Reading: Michael McClure and Gary Snyder

5th Annual UND Writers Conference:
"City Lights in North Dakota"
March 20, 1974

© 2012 Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, and the University of North Dakota

[Video of this reading is also available.]

[Please note, unless otherwise specified, poetry is presented with published line breaks:
for proper spacing and formatting, please consult printed source.]

Speaker: ...Gary Snyder is a poet, Dharma Bum, friend of the Earth, and I kind of like that, for an introduction to Gary, so I'll leave it at that. And introduce Michael McClure to you as a poet, playwright, pornographer, Dharma Bum, friend of the Earth, and both of them to you as City Lights. It is my pleasure to introduce them to you.

[Audience applause]

Gary Snyder: Gracias. [Attaches microphone] Can you hear me now? Should I make it tighter? Shall I say a few words about what we're going to do? Michael and I are, are sharing the platform tonight, because it has been our experience in the past, with other poets and other situations, that it's more fun. And the way we're going to do it is this: I'm going to start out by reading about twenty-five minutes, what was it, twenty-two and a half.

Michael McClure: Twenty-two and a half.

[Audience laughter]

Gary Snyder: I'm going to start out by reading twenty-two and a half minutes to, to develop a solid block of material, in which I want to have that one piece of time, to give you the, to give you the development of it. Then Michael's going to read for twenty-two and a half minutes, then we're going to probably, playfully, and without forethought, bounce some shorter poems back and forth between each other. Then we'll probably have an intermission, and then we're going to do the same thing again, maybe, depending on your patience. I'm sure we have much greater staying power than you do.

Michael McClure: [Laughs]

Gary Snyder: So as it happens, I'm going to begin reading this evening. And what I want to work with, from the beginning, are some of the main poems in what will constitute a new book of poems of mine to be coming out in the fall from New Directions. It will include all of a small, previous edition of poems called Manzanita, which did not circulate very widely, because it was a small edition, and the greater part of it will be made up of a cycle of poems, which I call "Magpie's Song," and three or four little prose pieces at the end. The whole collection I'm going to call Turtle Island, because that turns out to be, the most unifying, single direction of the whole group, and "Turtle Island," itself, expresses what I have been doing with most of my energy the last five years, living the United States of America. The United States of Turtle Island. The Turtle Island. Turtle Island, I'll read you what I've written on that.

[Ed. Note: This is an early version of the "Introductory Note" to Turtle Island and is presented with estimated punctuation]

Turtle Island-- the old/new name for this continent, based on many creation myths of the people who have been living here for millennia, are reapplied by some of them to "North America" again in recent years. Young, militant, American Indian groups in Northern California, and a few other parts in the country, have quit using the word "America" or "North America" or "United States," because they consider these recent, improper, European, arbitrary names assigned from an alien consciousness to a place by people who did not understand where they were. Turtle Island being then, true name, of the continent, based on tens of thousands of years of knowledge, of understanding, of living on the continent by the First People, the ancient people, who have the most to teach us on that level of anyone else. Also, a myth idea found worldwide of the earth; or, of the Cosmos even, as sustained by a great turtle, or serpent-of-eternity.

Audience Member: Could you speak up?

Gary Snyder: You can't hear me too well?

Michael McClure: [Maybe they can bring it up [inaudible]]

Gary Snyder: Can that be adjusted with the mic, or should I bring the mic up closer to my throat? It should be loud enough.

[Adjusts microphone]

So, is that better? Okay.

A new name, an old name for the continent that we may see ourselves more accurately on this continent of watersheds, life communities--plant zones, physiographic provinces, culture areas; following natural boundaries. The "U.S.A." and the states and the counties are usually arbitrary and inaccurate impositions on what is really here.

The poems speak of place, and the energy-pathways that sustain life. Each living being is a swirl in the flow, a formal turbulence, a "song." The land, the planet itself, also a living being--at another pace. Anglos, Black people, Chicanos, all others who beached up on these shores share such views at the deepest levels of their old cultural traditions--African, Asian, or European. So hark again to those, to our ancient solidarity, and then to the work of being together on Turtle Island.

From "Manzanita."


Up on the bluff, the steak houses
called "The Embers"--called
with a smiling disney cow on the sign
or a stockman's pride--a huge
full-color photo of standing Hereford stud
above the very booth
his bloody sliced muscle is
served in;

The Chamber of Commerce eats there,
the visiting lecturer,
stockmen in Denver suits,
Japanese-American animal nutrition experts
from Kansas
with Buddhist Beads;

[Audience laughter]

And down by the tracks
in frozen mud, in the feed lots,
fed surplus grain
(the ripped-off land)
the beeves are standing round--
bred heavy.
Steaming, stamping.
long-lashed, slowly thinking
with the rhythm of their
early morning prairie sky.


The Father is the Void
The Wife Waves

Their child is Matter.

Matter makes it with his Mother
And their child is Life,
a daughter.

The Daughter is the Great Mother
Who, with her father/brother Matter,
as her lover,

Gives birth to the Mind.

No matter, never mind.

[Audience laughter and applause]

Now as I've said a few times, I live out in the backcountry of northern California. And from time to time we have to make this response to people who say, city people who say, "You're just running away from reality out there, man. That's not where it's really happening." So this is called "Front Lines."

The edge of the cancer
Swells against the hill--we feel
a foul breeze--
And it sinks back down.
The deer winter here
A chainsaw growls in the gorge.

Ten wet days and the, and the log trucks stop,
The trees breathe.
Sunday the 4-wheel jeep of the
Realty Company brings in
Landseekers, lookers, they say
To the land,
Spread your legs.

The jets crack sound overhead, it's OK here;
Every pulse of the rot at the heart
In the sick fat veins of Amerika
Pushes the edge up closer--

A bulldozer grinding and slobbering
Sideslipping and belching on top of
The skinned-up bodies of still-live bushes
In the pay of a man
From town.

Behind is a forest that goes to the Arctic
And a desert that still belongs to the Piute
And here we must draw
Our line.

[Audience applause]

I appreciate your clapping very much, but it would be easier for me to slide right through these things, maybe if you sort of held it 'til the end.


You know wild fires, and then control burns, new concepts in forestry, old concepts. The Indians out in California always did practice control burning, helping then, to maintain climax, forests, stability.


What the Indians
used to do, was,
to burn out the brush every year.
in the woods, up the gorges,
keeping the oak and the pine stands
tall and clear
with grasses
and kitkitdizze under them,
but never enough fuel there
that a fire could crown.

Now, manzanita,
(a fine tree in its right)
crowds up under the new trees
mixed up with logging slash
and a fire could wipe out all.

Fire is an old story.
I would like,
with a sense of helpful order,
with respect for laws
of nature,
to help my land
with a burn. a hot clean
(manzanita seeds will only open
after a fire passes over
or once passed through a bear)

And then
it would be more
when it belonged to the Indians


"CHARMS," dedicated to Michael.

The beauty of naked or half-naked women,
lying in nothing clear or obvious--not
in exposure; but a curve of the back or arm,
as a dance or--evoking "another world"

"The Deva Realm," "The Realm of the Gods and Goddesses" or better, the Delight
at the heart of creation.

Brought out for each mammal species
specifically--in some dreamlike perfection
of name-and-form

Thus I could be devastated and athirst with longing
for a lovely mare or a lioness, or a lady mouse,
in seeing the beauty from THERE
shine through her, some toss of the whiskers
or grace-full wave of the tail

that enchants

and chants, and thus


Michael McClure: [Thank you.]

Gary Snyder: [Laughs]

Michael McClure: [inaudible]

Gary Snyder: Yeah, I thought of that again today watching the video of Gorf, you know. The beauty of naked women, the beauty of the naked tap dancers is in the dance they do, it's not in the nudity, that doesn't do it on it's own.

Michael McClure: I got a new play with topless girls with mouse ears, and I just feel like that

Gary Snyder: [Laughs]

Michael McClure: probably, closer to lady mice [than] men.

Gary Snyder: Little whiskers?

Michael McClure: I hadn't thought about [inaudible]

Gary Snyder: [Laughs]Why don't you put whiskers on it too?

Michael McClure: I did that in The Beard.

Gary Snyder: [Laughs] Just little Mickey Mouse whiskers.

Michael McClure: Right, cool, okay. They've got tails too, I just found out.

Gary Snyder: We're still trying to put the tails on those girls in our play.

Michael McClure: [That's a problem.]

Gary Snyder: Ten facts, now I'm going into some of the poems in the "Magpie's Song" cycle, we'll come back to more of these again. I'm just laying out the basic line of thought here. This is a "found" poem. I found most of these facts in one issue of the Christian Science Monitor eighteen months ago, reading it at random because it was put in my mailbox by mistake.

