Gary Snyder, Zen Poet

“Gary Snyder,  Zen Poet”  |  Santa Barbara, California, 2015  |  Anthony Satori

“In the mountains, there you feel free.”

— T. S. Eliot

Campbell Hall, UCSB, California, November, 2015

It is an odd juxtaposition to watch a poet whose primary subject matter is nature, mountains and wilderness put on a tie, stand at a podium, and talk about his work in one of the least wilderness-like places conceivable: a university lecture hall.  You get the feeling of a creature out if his element, a proverbial fish-out-of-water… handling the environment with admirable aplomb, yet periodically, and involuntarily, gasping for air. 

The evening began strangely enough, with Snyder delivering a seemingly unprovoked 20-minute lecture on how we (the audience) were all inept at water conservation — although arguably from a place of authority, since he does live on a self-sustaining commune. 

This was followed (thankfully) by some enjoyable, yet seemingly random, readings of poetry from some of his more obscure collections (oddly excluding both the entire “Beat Generation” era and his most recent book release). 

The event then proceeded to attain new heights of awkwardness upon the introduction of an inexplicably antagonistic interviewer. To paraphrase a sample exchange:  Interviewer: “One farmer said that he grew the best oranges by looking at everyone around him and doing exactly the opposite of what they did.  Is this essentially what you are doing on the commune?”  Snyder: “No.  We’re not that dumb.”  Ouch. 

Almost regardless of venue, however, to hear a veritable institution of literature speak, read and discuss poetry and articulate his views on writing and life is a worthy experience.  Up until now, Gary Snyder has inhabited the status of an almost quasi-fictional Beat Poet/Zen Madman character to me, someone who existed only on the pages of Jack Kerouac novels and in my imagination.  Now, by virtue of this experience, his glowing apparition has been immortalized in my mind, and has, simultaneously, been made real.