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Tag Archives: Gary Snyder

How Poetry Comes to Me

Much like poetry, living comes to each of us and it blunders along just out of view from us. It is like sitting around a campfire and knowing there is something outside the ring of light the fire casts.

Within the ring of light, there is a warmth, perhaps a certainty. We think we know what is happening next. In truth, the living happens just outside our reach. Wendell Berry describes it as happening, but, once it happens, we cannot be fully describe it.

Gary Snyder wrote about his poetry writing as having to go meet the poetry just outside the range of his campfire. When we are attentive and mindful of each moment and what is just beyond our reach and vision, life dances at the edge of the light, like poetry.

Instead of certain answers, we encounter questions that cannot be fully answered, but help form the conversation and poetry that is our living.

It comes blundering over the

 Boulders at night, it stays

 Frightened outside the

 Range of my campfire

 I go to meet it at the

 Edge of the light

 

The Real Work

I found it interesting that as I searched for a poem I typed in the words The Real Work by Wendell Berry. As Google anticipated, another search emerged: The Real Work by Gary Snyder. This book of essays emerged from a series of interviews and talks Snyder conducted over several years.

Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder are writers, environmentalists and farmers who live in Kentucky and California respectively. Together, they wrote a book called Distant Neighbours and shared their views about the real work they undertook as writers, environmentalists, and farmers. How each of them understood and wrote about real work echoed the other.

Real work happens not when we find ourselves going through the work aimlessly and mindlessly. It emerges when obstacles arise and we are mindful and attentive in our work. It holds our interest through baffling us and our being unsure of what to do next. As we work thoughtfully and our mind is employed in meaningful acts, our work sings like an impeded stream and makes us whole. It is like we our speaking through our work and its meaning to us.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

dig in.

“find your place on the planet. dig in, and take responsibility from there.” ― gary snyder

Source: dig in.

I enjoy Gary Snyder‘s poetry and essays, which has a Zen-like view of humans and their relationship with the world. It does not exist out there as if some mysterious wilderness we travel to. Instead, the objective and subjective worlds speak to each other through our senses.

In arguing we do not live outside of the objective world, John Dewey contended humans “live in community in virtue of the things they have in common.” My view is the community includes all sentient and non-sentient beings.

When we think of ourselves as living in community with all beings, animate and inanimate, we find our place in the world, dig in, and assume responsiblity for that piece of the world and our actions.

When we think, speak, and act responsibly, we become leaders who act as stewards, serving future generations in concrete and ethical ways. We grow mindful and attentive to a world we inhabit intimately and communicate with it on a moment-to-moment basis. It is real, existing inside and outside of us simultaneously.

Imperatives

What imperatives do we set for ourselves in living? I find this question reading this poem. When we take in the world and as Kathleen Norris suggests drink of it, we elevate the ordinary to the extraordinary.

With a Zen-like quality, Gary Snyder reminds us that “Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” Nature is a place we belong and share with others, living and non-living. We do not despoil nature and it remains sacred.

When we experienced sharing the world, we discover ways to reach out, love, forgive, and ask forgiveness. When we mind and care for the world, perhaps we share wealth and pass through the eye of a needle into Heaven.

Look at the birds
Consider the lilies
Drink ye all of it
Ask
Seek
Knock
Enter by the narrow gate
Do not be anxious
Judge not; do not give dogs what is holy
Go: be it done for you
Do not be afraid
Maiden, arise
Young man, I say, arise
Stretch out your hand
Stand up, be still
Rise, let us be going…
Love
Forgive
Remember me

There is only one Earth…

There is only one Earth….

I am re-reading Rethinking Nature an anthology of philosophical writings about seeing humans living inside nature and nature residing inside us. There is a co-inhabiting involved. Despite familiarity and intimacy, we cannot fully encounter and understand nature anymore than we fully encounter and understand our self. It is in mystery, that beauty lies.

The linked poem speaks to the objectifying nature has undergone at the hands of human belief that we are dominant in nature. In objectifying nature, we objectify ourselves. We cannot live in nature and see it as outside our living.

Wendell Berry, Gary Snyder, Mary Oliver, and many other poets write about nature as a place. Place does not equate to ownership. It is about something special that holds our spirit in place and grounds our living. There is an essence and spirit in place that cannot be quantified. It is seen in the early morning dew, the thundering storms, and a moose calmly eating a few feet away.

Axe Handles

I mentioned in The Wild Rose I am reading Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry. I read this poem several times over the last few months trying to make sense of it. At first, I thought it was a personal and it begins that way. Gary Snyder describes his work teaching his son to throw an axe and shaping the axe handle to fit the work.

As I reflected on the poem, I realized it is about important traditions passed from parents to children. We hone and polish what we wish to retain forming the axe handle. It is a handle for us and our children which provides security as we polish and remove the unwanted.

Most of the time, we are unaware of the work we do without taking time and reflecting. In those moments, we realize what changes, what remains, and what is added knowing each generation makes its own adjustments.

To do it well, we mindfully and attentively approach the work remaining fully present.

One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
“When making an axe handle
the pattern is not far off.”
And I say this to Kai
“Look: We’ll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with-”
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It’s in Lu Ji’s Wen Fu, fourth century
A.D. “Essay on Literature”-in the
Preface: “In making the handle Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand.-
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

The Wild Rose

I am reading poetry and prose written by Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. What links the writers, is a shared belief humans live in the world. This fits with my dissertation about pedagogy. Humans are relational and social. When we live relationally and socially, our senses and heart open up to the world differently than living as passive observers.

Relationships are risky. Sometimes it is tempting to step back at times and be outside relationships. In the analytic mind, there is more risk than we want. Literally and metaphorically there are rewards. Literally, when we are present in the world we see wild roses and other natural manifestations bloom. Metaphorically, we see relationships with spouses, children, friends, students, etc. unfold and blossom like wild roses Wendell Berry mentions.

When we are in relationships, there is pleasure and pain mixed. Thomas Merton said we call it falling in love, because it is hard work. When I think of the most wonderful (wonder-filled) occurrences in my life, it is the ones I worked hard at. I found comfort in the hard work even when it hurt. Being mindful and attentive to the blooming in our lives is an essential part of relationships we enter.

Sometimes hidden from me

in daily custom and in trust,

so that I live by you unaware

as by the beating of my heart,

Suddenly you flare in my sight,

a wild rose blooming at the edge

of thicket, grace and light

where yesterday was only shade,

and once I am blessed, choosing

again what I chose before.

 

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