[Audience laughter]


92% of Japan's three million ton import of soybeans comes from the U.S.
2. The US has 6% of the world's population; consumes 1/3 of the energy annually consumed in the world.
3. The US consumes 1/3 of the world's annual meat.
4. The top 1/5 of American population gets 45% of salary income, and owns about 77% of total wealth. The top 1% of that owns 20% to 30% of all personal wealth.
5. A modern nation needs 13 basic industrial raw materials. By AD 2000 the U.S. will be import- dependent on all but phosphorus.
6. General Motors is bigger than Holland.
[Audience laughter]
7. Nuclear energy is mainly subsidized with fossil fuels and barely yields net energy.
8. The "Seven Sisters"--Exxon, Mobil, Texaco, [Audience laughter] Gulf, Standard of California, British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell.
9. "The reason solar energy has not and will not be a major contributor or substitute for fossil fuels is that it will not compete without energy subsidy from fossil fuel economy. The plants have already maximized the use of sunlight."--Howard T. Odum
10. Our primary source of food is the sun.


in the blue night
frost haze, the sky glows
with the moon
pine tree tops
bend snow-blue, fade
into sky, frost, starlight.
the creak of boots.
rabbit tracks, deer tracks,
what do we know.


Earth a flower
A phlox on the steep
slopes of light
hanging over the vast
solid spaces
small rotten crystals;

Earth a flower
by a gulf where a raven
flapped by once
a glimmer, a color,
forgotten as all
falls away.

A flower
for nothing;
an offer;
no taker;

Snow-trickle, feldspar, dirt.

"BY FRAZIER CREEK FALLS," up near the Sierra Buttes in Plumas County

Standing up on lifted, folded rock
looking out and down--

The creek falls to a far valley.
hills beyond that
facing, half-forested, dry
--clear sky
strong wind in the
stiff glittering needle clusters
of the pine--their brown
round trunk bodies
straight, still;
rustling trembling limbs and twigs


[Extended pause]

This living flowing land
is all there is, forever

We are it
it sings through us--

We could live on this planet
without clothes or tools!

My twenty-two and a half minutes is almost up.

Michael McClure: You've got about two and a half minutes.

Gary Snyder: Two and a half minutes. Okay.


Six A.M.,
Sat down on excavation gravel
by juniper and desert S.P. tracks
interstate 80 not far off
between trucks
Coyotes--maybe three
howling and yapping from a rise.

A magpie on a bough
Tipped his head and said,

[Snyder sings the remainder of the poem]

"Here in the mind, brother
Turquoise blue.
I wouldn't fool you.
Hear the breeze
It came through all the trees
No need to fear
What's ahead
Snow up on the hills west
Will be there every year
be at rest.
A feather on the ground--
The wind sound--

Here in the Mind, Brother,
Turquoise Blue"

[Audience applause]

Michael McClure: [To Gary Snyder while applauding and applause continues] That was beautiful.

Gary Snyder: [To Michael McClure] Thank you.

Michael McClure: [Attaching microphone] If you can't hear, can you tell me? Can you hear all right?

Audience Member: So far.

Michael McClure: Okay.

I'm going to start by reading the last few poems that I've written, in San Francisco, before coming out here. This, these are a little different than most of my poetry. As I was going to sleep, I had a rhymed poem pass through my mind, quite a lengthy rhymed poem and I, the next morning, "I thought, well it's too bad I didn't write that down I wonder what would happen if I got on that same track with a pen in my hand." And so I put the pen in my hand and it started, another one.

comes out of the conflagration
like a nation
of tiny bees
and gnats
that swarm in trees
and make a living constellation
real as a transparent whale
or narwhal
with a spiral
by his might
through the tight
side of a sailing ship.




I love black valentines!

Everything is mysterious wine
that drips from a spike
and bumps
like gems
from a diamond mine
it is stabbed right through
this solid wall
where we stand laughing in a stall
upon the dipping decks.
We know we're not wrecks
but radiant momentary

Gary Snyder: [Chuckles]

Michael McClure: I was walking, this, this is funny too. I was just getting read to go to the Evergreen Theatre in New York City, to a see a Theatre of the Ridiculous piece by, that I've been wanting to see for seven years, I'd never been in New York while the Theatre of the Ridiculous piece was running. The piece was running there, I bought my tickets, I was going back to meet Joanna at the Cedar Bar, and this guy comes down the street. And I'd stopped, I checked myself out in the reflection of the mirror to make sure my coat looked right, and my hair was combed. He said, "Sublime!" [Audience laughter] And I said, "Well, we're all, we're all radiant momentary Gods."

Gary Snyder: [Laughs]

Michael McClure: And he said, "that's the second time I've heard that in 48 hours." [Audience laughter] And then he said something about Aleister Crowley. He said, "What would the great Crowley think of that?' And I said look, "Do what thou wilt be the whole of the law," which is the, a Crowleyian dictum, which I don't necessarily believe in, but I was answering him in kind. Then afterwards it turned out he was one of the actors [Audience laughter], in the Theater of the Ridiculous piece that we were going to see.

[This poem is presented in prose form with estimated punctuation]

Is this a way that I may pray upon my vision for a portal from my prison while I chortle at the naked dancers and the panzers pounding over Ethiopia. We stay entombed a moment in the movement, where the things are real. We feel what we smell and touch the bell as it quivers there, like a hair amidst the clover by the painted fainting rainbow, where the perfumes blow past the big toe of the boy Rimbaud and then we burst in bubbles, like the troubles of a daddy-longlegs eating crumbs of burgers in the turgid morning underneath the drooping fuchsias. Yeah, we're real.

Gary Snyder: [Laughs]

Michael McClure: [This poem is presented in prose form with estimated punctuation]

The roaring, screaming heads of giant creatures make a body-world to dwell in and the features stare at us from deep inside. The sense of them is wide, and they howl all packed together, but their eyes are skies of light all beaming from the sheen of what they can contain within. The furling worlds within their skulls are simple as a dimple on a babies chin as he hugs a tiny duck. Each being is seeing with its organ sight, as it passes through the night of turmoil that we know as a shadow of the day: Vermillion, April, Silver star, Shiva in a tide pool on the coast of Baja, silhouettes of starlings dipped in tar, what a lovely thing the light is.

In California, there's a, a wild yellow violet that grows. In other words, it's a wild pansy with, and it's yellow, and it's got a little black face in it, like all pansies or violets have like, it looks like a little cat face. And they grow in little clumps out of the basal stalk of leaves. And there's some that grow up on a cliff top up near our house and, in the city of San Francisco, and it was a blossoming time for them last week, in San Francisco. And these flowers, these little, wild, yellow, native pansies are called Johnny Jump-ups. For Gary Snyder.

Gary Snyder: [Laughs]

[Audience laughter]

Michael McClure: [This poem is presented in prose form with estimated punctuation]

The Johnny-Jump-Ups tower in their sweet power, peeping toward the city leaping far below. Their yellow pansy faces flecked with black are traces of the attack made by life upon this concrete scene. They lean in little clumps upon the cliff where the blossom of the Soaproot still sleeps stiff, Hog's fennel and Bear's foot shoot their stars of yellow through the mist. Insects twist to get the February nectar. All the universes collide and slide together to make this cold wet breeze, these eucalyptus trees, my arm, my mind, and everything we find as we stride here. This, like every point, is where Nirvana bumps into Samsara. Soon, they'll be auras of owl's clover and new, unseen sights to uncover.

I have liked wild flowers very much, because they're one part of the environment that, if you can find a small patch of land that's essentially hasn't changed for the last 10 or 20,000 years. And you can't see the giant ground sloth that used to walk over it, or the mastodon, or the mammoth, or the megafauna that was there, up 'til say 9,000 years ago, or even the deer or bear that might have been there until 50 years ago, but the little ground flowers are essentially the same. And they're the same ones that an Indian, or a person native to this continent might have looked at closely. So they really, these wildflowers, where they're not surrounded by too many exotics, really are the Pleistocene that we think we've escaped with our concrete and, every once in a while, we find the Pleistocene right in a cliff top inside a city.

I like this poem because a friend of mine claimed that it cured a toothache he had. [Audience laughter] Anacreon was a Greek poet of the, I think, about the 5th century B.C. who prays to drunkenness and his baldhead and pursuing lovely maidens who poured the wine. And he also wrote poems about cicadas, or little foxes, or katydids, that was his subject matter. I don't know where this poem came from. It's called "ANACREON'S TOOTHACHE."

my bald
dance a state-
ly step
cicada's song
the grape.
Ah, there goes
a lovely shape!
Hey, wait!

[Audience laughter]

And then a poem that is an Anacreontic, I think.


See the hop-
ping flight
a cricket makes.
Nature loves
the absence of

This is a quote of, from Whitehead that I like very much, the contemp--, the contemporary philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead. And it, a poem came out of it. As a matter of fact, Gary and I were talking about this quotation, and I think the poem came out the day after, I think I wrote the poem the day after that conversation. The quo-, this is the quotation from Whitehead, I'll give it to you first so you can think about it, I'm still thinking about it. "The penetration of intuition follows upon the expectation of thought." "The penetration of intuition follows upon the expectation of thought. This is the secret of attention." That's, I suppose quintessentially Whitehead too, because he's, gives you the words he's working with.


