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The poet from Turtle Island
Authors/Gary Snyder

November 14, 1990

Gary Snyder came into the living room, which was artfully strewn with handsome, multicolored throw rugs, and noticed that no one was wearing shoes. "This must be a no-shoes house." he said. "Well, it is for me, anyway." With that, he sat down on a floor cushion and removed his footwear. He didn't, however, take off his handsome pullover sweater, his jeans, or the earring in his left ear. He sat with his back Buddha-straight and suggested that everyone in the room introduce himself.

This is what passes for the beginning of a press conference when the subject is Gary Snyder, Pulitzer Prize—winning poet, noted Buddhist scholar, environmental sage, and member of the original Beat Generation gang, which included Allen Ginsberg and the late Jack Kerouac, who immortalized Snyder as "Japhy Ryder" in the novel The Dharma Bums. Given these counterculture credentials, Snyder wouldn't simply sound a cattle call for journalists to meet in some bare conference room and pepper him with impertinent questions. Instead, one of the folks at Resource Institute, the local nonprofit alternative school on whose behalf Snyder was in town to do a pair of readings and a workshop, had talked him into sitting still for this mellow convergence with the press, which took place in the living room of Jon Halper, an editor friend of Snyder's.

A reporter from a radio station sat on the floor next to Snyder and stuck a micro­phone in his face.

"What is your intention?" Snyder asked him. The man explained that the tape would be edited for a radio broadcast. "This isn't going to be show quality," Snyder objected. Finally, though, he agreed to the microphone, and proceeded to answer questions and hold forth as though there were nothing but empty air in front of him.

The journalists who had been called at more or less the last moment to the pleasant Wallingford address were about five in number, and all male. They deferentially sounded out the great poet on bioregionalism, political activism, green advocacy, the plight of small towns, the plight of farmers, the plight of loggers - on just about everything, in short, except poetry. Among the remarks Snyder made in responding to these queries were the following:

"If the world is going to go down, I want to go down with it."

"If something happens in your back yard, it's your back yard."

"The despised mysteries, banking and economics, run our lives."

"I'm willing to work simultaneously on all levels."

"The idea that a wonderful change of consciousness is going to sweep over everything I'm not holding my breath for it, but we should all work toward it anyway."

"I don't think of myself as a citizen of the United States but as a member of Turtle Island."

Finally, someone broached a poetry-related question: How did his willingness "to work simultaneously on all levels" affect his practice as a poet?

Just then, the sun broke through the turbulent autumn sky, came into the living room, and covered the poet and the journalists with warm, pulsing gold. A moment later the clouds closed ranks and the gold disappeared. "Whatever I'm doing, the two things feed into each other," Snyder explained. "Sometimes, though, when I find myself with a little extra time, I'm just as likely to be sitting out in a field having a conversation with a blue jay."

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