envelope with his poetry for Snyder to critique. Snyder pressed it to his forehead and thanked the man with a gassho, a Buddhist bow with palms pressed together.

I wanted to go over and chat some more with Snyder, who seemed absorbed in thought even in the midst of this throng of admirers. And then I thought, what more did I really have to say? What could I tell him that he hasn't heard 10,000 times before from fans and friends over the decades.

I had expressed my gratitude to him. What higher compliment could I pay than to acknowledge his influence on my life?

I decided to let it be.

Just to let it be.


Craig Photography said...

WOW, I would love the chance to see/hear/meet GS. His words have changed my life for the better. Thanks for writing this post.

Peace ~ John

Michael said...

Hey John,

Thanks for your comment. Yes, it was through a lucky chain of events that I got to hear Gary read, and I owe my eldest sister a huge debt in facilitating the opportunity.

I believe I've written this elsewhere on my blog, and even if I have, I think it bears repeating: I find Gary Snyder to be the most approachable (in terms of getting into his work) and genuine figure of the so-called Beat generation. Whereas quite a few of his contemporaries were dilettantes where Buddhism and Eastern (particularly Japanese) culture and spirituality were concerned, Snyder not only talked the talk but walked the path. He is a huge inspiration to me, in large part because of his sincerity.

Craig Photography said...

P.S. - I am really enjoying your blog. Today was the 1st time I found it. I will be back often.

Michael said...

Many, many thanks, John! It's great to make new friends. It is what it's all about.