"The penetration of intuition follows upon
the expectation of thought."
The flatworm dimly lights his cave.
The mastodon tramples
on the brilliant tundra.
We feel in waves
and ride upon them
like silver surfers
"This is the secret
of attention."

Our skin is taught
by moving torches
making loops.
Wrists have wings.
The eagle sings
with screeches.

And then, a city poem, imagining looking out the bus windows that goes down the main street, where things are being rebuilt, and making imagination trips like: what was it before they rebuilt it? What was it like when they built it? And where is this going?

then the skyscraper
would chime
with mud
and antlered worms
would turn
in the baggage
of the stern
as we pulled
within the husk
of what
we touch:
benumbed smiles.

The "benumbed smiles" came from these guys walking into an X-rated movie.

[Audience laughter]

We just, Allen and I just, Allen Ginsberg and I just read in, at, in New York together, and he read his poem for Bob Dylan, and I wanted to read mine, but I felt self-conscious about doing it, on the same, right after Allen did his. But this is "Ode for Bob Dylan"

in the field of nowhere.
My pocketwatch burns air
and sprouts golden antlers.
the stand-in
for flaming stars;
my heart murmurs
are electric guitars
my hair
reflects in rainbows
an aura glows
that radiate my brow.
The tinsel ice
does melt
beneath my feet--
my words are fleet--
and my songs
are an armada.
I see
the smiles of cherubs float
from the barranca.
The world with all its facets
is a whirling boat
of leopards and of mice
from which I hurl
the radiant dice
of my perceptions.
All conceptions
of boundaries
are lies!

When I wrote that poem for Dylan, I was, I was, wrote an article on Dylan for the Rolling Stone, and I went on part of the tour. When they were setting up back-stage in Toronto, I'd become good friends with the guy who did the lighting in the show. The lighting is colossal. It's like lighting Aida. It's really full scale. It's got to be seen to be believed. That part of the article was cut out, but you could have written a, an entire book about setting up back-stage, which was very interesting. And the fellow who'd done the lighting would say, "Okay, now stand there and be Robbie." Then he'd turn the lights on me, and I'd be Robbie, who is the chief guitarist. Then he'd say, "Okay, now, now be the organist." Then I'd go and sit behind the organ and do that. Then, "Okay, now be Bob, now be somebody else." Then he had me going around. So I was a stand-in for everybody in the show, for this time that the lights were being set up. So when I say, "I am the stand-in for flaming stars," it's just literal.

[Audience laughter]

One of the books I took with me to read on that trip was Seventeenth Century Suite by Robert Duncan. It's his, Robert's, variations on poems of the seventeenth century English Metaphysical poets and so many lines of the book are so extraordinarily beautiful. Anyway, three of them began a poem of mine. The first three lines of this poem are from Robert Duncan's, and my poem just came out.


but stuff of passing dream I'd
dissolve my soul in sleeping surfaces"
and smile
in a song that is pouring Nile
of bubbling slumberous grins
and elfin mumbles
on the pillow of delight;
break from unconsciousness
with laugh,
facing my mortality,
then fall back again
to snooze into fatality
and dream of mouse-eared people
dancing round a golden steeple
while my shoulder
touched your hand.

A poem for my daughter:

drawn across
the past
we know
and yet
by the fit
of silk
and glow
of melodies.
to have you here
to walk beside
where the sound
of car crash
and the bird song
from the avocado
and the redwood trees
is a kind of tide.


in the eaves.
The fall
of the leaves.
my hand,

How many minutes do I have?

Gary Snyder: Two and a half.

Michael McClure: Two and a half? Okay. [Audience laughter] That's a big poem, so I'm not sure I want to read. Let's see. Oh that's a good one. I like that. Well.

Here's one. There was a Golden Lion Marmoset Conference. The gold-the golden lion-it's, the golden lion marmoset is, the marmoset is the smallest primate. I believe the pygmy marmoset is the smallest primate of all. But as, a marmoset is a very tiny monkey. The golden lion marmoset is a monkey--not counting its tail--that stands about this high. [McClure indicates height] When I was a kid, they used to sell them in pet shops. And they have little faces like lions, with little golden, furry wooshes on the side and little whiskers and manes. They're extraordinarily beautiful; they're just exquisite. And when I was a kid, they'd sell them at pet stores for $15, $20, $30 dollars, I forget what they got for them. Now, they're on the absolute verge of extinction to the point where there was an international conference held on how they were going to be saved. This has to do with the whole political, environmental, rip-off of the Mato Grosso area, because they live in a limited forest area on the edge of the Mato Grosso. So there was a conference about how this, one of the hundreds of threaten species might be taken care of.


is precious as a rhyme.
The April in your gracious snarl
can loose a body to ungnarl
upright in the sun.
Come back, I've caught my mind!
Your life is all I find
to prove ours are worthwhile.

The monster caterpillars
when, and the teeth of fire
that eat your jungle
crunch my house.
all men are beasts.

I want you alive
in more than memory.

Last poem. No two more. Three more? [Audience laughter] Last poem.

[Audience laughter]

[This poem is presented in prose form with estimated punctuation]

Trapezes creak and we hang naked upside-down from stars that made our stuff

Let me start that over again.

Trapezes creak and we hang naked upside down from stars that made our stuff and then blew up to blast us into stranger shapes that nature contemplated. Aura weights of different depths in mastodonic suns splashed out in crowns becoming tendril turbulence to end here where we put our ear to this elegant music and eat these purple eggplants and chase wolves on sleighs and imagine histories of these golden grains within our hands and we move from abyss to cliff on webs of [biosubstinance], darting through the darkness with our smiles for boots.

[Audience applause. The following exchange occurs during the applause between Gary Snyder and Michael McClure]

Gary Snyder: Do you want to bounce back and forth for a bit now?

Michael McClure: Okay. Should we give them, should we give them a, want to just go on?

Gary Snyder: Hmm?

Michael McClure: Should we give them a break, or just go on?

Gary Snyder: Not yet, no.

Michael McClure: Okay.

Gary Snyder: Well, I'm going to read my answer to that.

[To Michael McClure] Keep your mic on.

Michael McClure: What do you want, oh I get it.

Gary Snyder: Yeah, [that] for a little bit, then we'll take a break.

It's hard to say why, learning plants should be so important. Like most people, I, I learned what plants I learned as a child, and then, when I got into college, I took a botany course. It absolutely killed my interest in botany, which is, which is because it's taught all wrong. It's entirely taught out of context, and the emphasis on naming plants, and the emphasis on taxonomy is, is misplaced, at least in the beginning. But at the same time, it's come to me in recent years, with increasing clearness, that knowledge of plants is one of the first, the oldest, the most basic knowledges. It's the one knowledge that makes a difference between a person who knows where he is and the person who doesn't know where he is. It's the difference between a native and an invader. It's the difference between a paisan, a true paisan, a person of the land--a paisano, a peasant, you know, a countryman--and somebody who is just tripping through. Ethnobotany, you know, like, when you need something, what do you think about? You think, suppose you need some glue, and suppose you need some string, and suppose you need some aspirin, and you need some light bulbs, and you need toilet paper, so you think about the hardware store, the drug store, the grocery store. That's not how you think about it. What you think about is, ancient times, you say, now let's see, there's some milkweed plants growing down in that [drawer]. I remember seeing a bunch of those last spring. And I know that those Soaproots will be sending up their sprouts in a few weeks, so I can go and get some Soaproot roots and make some shampoo. And, oh yes, there's a little Digitalis growing back down there. And where did I see those Anamita last. Like the whole thing around you is your store, your hardware store, your drugstore, and you have it programmed, you've learned it from childhood. How to, to remember, to store in mind, to think like: Where are the edible plants? Where's the cortage? Where's the soap? And, and not just to think of them, you know, like materials, like products, because every time you approach those, the most beautiful, single, useful thing in the three volumes of Don Juan books, the one thing if people learn it, that alone will change everybody's life, and that is to say a word to a plant before you pick it. So this is a, a little song, a ballad, called "The Wild Mushroom" [McClure laughs] that goes back to the, to the beautiful mushroom, of year of the fall of '72.

[Gary Snyder sings poem]

Well the sunset rings are shining
Me and Kai have got our tools
A basket and a trowel
And a book with all the rules

Don't ever eat Boletus
If the tube-mouths they are red
Stay away from the Amanitas
Or brother you are dead

[Audience laughter]

Sometimes they're already rotten
Or the stalks are broken off
Where the deer have kicked them over
While turning up the duff

We set out in the forest
To seek the wild mushroom
In shapes diverse and colorful
Shining through the woodland gloom

You find them under oak trees
Or around an old pine stump
You can tell a mushroom's coming
By the way the leaves are humped

They send out multiple fibers
Through the roots and sod
Some make you mighty sick they say
Or bring you close to God

[Audience laughter]

So here's to the mushroom family
A far-flung friendly clan
For fun, for food, for poison
They are a friend to man.

[Audience laughter and applause]

Michael McClure: I don't know what to do.

