Friday, July 15, 2005


Til The Autograph-Chewing Cows Come Home

A brief Weekend Stubble this time, as I'm heading out with the family for a few days summering in Chicago -- home of Henry Darger! Land of Harry Stephen Keeler! But before I go, a nip over to today's Guardian.

I've met some Beat writers in a classroom setting, but despite the novelty -- Wow! Allen Ginsberg is deriding my interpretation of On The Road! -- the one that left a deep impression on me was Gary Snyder. I took a course in wilderness literature with him at UC Davis as an undergrad, and he was the most down-to-earth writer, literally and figuratively, that I'd ever met. He wasn't interested in reputations, wasn't out to prove anything to himself or to you, and he was a great poet to listen to: he didn't read in that dreadful pre-CIOUS... ov-er-en-un...ciated... [dramatic pause]... lurching that some poets believe is recitation.

He always had a faintly bemused look about him; one time in his office when I'd asked him about The Dharma Bums -- a book I was much in the thrall of then, at 18 -- he paused and recounted living in a cabin in Mill Valley for a spell with Kerouac:

"I went into town to get groceries, and when I got back, Jack was just sitting there at the kitchen table reading through all my letters. And I said -- 'Jaa-ack, those are my letters.' -- and he just looked up, quite innocently, and said -- 'But Gary, they're my material'..."

Today's Guardian carries a fine profile of Snyder at his home in the Sierra Nevada foothills, and he sounds much the same today -- genial, utterly grounded, and with a fine touch of the absurd:

In a local bar, a large, hearty man recognises him from a poetry reading at a farm almost 40 years ago. His recollection of the event is perfect, while the poet's is hazy.

"Don't you remember, you signed the book to me and Ann?"

"I think I do remember," Snyder says.

"And don't you remember, the cow took a bite out of the book? And you signed it to the cow as well? And then the cow crapped on the book?"

"I must remember," Snyder says, unfalteringly polite.

I'm already looking forward to having this same conversation with some reader a few decades from now....

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