[Audience laughter]

Gary Snyder: Got a mushroom poem? [Laughs]

Michael McClure: Aw no. I've got a sestina. This, maybe this will be instructive too, because, this is [constructed] somewhat in the form of a sestina. Sestina was a, is a complex form, has a complex verse pattern invented by Bertran de Born, a knight of the twelfth century in southern France who wrote in the language called languedoc, or Provençal, and undoubtedly, very likely this form was taken from a Moslem form that's been lost. Rather than rhyming in a very complicated, the way, the way most Provençal poetry did, it repeats words in a extremely a, a rather mysterious pattern at the ends of lines, through the six and a half stanzas of it. So that if one is made properly in the original language, they compared Bertran de Born's sestinas to a swirling flame. And, it does not come across that way in English. I'll put a little emphasis on it, the end word, so that you can perhaps get some idea of the unwinding of the end words as, as they occur throughout this, maybe you get some sense of the sestina as a form, and it's a very ancient form. It's a medieval form.

I had a, a headache that I'd had for many months. It had a physical cause, I found out what the cause is since. But I was pretty obsessed with it. I went to a reading in San Francisco, Allen Ginsberg and I went to a John Ashbery reading, and Ashbery wrote a, read a sestina, and Allen started writing one on the spot, and I thought, "my God, I've never written a sestina." [Gary Snyder and the audience laugh] And I tried all this time, and I wrote one, and the subject that came out was a headache, because that's what I had, that's where I was at, [Audience laugher] I wanted to reconcile myself to it. And it was deliberate and yet unavoidable.

identify my headache.
The fires are blue and gold and orange and turquoise.
They ring like one beat of a drum within my skull.
My being is overwhelmed by experience.
Wings grow out of my skull to fly me away to soft moss
where there is a cliff I would lay on among blossoms.

Those things that are the world are white blossoms.
They fall on the dark floor in the patterns of headache
creating a carpet in our being like moss.
From a distance the face becomes a mask of turquoise,
or jade, and it begins to reject the experience
of anything, even gentleness, that touches the skull.

I would speak with my body but my skull
is there like a crab shell decked with blossoms
and I wish to resist all but the drabbest experience
for I am lost and pounding the walls of my headache.
It is a pleasure to run fingers over turquoise.
The veins and striations may be felt like moss.

The elegance of stones is green moss
growing on a jawbone dropped from a sheep skull
on a cliffbank in Iceland where Indian turquoise
is more exotic than these strange blossoms
that make up a constellation I call my headache.
The substrate suffers an overdose of experience.

I take notes on the body of experience
which grows as obsidian boulders and moss
and becomes, at last, the statement of headache
that vibrates minute beacons in my skull.
Each being grows unique among blossoms
of emanated gods and katydids in a field of turquoise.

My house is electric blue not turquoise
but I will imagine the bulks of all experience,
for, imagined or real, they are brother blossoms.
I will not regret either needles or moss.
Irregardless of the noise in my skull
I will fall divinely in love with my headache.

The night might be turquoise or a pale moss
but it is all experience to be stored in the skull.
This body is made of blossoms--even my headache.

[Audience applause]

Gary Snyder: Well I don't have a sestina with me [Audience laughter], or a headache poem. I had, I did write some sestinas once. I was a graduate student in Anthropology and Linguistics once at Indiana University, far in the past, even before Senator McCarthy. [Audience laughter] And I was even writing poetry then. And for a class on theory[damaged portion of video]sestina, and the end words were culture, language, structure, form, and pattern. Those are the six, no that's five of them, there's one more end word. Anyway [laughs], so I have written a sestina.

Michael McClure: You know the trouble I had with sestinas was...

Gary Snyder: Yeah.

Michael McClure: ...I really felt that they had to be done in iambic pentameter. I've always felt that carryover forms, or archaic forms should be given an, an archaic meter. And, Ashbery and Allen freed me of that, and then the sestina seemed very natural.

Gary Snyder: You know William [Empson] wrote some funny sestinas years ago.

Michael McClure: Yeah, well.

Gary Snyder: Let's see, well I'm going to read.

[Gregory Corso: [From the audience] And now, here's daddy.]

[Audience laughter and applause]

Gary Snyder: There he is.

I'm going to read a little formal poem, because that was a formal poem, if I can find it.

I want to say that it is really a pleasure to be here in North Dakota. I've, that I, I feel that we've been received with a warmth and a hospitality. And, and it's been interesting and [Audience laughter], I mean it's been really interesting. I'm enjoying it enormously. And I'd also like to say that Kenneth Rexroth arrived safely here this evening, and we're very happy to have Kenneth with us here tonight.

[Audience applause]

THE USES OF LIGHT--I wrote this for my boys, so it rhymes.

"The Uses of Light"
It warms my bones
say the stones.

I take it into me and grow
Say the trees
Leaves above
Roots below

A vast vague white
Draws me out of the night
Says the moth in its flight--

Some things I smell
Some things I hear
And I see things move
Says the deer--

A high tower
On a wide plain.
If you climb up
One floor
You'll see a thousand miles more.

[Audience applause]

Michael McClure: This is, I have a poem here where in a sense, I was a child being instructed by a bio...a friend of mine who is a very acute biologist, who, where we, let's see the way I explain this. We were standing on the bluff overlooking the beach where Sir Francis Drake landed on the west coast. And, high bluff, high cliffs, the morning after the sol, evening of the solstice, and my friend reconstructed the event for me that had taken place on this spot where we were standing, which is a grassy spot on the edge of the cliff above the ocean.


Waves crash and fluff jewel sand
in blackness. Ten feet from his den
the gray fox shits on the cliff edge
enjoying the bead of starlight
on his brow, and ocean
on his eardrums. The yearling
deer watches--trembling.
The fox's garden trails
down the precipice:
ice plant, wild strawberries,
Squid eggs
in jelly bags (with moving
embryos) wash up on
the strand.
It is the night of the solstice.
The fox coughs,
Kicks his feet--
Beautiful claw toes
in purple brodiaea lilies.
He dance-runs through
the Indian paintbrush.
Galaxies in spirals.
Galaxies in balls.
Near stars and white mists swirling.

He showed me the tracks of the deer, the shit of the fox, and we, the, we had seen the mist of the night before, and it was very easy to imagine [inaudible] the claw marks and the fox, and the brodiaea lilies. The brodiaea's a little bluish-purple lily that stands about this high and comes up in the wet grass.

[Audience applause]

Gary Snyder: I have a gray fox poem.

Michael McClure: Great, we should have Don Allen here.

Gary Snyder: This cuts across that gray fox from a completely different angle.

Michael McClure: Yeah.

[Audience laughter]

Gary Snyder: The title is "ONE SHOULD NOT TALK TO A SKILLED HUNTER ABOUT THAT WHICH IS FORBIDDEN BY THE BUDDHA" [Audience laughter], which the Zen Master Hsiang-yen said. Zen Master Hsiang-yen said that, "Don't talk to a skilled hunter about what is forbidden by the Buddha."

Picked up on Highway 49,
A gray fox, female, nine pounds three ounces.
39 5/8" long with tail.
Peeling the skin back (Kai
reminded us to chant the Shingyo first)
cold pelt, crinkled; musky smell
mixed with dead body odor starting.

Stomach content: a whole ground squirrel well chewed
plus one lizard foot
and somewhere from inside the ground squirrel
a bit of aluminum foil.

[Audience laughter]

The secret.
and the secret hidden deep in that.

[Audience applause]

This is getting to be fun.

Michael McClure: Yeah. I'll read you my Baja poem.

Gary Snyder: Baba?

Michael McClure: Baja.

Gary Snyder: Baja.

Michael McClure: It's written in the car, driving through Baja. "BAJA--OUTSIDE OF MEXICALI" is the title. On the way down into Baja.

hauling huge land vans
and campers behind
trucks pulling
dune buggies and power boats
of hallucination.
Great timid Gypsy Lords
of plastic objects
and shining metals
roar at 85 miles per--
out of their secret
walled strongholds
in Orange County
where safe
from commy Blacks
and Chicanos
they pile up
mickey mouse
They tear on by
the now dry desert
delta of the Colorado River
--which was polished
off by Boulder Dam
and all her babies
to make power
and give water to thirsty
Los Angeles.
Mexico was paid off
with a diddy bop
irrigation project
at a market for cheap
The Rio Colorado
power is and was used
to build the art-
ifacts on wheels
that thunder by.
Mexicans watch
from dust drenched adobe
under palm thatch
or sometimes
a purple and yellow house
and they envy.
The wind-moved tamarisk
trees are beautiful
as graygreen chinchilla fur.

[End of first part of recording]

[Beginning of second part of the recording]

Gary Snyder: ...I have a long Baja poem about, about the Hudsonian Curlews in Conception Bay. This is a little poem called "Why Log Truck Drivers Rise Earlier than Students of Zen."

[Audience laughter]

Gary Snyder: It's the same—it's about the same thing that Michael's pointed out. You have to understand that students of Zen Buddhism are inordinately proud, in fact disgustingly so, of getting up early in the morning. And they like to think that nobody gets up earlier than they do. But, I'll tell you something, log truck drivers do.

In the high seat, before dawn dark,
The polished hubs gleam
And the shiny diesel stack
Warms and flutters
Up the Tyler Road grade
To the logging on Poorman creek.
Thirty miles of dust.

There is no other life.

Michael McClure: [chuckles]

[Audience laughter & applause]

Gary Snyder: We're gonna take a little break now, about three minutes, then we're gonna continue for probably as long as we've read already, or longer. So, take a rest.

[Break in tape]

Michael McClure: ...[look what] I just found in my notebook.

Gary Snyder: Do you want to do that twenty-two and a half minutes [shot] again...

Michael McClure: Oh.

Gary Snyder: ...for a block, or do you want to just pass back and forth some more?

Michael McClure: Um.

Audience Member: [inaudible]

Michael McClure: Huh?

Audience Member: [inaudible]

Michael McClure: I don't know, let me think, I just found a poem here that I like. I'd forgotten I'd written—it's—I, I, I have this feeling that, or I have this knowledge that the Asian wars, and particularly the climax war--the Vietnamese conflict--has turned most of America to ogres. You know: the consumption of resources running through the machinery that has constructed the term "resources" into strawberries and Technicolor movies and lazy dog bums and multiple independent re-entry vehicles and other toys and things like that have made us very--made America very fat. They've made us very ogre-like. Really, taken particularly whenever you come back to this country or when you go to the cities of this country. I don't feel this way about the faces out there that I see on you people, but...

Audience Members: [Up! Up!]

Michael McClure: Up! I wonder what I can do then. I guess maybe if I just talk louder into this it comes louder, okay. What I was getting around to was that I, and tell me if I slip down again, 'cause I'm liable to forget. What I was getting around to is that I come back to seeing the people in this country as being ogres after, after, after these wars we've been through that have made movies like the French Connection, and all those big pulpy strawberries we eat. And don't think they're not the product of the war, because we know they are. But, anyway, I just found this poem, and I like it.

We ogres--now, that did feedback, didn't it?

[Ed. note: This poem is presented in prose form with estimated punctuation]

We ogres laugh and dance and speak of little beings that we eat and kill with daggerettes and then we kiss and lay in sunshine. We travel caveward and we fall on pillow beds.

We're living in such lushness, you know, like we talk about the--saving energy, but the luxury that we live in is a source of amazement to some people. And I'm one of those. This is a poem that I like, it's about--why don't I just try to read for ten or fifteen minutes or something like that.

[Audience laughter]

No, we were debating how--you couldn't hear us--but we were debating whether to read again for 22 and a half minutes and trade off again, or whether it should be seventeen minutes and forty seconds or...

[Audience laughter]

I bought a stain-glass window from a friend of mine, and the stained glass windows she makes are really beautiful. This one was a chrysalis of an oak moth butterfly. It was a big stained-glass window. In the back, you could see California hills and the branch that the Chrysalis hangs from. The Chrysalis is the mummy case that the caterpillar grows into before it emerges as a moth. And this was a spontaneous poem. It really came to me this way, too. I was at the typewriter and I said,

somebody else,
and free,
with big, beautiful wings
slowly beating
on my brows.
right out
into all those
drag me back!

[Snyder chuckles]

at the lips of caves!
of new transitions
flashing by!))))))))

[Ed note: previous poem is entitled "Stained Glass Window Portraying and Oak Moth Cocoon"]

Gary and I went to the, were among many people from the, Northern California, who went to the environmental conference in Stockholm a couple of years ago. A matter of fact, one thing I was really proud of, when you walked outside of your hotel in Stockholm at the U.N. Environmental Conference it looked like you'd just stepped out into San Francisco, because you knew so many people there. It gave me a real sense of pride. But this was written on the way, on the way there, it was written over New Jersey. And I...

[Audience laughter]

It's called, strangely, "Written Above New Jersey."

Gary Snyder: [interjecting] Can I say something, Michael?

Michael McClure: What?

Gary Snyder: The sense of pride, I think, that we felt was pride that so many people from San Francisco were there all out of proportion to other cities of the world, 'cause it just as well could have been lots of people from Des Moines, but there weren't.

Michael McClure: Yeah.

Gary Snyder: Yeah.

[Audience laughter]

Michael McClure: I liked it.

Gary Snyder: Or New York, you know.

Michael McClure: Yeah.

Gary Snyder: Very few from New York.

Michael McClure: And I had a book of Shakespeare with me, I was--wanted to read Shakespeare before he was--has been re-edited, re-transliterated, re-punctuated, and all of those things that have been done with his sonnets, so I had a facsimile edition of Shakespeare's sonnets with me that I was looking over to see what they were like before they'd been re-constructed for us, and this line stuck in my head and:


So burn smiles upon the brows
of starry clouds,
hail out hurls of musky scent,
eat roses,
dance naked,
grin, sing and saunter,
dream of life forever,
upon intelligences
locked in mammal brows
and penetrations
of bees and wild violets.
Force all your inner lives
the outward being
like giant pearls that crash down
crested hills,
or nacreous meteors
a-smash in silent space.
We are less than an incense tree
and more than the imagined hunter
that we flee.

That reminded--

[Audience applause]

Hey, if you're in New York, go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and see the tapestry show. It's all the great tapestries from the fourteenth through the sixteenth century--all of 'em. And it's just--I don't know how to describe it--it's like, it's too much. It's room after room after room. By the time you reach the twenty-nine thousandth giant room of tapestries, you're ready to beg for somebody to come and put you in a wheelchair and cover you up with a dark cloth and haul you away, but it's fantastic 'til you get to the twenty-seven thousandth room.

I was asked to read a poem called "Ode for Soft Voice" written 1958? '59?

And sometimes in the cool night I see you are an animal
and energy go out to you.
And see love as an invention and play it extemporaneously.

And I who cannot love can love you.
down the walls and do not see them.

And I do not ache until I scent you. And I
do not scent you. Breathing moves us. Breath is...

And more than this that we are huge and clear
and open--locked inside
and moving out we make outlines in the air the shapes
they are. And we shift so. We move and never keep our forms but stare
at them address them as if they were there. This is my hand with
5 fingers, my heart nerves lungs
are there and part of me
and I move.
I have no form but lies and drop them from me.

I am a shape and meet you
at our skins' edge.
We change and speak and make our histories. I am all I feel
and what you see and what you touch.
There are no walls but ones we make.
The nerves are dead that feel no hunger or pain there's no triumph
but failure. This is the last speech of seraphim or beast sick in need for
change and chaos. The room of banished love for beauty. The tooth in
our breast. What we see is real and able to our hand, what we feel is
beauty (BEAUTY) what we strike is hatred, what we send is odorous.
This about me is my bride if I kick aside the forms of it for woman world
and mineral for air or earth for fire and water for table chair and blood.

And another early poem, earlier. 1955.

Gary Snyder: I have a poem from 1955.

Michael McClure: Do you?

Gary Snyder: Mm.

[Audience laughter]

Michael McClure: [Ed note: "The Rug"]

I'd draw all this into a fine element,--a color.
Rosy, rust-red, Orange, white.

It's love; I bring it, hair-on-end.
A reflection in my eyes--part of the still room,

our strange shape--and I put my hands

to you--like cool jazz coming.
Seeing those designs we make in pure air.
I'm half man, half snake--and you
There are no words but color and muscled form
I can't remember that instant
and I alter it to elegance
to flowers and animals--and no speech
covers the blankness.
I'm filled perfectly, giving your gift to me.
This is failure, no trick, no end
but speech for those who'll listen.
I cry 'Love, Love, Love, Love Love,'
but this is not my voice--
these are enormous forms
Rosy, rust-red, Orange, white!

Let's see. You know the flowers, and the, speaking of flowers, the flowers in those tapestries are accurate. They're a silene, which are wild, carnations, you know, like, they're the simplest form of carnation. There are harrisbells, wild pansies, and a lot of little European flowers I can't identify in those tapestries. 1400-1600 absolutely accurately presented in terms of, like, how the basil leaf structure looks in terms of how the stem goes. They're, you know, like, they're photographically accurate renderings of flowers, wild flowers, woven right in there. There'd be little rabbits and foxes, and then there'll be dogs attacking and killing unicorns, while people with falcons are hunting--they're incredible things.

I like this poem because everybody has had this--well, almost everybody has had this happen to them.

[Ed. note: This poem is presented in prose form with estimated punctuation]

You're on the airplane, you hear the food coming closer, it always comes from behind. They sneak it up on you, [Audience laughter] and you hear it getting closer, and they put down the shelf and they put it in front of you and you've been ready to eat it and it looks back up at you. [Audience laughter] And you say, why not study the food as we eat it? An intellective experience. Scrimshaw of cow, tastes etched on block of filet. Black popeyes of shrimp gone away. Only the pink body remains, made of sunlight and plankton. Served with scent of ozone at thirty-thousand feet. Looney Tunes dancing overhead. [Audience laughter]

[Ed. note: "Written above the Sierras in the Flyleaf of Regis Debray's Revolution in the Revolution"]

Shouldst thou die, I'll be with thee
in the mountains of eternity
and fight thy cause with gun and harp.
I am only paws
and claws within this mortal world.
The map
of silk and marble
within the forests
of the mind

Running. Breathing. Speaking.

Beating music with a feather.

[Audience applause]

Gary Snyder: [Inaudible]

Michael McClure: What? Poem partly in beast language, partly in English.

We are served by machines making satins
of sounds
Each blot of sound is a bud or a stahr.
Body eats bouquets of the ear's vista.
Gahhhrrr boody eyes noze eers deem thou.
Nah droooooh seerch. NAH THEE!
The machines are too dull when we
are lion-poems that move & breathe.
hann dree myketoth sharoo sree thah noh deeeeeemed ez.
Whan eeeethooze hrohh.

[Audience applause]

Gary Snyder: [chuckles]

Michael McClure: [coughs]

Gary Snyder: I'll read a few poems, now.

Michael McClure: Okay.

Gary Snyder: A lot of people have asked me if I would read this. It belongs in the Turtle Island series of poems too--it's called "The Bath." My family, and myself, taking a bath together in our sauna, fired with wood, an old, wood-burning, sauna stove that we got from a little town in Michigan, where they still make wood-firing sauna stoves, if you're interested.

Washing Kai in the sauna,
The kerosene lantern set on a box
outside the ground-level window,
Lights up the edge of the iron stove and the
washtub down on the slab
Steaming air and crackle of waterdrops
brushed by on the pile of rocks on top
He stands in warm water
Soap all over the smooth of his thigh and stomach
"Gary don't soap my hair!"
--his eye-sting fear--
the soapy hand feeling
through and around the globes and curves of his body
up in the crotch,
And washing-tickling out the scrotum, little anus,
his penis curving up and getting hard
as I pull back skin and try to wash it
Laughing and jumping, flinging arms around,
I squat all naked too,
is this our body?

Michael McClure: [chuckles]

Gary Snyder: Sweating and panting in the stove-steam hot-stone
cedar-planking wooden bucket water-splashing
kerosene lantern-flicker wind-in-the-pines-out
sierra forest ridges night--
Masa comes in, letting fresh cool air
sweep down from the door
a deep sweet breath
And she tips him over gripping neatly, one knee down
her hair falling hiding one whole side of
shoulder, breast, and belly,
Washes deftly Kai's head-hair
as he gets mad and yells--
The body of my lady, the winding valley spine,
the space between the thighs I reach through,
cup her curving vulva arch and hold it from behind,
a soapy tickle a hand of grail
The gates of Awe
That open back a turning double-mirror world of
wombs in wombs, in rings,
that start in music,
is this our body?

The hidden place of seed
The veins net flow across the ribs, that gathers
milk and peaks up in a nipple--fits
our mouth--
The sucking milk from this our body sends through
jolts of light; the son, the father,
sharing mother's joy
That brings a softness to the flower of the awesome
open curling lotus gate I cup and kiss
As Kai laughs at his mother's breast he now is weaned
from, we
wash each other,
this our body

Kai's little scrotum up close to his groin,
the seed still tucked away, that moved from us to him
In flows that lifted with the same joys forces
as his nursing Masa later,
playing with her breast,
Or me within her,
Or him emerging,
this is our body:

Clean, and rinsed, and sweating more, we stretch
out on the redwood benches hearts all beating
Quiet to the simmer of the stove,
the scent of cedar
And then turn over,
murmuring gossip of the grasses,
talking firewood,
Wondering how Gen's napping, how to bring him in
soon wash him too--
These boys who love their mother
who loves men, who passes on
her sons to other women;

The cloud across the sky. The windy pines.
the trickle gurgle in the swampy meadow

this is our body.

Fire inside and boiling water on the stove
We sigh and slide ourselves down from the benches
wrap the babies, step outside,

black night & all the stars.

Pour cold water on the back and thighs
Go in the house--stand steaming by the center fire
Kai scampers on the sheepskin
Gen standing hanging on and shouting,

"Bao! bao! bao! bao! bao!"

This is our body. Drawn up crosslegged by the flames
drinking icy water
hugging babies, kissing bellies,

Laughing on the Great Earth

Come out from the bath.

[Audience applause]


[Audience applause]

I'll read a couple more, while I'm into it. Okay, this also a poem of the body. It's called "The Egg."

Quote: "A snake-like beauty moves in the living changes of syntax"

--Robert Duncan

Kai twists
rubs "bellybutton"
rubs skin, front and back
two legs kicking
anus a sensitive center
the pull-together
between there and the scrotum,
the center line,
with the out-flyers changing
--fins, legs, wings,
feathers or fur,
they swing and swim
but the snake center
fire pushes through:
mouth to ass,
root to
burning, steady,
single eye.

breeze in the brown grasses
high clouds deep
blue. white.
blue. moving

my Mother's old
soft arm. walking
helping up the

Kai's hand
in my fist
the neck bones,
a little thread,
a garland,
of consonants and vowels
from the third eye
through the body's flowers
a string of peaks,
a whirlpool
sucking to the root.

It all gathers,
in the egg.

Hummm, hmmm, where'd that go?

I want to read something that also comes out of being in Montana last year called "Straight Creek--Great Burn." In the Bitterroot Mountains, there's an area called the Great Burn, and a creek that comes out of that called Straight Creek. We were up there last April with a group of forestry and biology students from the University of Montana, and other students too, hoping to make some last-minute recommendations to the Forest Service before the cutoff date of April 15th in regard to maybe classifying that as a wilderness. This poem came out of that. It's for Tom and Martha Burch. Of all the poems I've written, I think that that this is closest to unity of form and content. You can't get a razor blade between them.

[Audience laughter]

Lightly, in the April mountains—
Straight Creek,
dry grass freed again of snow
& the chickadees are pecking
last fall's seeds
fluffing tail in chilly wind,

Avalanche piled up cross the creek
and chunked-froze solid—
water sluicing under; spills out
rock lip pool, bends over,
braided, white, foaming,
returns to trembling
deep-dark hole.

Creeks, Creek boulders show the flow-wear lines
in shapes the same
as running blood
carves in the heart's main

Early spring dry. Dry snow flurries;
walk on crusty high snow slopes
—grand dead burnt pine—
chartreuse lichen for adornment
(a dye for wool)
angled tumbled talus rock
of geosyncline warm sea bottom
yes, so long ago.
"Once on a time."

Far light on the Bitteroots;
scrabble down willow slide
changing clouds above,
shapes on glowing sun-ball
writhing, choosing
reaching out against eternal

us resting on dry fern and

Shining Heaven
change his feather garments

A whoosh of birds
swoops up and round
tilts back
almost always flying all apart
and yet hangs on!

never a leader,
all of one swift

dancing mind.

They arc and loop & then
their flight is done.
they settle down.
end of poem.

[Audience applause]

Michael McClure: End of poem? Is that--? [inaudible]

Gary Snyder: "two logging songs" [Ed. note: "Toward Climax," Part IV]

One: "Clear-cut."

Forestry. "How
Many people
Were harvested
In Vietnam?"

Clear-cut. "Some
Were children,
Some were over-ripe."

Two: "Virgin."

A virgin
Is ancient; many-
Stable; at

"L M F B R"

Death himself,
(Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor)
stands grinning, beckoning.
Plutonium tooth-glow.
Eyebrows buzzing.
Strip-mining scythe.

Kālī dances on the dead stiff dead cock.

Aluminum beer cans, plastic spoons,
plywood veneer, PVC pipe, vinyl seat covers,
don't exactly burn, don't quite rot,
flood over us.

the robes and garbs
of the Kālī-yūga

end of days.

"Tomorrow's Song"

The USA slowly lost its mandate
in the middle and later twentieth century
it never gave the mountains and rivers,
trees and animals,
a vote.
all the people turned away from it
myths die; even continents are impermanent

Turtle Island returned.
my friend broke open a dried coyote-scat
removed a ground squirrel tooth
pierced it, and hung it
in the gold ring
in his ear.

We look to the future with pleasure
we need no fossil fuel
get power within
grow strong on less.

Grasp the tools and move in rhythm side by side
flash gleams of wit and silent knowledge
eye to eye
sit still like cats or snakes or stones
as whole and holding as
the blue black sky.
gentle and innocent as wolves
as tricky as a prince.

At work and in our place:

in the service
of the wilderness
of life
of death
of the Mother's breasts!
in the service
of the wilderness
of life
of death
of the Mother's breasts!

I'll let you read some now.

Michael McClure: Read another short one. You got something?

Gary Snyder: I'll read my poem from 1955.

[Audience laughter]

Michael McClure: Okay.

Gary Snyder: Well, maybe, I'll read one more poem that's a little longer that has a continuation of that thought, and then we can go on to something else. This is called "What Happened Here Before." "Here" refers to a ridge between two rivers at the 3,000 foot elevation in Northern California on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada. A specific place, in other words, which is old gold mining country, hydraulic and placer mining, hence a lot of reference to mining in here.

"What Happened Here Before," for Kai and Gen, my two sons.

-- 300,000,000--

A sea: soft sands, muds, and marls
-- loading, compressing, heating, crumpling,
crushing, recrystallizing, infiltrating,
several times lifted and submerged,
intruding molten granite magma
deep-cooled and speckling,
gold quartz fills the cracks--

-- 80,000,000--

sea-bed strata raised and folded,
granite far below.
warm quiet centuries of rains
(make dark red tropic soil)
wear down two miles of surface,
lay bare the veins and tumble heavy gold
in streambeds
slate and schist rock-riffles catch it —
volcanic ash floats down and dams the streams,
piles up the gold and gravel--

-- 3,000,000--

flowing north, two rivers join,
to make a wide long lake.
and then it tilted and the rivers fell apart
all running west

See, the whole uplift into the Sierra Nevada, that tilt of great fault block 300 miles long, lifting like that.

and then it tilted and the rivers fall apart
all running west
to cut the gorges of the Feather,
Bear, and Yuba.
Ponderosa pine, manzanita, black oak, mountain yew.
deer, coyote, bluejay, gray squirrel,
ground squirrel, fox, blacktail hare,
ringtail, bobcat, bear,
all came to live here.


And human people came with basket hats and nets
winter-houses undergreen
winter-houses underground
yew bows painted green,
feasts and dances for the boys and girls
songs and stories in the smoky dark.


Then came the white man: tossed up trees and
boulders with big hoses,
going after that old gravel and the gold.
horses, apple-orchards, card-games,
pistol-shooting, churches, county jail.

We asked, who the land belonged to.
and where one pays tax.
(two gents who never used it twenty years,
and before them the widow
of the son of the man
who got him a patented deed
on a worked-out mining claim,)
laid hasty on land that was deer and acorn
grounds of the Nisenan?
Branch of the Maidu?
(they never had a chance to speak, even,
their names.)
(and who remembers the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.)

the land belongs to itself.
"no self in self: no self in things"

Turtle Island swims
in the ocean-sky swirl-void
biting her tail while the worlds go

& Mr. Tobiassen, a Cousin Jack,
assesses the county tax.
(the tax is our body-mind, guest at the banquet
Memorial and Annual, in honor
of sunlight grown heavy and tasty
while moving up food-chains
in search of a body with eyes and a fairly large
to look back at itself
on high.)


we sit here near the diggings
in the forest, by our fire, and watch
the moon and planets and the shooting stars--

my sons ask, who are we?
drying berries picked from homestead trees
drying apples picked from homestead trees
drying berries, curing meat,
shooting arrows at a bale of straw.

military jets head northeast, every dawn.
my sons ask, who are they?


Bluejay screeches from a pine.

Michael McClure: [Laughs]

[Audience applause]

Michael McClure: What was that the Bluejay said?

Gary Snyder: What?

Michael McClure: What was that the Bluejay said?

Gary Snyder: "We shall see, who knows how to be"

Michael McClure: This is called "Nineteen Seventy-Two"

[Ed. note: This poem has not been verified against the published version]


((Fossilized shit!))

Gary Snyder: [Laughs] "Coprolite."

Michael McClure:

painful it was
to grow up in the fifties!
that you sit there telling me
about the girls you fuck,
how much money you make,
and of your fame.
As if
the last twenty years
never happened.
You seem pathetically
foolish. But there is viciousness
our generation.
(like a robot)
And you believe
in social appearances.
You want to be like
The Big Boys.
Whoever they are!

[Audience laughter, applause]

This is a fairly long poem. I think--I was just going to say, I think this almost, this comes close to being a play-like because it's kind of a--

[Ed. note: this poem is represented in prose form with estimated punctuation]

Sure, yes, we can let intelligence flow and then we'll be somewhere else. That's the trick. We'll come home from the wars with bloody, dirty fingers and our minds on fire with fears of what we've seen. We tell ourselves that we can change the scene, and sure it changes, to be our nerve shape. We can build bombs in basements and have visions like Burmas, pray to be Blake when Blake's proudly presented in every bookstore. We can imagine Gryphons drawing carts with spinning Technicolor bodies for their wheels, but still we stand here with meat at the bottom of each foot, grinning in the sunset. Unless we know that somewhere, in some black smoke, nobility is fire and spirit is a demon scenting odors in the surge of drives. Sure, it's not solved there. Not where "there" is, nor is "there" a solution somewhere else. There's not a place for such things unless in dreams, it's not easy because we didn't ask to be here or for beauty. They were not put on us. We are shapes that fill a pattern that moves here, where we have come to move and we know it and strangely, it hurts us to know such things. It is not fair, we say, when we see it in childhood, sitting on an apple bough and looking deep behind our eyes, but, five segments conjoin to make the heads of insects. The jellyfish, the man-of-war, is a colony of creatures, and we accept such things? We see strange beauty that they make? We make. Feel huge, quavering clouds moving at the speed of light. And they're the size that we are. We know electricity in the rabbit's touch, hug the bunny, feel electrons flow like fields at the base of a lover's spine. Power and flesh relaxing, revolution, conquest, philosophy, will not blow the psyche out. Will not bring us back to touch or wake the dead from veils, they're dancing in. Maybe vision will, if vision is style and more. If style is acts we know, we make in perpetuity when we do not join the dancing, guzzling, dead, slurping blood and munching. When we know clearly beyond the laugh or cry, and crying, laughing, touch a cloudy tree of spines at the duney desert edge, walking toward the river and read the book of creatures feet and dust. Then, we know flat come, felty, velvety loveliness can flow and blow itself up to be more, we hope for it, but finally, this is us. And we are our souls, or spirits, or what you will, like Dante, we're really down to it. This is our dark wood, our leopard, lion, wolf, our reflection bouncing off any cloud is the only Virgil. Beatrice is our senses running wild, not some lovely lady conversing with Heavenly Rachel in moody, moony beams. We're real, and there may, or may not, be a nanosecond's pleasure. This is us, and here we stand like comedies and tragedies, locked in one pirate's chest of treasure, glittering, slithering, smiling like a baby angel at delight and taste or sound. The hormones, aminos, polymers dripping in our bodies make great movies. We're hypnotized by aesthetics, but they are not really us, not really, we say, we're sure that we're somewhere else watching. We know the falcon's stooping happened long ago. The flights of souls are diving through the basement door upward to flitter out like motes of silver dust in black sunbeams, the universe is flipped while we lie upon our sheets and gobble bon-bons with the morning news, yeah, wow! Wow! It's all okay. No, it is not, but we are trying, and that is love, not some airy shape that hurls a kiss at us. And what a kiss it was. We made a statue of it. Beautiful like adoric Aphrodite turned to softened air and pentelic marble. A nude kiss with hints of the discreet, but we were bothered by the sounds we heard, there was something in the air that clouded like a billion antlered rattles. And I knew that you knew that it was me, and we landed there, running fingers through the long green moss-smelling sedgy flowerets, watching wars of beetles and the waveless water, discussing all immortal shapes, unable to put a palm upon ourselves, forgetting suns are stars, acting out the real with paperclips and chalk and butcher's twine, old egg cartons and train slugs, waving eyestalks, taking the parts of tigers. Yes, somewhere, radios were grinding out undreamed messages that did not equal our discussions. We were shadowed by the statue. So you've got that strange gun and killed them? And here we are, most of them died in flame and poison, and that is surely freedom, so the way out is to do it once again and hope for better luck. Perpetuate the reflection of delusions. Sticks laid crosswise make the fire of flame, we tamp the powder in the tissue, then the pipe, and take timed fuse, or beauteous bacteria bred to be pure poison, or lightwaves guided into shrieking fire and dream that philosophy freezes, strolling in the strange dark forest, stumbling over heaps of cones, hearing auto horns and fairy choruses. Pine needles break the sky to prisms and patches when we're in darkness looking out. Red fungi peep through detritus on the forest floor. Helicopters clatter in the air. I, or you, or we dive out, circling the sun-beat sunwaves, whales grin and sleep, the city sighs through a million breaths, muscles ache, and honey pours, boats come aground, on beaches. Trucks crash, ice cream melts, trillionic particles collide in smaze, and you, or I loop about, being falcon, bat, or butterfly, or lost elfin cherub hoping for a dream when pouring sweat of fear that damps even our poor flame, knowing that we shall whirl and crash and fall, prostrate but open even then like a daisy on a pillow. Out! Dark! Arise! Be new! Begin! But knowing we must start. And ah, here's the blackness! Here I am! Here I am, and ah, here is the blackness. How good to hug my knees and dive rolling when the stun guns clatter overhead and dirt makes ripples to the side, where metal rips up roots, or to be old, when pictures fall away within the brain. That's living blackness, too, but not the kind I mean. I mean the kind we whirl around in before we even touch the earth, and we touch it to be reborn or pass or be the same as ever once again. I mean, down here in the darkness, where we're thinking thoughtless, black stars, tenebrous apples, glyptodonts of ink that flow, dark sparklers on the shadows of invisible Fourth of Julys beneath black walnut trees beside the mausoleums, flowing away from us in rivulets of all that's dull or ugly, for they are only so as they are laid on us, they're our lives and not our plights. And perhaps I will arise. I will arise. I will arise as you. I will arise as your proud mammal. I will arise. I will arise. I will arise. I will. And hold out, glistening on my hand, what is pure and free.

[Audience applause]


Gary, you want to intro...Gary's going to read some poems by Lew Welch.

Gary Snyder: Do you want to say something?

Michael McClure: No, why don't you just tell them about Lew?

Gary Snyder: There's one person that we wish could've been here, in a way. I know I shouldn't say that because all that happens is all right. There's a poet, who was very close to what we've been talking about, namely Lew Welch, who committed suicide three years ago. He was a very close friend of mine, and all of us knew him. After--after he died, Don Allen and his--Don Allen's Grey Fox Press brought out a collected poetry of Lew's and in recognition of Lew, I'd like to read a poem to or two of his from this collection called Ring of Bone.

Ring of Bone--I'm going to read few of the Hermit Poems. Lew Welch was from California, worked, went to Reed College--where I went--and then did a couple of years of graduate study at Chicago in English, and then threw that out, and went to work for an advertising agency for several years. This is in the fifties. And then came back out to the West Coast shortly after this energy of San Francisco poetry, renaissance, or whatever you want to call it, was launched and he joined into that. Later, in the early sixties, he pulled out of the San Francisco milieu for a while to do his homework, as he said, to get his head straight, and he went and lived for two years in a tiny shack up the Trinity Alps on the, on the Salmon River near a place called Forks of Salmon. The Trinity Alps and the Siskiyous of North California/Southern Oregon are one of the wildest, broadest, ruggedest places left in North America. One of the reasons why that is is because you hadn't even heard of 'em.

Michael McClure: [Laughs]

Gary Snyder: These are from the series of poems written in the cabin called "Hermit Poems."

Michael McClure: I want to read the one about when I drive cab, unless you're planning on reading it.

Gary Snyder: I don't think I'll get to that one. I'm gonna just--

Naked, he clambers over boulders to his spring.
He dips two buckets full and he scampers back.
Filling the many vessels on his stove, and he starts
to rave.

I hear Incantations!
I hear voices of the Wise Old Men and
songs of the Addled Girls!

Moss! Astonishing green!
All that time the rocks were, even.

Hopping on it, wet, that Crested Blue!
Robin bedraggled.Warm rain finally.Spring.

"[Not Yet Forty, My Beard is Already White]"

Not yet 40, my beard is already white.
Not yet awake, my eyes are puffy and red,
like a child who cried too much.

What is more disagreeable
than last night's wine?

I'll shave.
I'll stick my head in the cold spring and
look around at the pebbles.
Maybe I can eat a can of peaches.

Then I can finish the rest of the wine,
write poems 'til I'm drunk again,
and when the afternoon breeze comes up

I'll sleep until I see the moon
and the dark trees
and the nibbling deer

and hear
the quarreling coons

The Empress herself served tea to Su Tung-po,
and ordered him escorted home by
Ladies of the Palace, with torches.

I forgot my flashlight.
Drunk, I'll never get across this
rickety bridge.

Even the Lady in the Sky abandons me.

Whenever I make a new poem,
the old ones sound like gibberish.
How can they ever make sense in a book?

Let them say:
"He seems to have lived in the mountains.
He traveled now and then.
When he appeared in cities,
he was almost always drunk.

"Most of his poems are lost.
Many of those we have were found in
letters to his friends.

"He had a very large number of friends."

The image, as in a Hexagram:

The hermit locks his door against the blizzard.
He keeps the cabin warm.

All winter long he sorts out all he has.
What was well started shall be finished.
What was not, shall be thrown away.

In spring he emerges with one garment
and a single book.

The cabin is very clean.

Except for that, you'd never guess
anyone lived there.

I know a man's supposed to have his hair cut short,

This is from the early sixties.

but I have beautiful hair.
I like to let it grow into a long bronze mane.

In my boots. In my blue wool shirt.
With my rifle slung over my shoulder
among the huge boulders in the dark ravine,

I'm the ghost roan stallion.
Leif Ericson.
The beautiful Golden Girl!

But in summer I usually cut it all off.
I do it myself, with scissors and a
little Jim Beam.

[Audience laughter]

How disappointed everybody is.

Months and months go by before they can
worry about my hairdo

and the breeze
is so cool

When he left there, he wrote a few poems about going back to the city. This is one of Lew's really explicitly Buddhist poems, but it's beautiful--he asks for guidance going back to San Francisco from the mountains.

Avalokiteshvara, Buddha of Compassion, Original
Boddhisattva, Who spoke the Prajnaparamita Sutra
of the heart.

Kannon in Japan, Kuan-Yin in China, Chenrezig in
Tibet, No God, but guide, O
Countless thousands of returning men and women
of every place and time,

as Virgil for Dante, through Dante's Hell,

please guide me through Samsara.

"He Thanks His Woodpile"

The wood of the madrone burns with a flame at once
lavender and mossy green, a color you sometimes see in a sari.

Oak burns with a peppery smell.

For a really hot fire, use bark.
You can crack your stove with bark.

All winter long I make wood stews:

Poem to stove to woodpile to stove to

typewriter. woodpile. stove.

and can't stop peeking at it!
can't stop opening up the door!
can't stop giggling at it

"Shack Simple"

crazy as Han Shan as
Wittgenstein in his German hut, as
all the others ever were and are

The Ancient Order of the Fire Gigglers

[Audience laughter]

who walked away from it, finally,
kicked the habit, finally, of Self, of
man-hooked Man

(which is not, at last, estrangement)

And the last one of Lew's poems I'll read:

I saw myself
a ring of bone
in the clear stream
of all of it

and vowed,
always to be open to it
that all of it
might flow through

and then heard
"ring of bone" where
ring is what a

bell does

[Audience applause]

There's a nice echo.

Michael McClure: What?

Gary Snyder: There's a nice echo.

Michael McClure: Yeah.

Gary Snyder: Well, how are we going to wind this up? Do you want to read one more, and I'll read one more?

Michael McClure: Yeah, I want to read one more.

Gary Snyder: Okay, we're each going to read one more, and then we'll let you go. But, I'm telling you you're getting off early, easy I mean. Out where I come from, the old time people, like the Mojave or the Maidu or the Miwok or the Yurok or the [Tabadalaba], they wouldn't even begin to stop chanting until the sun began to rise in the morning. They would start at sunset, and they would go on with their poems and their epics and their tales 'til dawn.

Michael McClure: Let's do it anyway.

Gary Snyder: [Laughs]

[Audience laughter]

Michael McClure: The doors are locked.

Gary Snyder: We did have the doors locked.

Michael McClure: We had the doors locked.

Gary Snyder: Except, you can't see the sun rise here. [Laughs] Not in here.

Michael McClure: "Joanna's New Poem."

[Ed. note: this poem is represented in prose form with estimated punctuation]

Let me be elastic. Open always to new change. A flange that turns either way upon a shaft of light, of clearest meat, and purest poetry. Let me be oxen, sleeping in the snow, or a giraffe held at bay by wombats on an ice-cream island or a soft, grey pussywillow scented with the morning, dripping rain, or a panda pondering on the thoughts of newts adrift in copulation, floating past rusty cans in sunny streams.

Gary Snyder: [Laughs]

[Audience applause]

Gary Snyder: As for poets
The Earth Poets
Who write small poems,
Need help from no one.

The Air Poets
Play on the swiftest gales
And sometimes loll in the eddies.
Poem after poem,
Curling back on the same thrust.

At fifty below
Fuel oil won't flow
And propane stays in the tank.
A Fire Poet
Burns at absolute zero
Fossil love pumped backup

The first
Water Poet
Stayed down six years.
He was covered with seaweed.
The life in his poem
Left millions of tiny
Different tracks
Criss-crossing through the mud.

With the Sun and the Moon
In his belly,
The Space Poet
No end to the sky--
But his poems,
Like wild geese,
Fly off the edge.

A Mind Poet
Stays in the house.
The house is emp--

[Recording ends. Remainder of the poem is as follows:
And it has no walls.
The poem
Is seen from all sides,
At once.]

[Transcription of part one of the recording by Nicholas Gowan, transcription of part two of the recording by Alex Cavanaugh; Part one reviewed by Dr. Crystal Alberts 18 November 2012; Part two reviewed by Dr. Crystal Alberts on 13 September 2015]


Contact Information

Crystal Alberts

Associate Professor of English

Director, UND Writers Conference

276 Centennial Drive
110 Merrifield Hall, Stop 7209
Grand Forks, ND 58202