Gary Snyder to read at CSU, Wednesday September 17: why you should be there.
Many of us know Gary Snyder in the context in which the upcoming reading at CSU was advertised—a legendary beat poet who read alongside Ginsberg and was immortalized by Jack Kerouac in the Dharma Bums, a poet who also won a Pulitzer prize, who was a finalist twice over for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and who has garnered many other accolades, having published dozens of books of poetry and prose. And indeed, he is all of these things. But I would like to provide a different context for this week’s reading, which might be less familiar to some of you, and that is Snyder’s leadership and participation in the ecopoetics movement.
Robert Hass, who of course read here at CSU last spring, describes how Snyder’s work “refracted the ways [that] technology, ecology, and the condition of the natural world had come to seem intricately connected.” This feeling of connection is one you can’t shake when reading Snyder’s work. And I don’t just mean connections within individual poems, or between word and world, but connections between the work he was writing four decades ago and the work he wrote one decade ago. Like the paradigm expressed in the content of his poems, the poems themselves are relational.
To read one of Snyder’s poems is to take a deep breath and fully shatter the ruse of thinking yourself separate from nature, of thinking that the exterior world and interior self can be divided. For example, a well-known poem like “Night Highway 99” from his collection Mountains and Rivers Without End might appear to primarily trace the obstacles of human travelers as they hitchhike up and down the old Highway 99, which was then being widened into what we now know as the Interstate 5 that runs along the coast from Washington to Mexico. However, by considering the highway also as a metaphor for the respiratory system (which Snyder gives us reason to in this collection), as well as a means by which breath is negotiated and altered, we see that the whole west coast (or any land connected in this manner) is linked not by an interstate but an interbreath. Here, the movement of air across and between bodies (both human and other than human), across and between roadways, is an enmeshed and entangled activity in what has become a contact zone filled with ethical concerns. Questions of where and how and when the road was laid—who has access, who and what has been cut off—are just a few of the urgent matters that are addressed in this ethical space. And I think we find these charged ecotones throughout and between Synder’s work. These spaces call our attention as readers and humans in this world to the fact that every poem and every breath is a contact zone between body and world—a dynamic union and interchange.
So I’d encourage you to attend this reading on Wednesday, to take a deep breath and listen for where these contact zones occur in Snyder’s work—between sounds and semantics, humans and other-than-humans. Do this, and you will doubtless leave with a new understanding of your place in this world and your relationship with it.
Bio: Kristin George Bagdanov is an M.F.A. candidate in poetry at Colorado State University, where she is a Lilly Graduate Fellow. Her poems have recently appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Image Journal, 32 Poems, and Rattle. You can read more of her work at www.kristingeorgebagdanov.com.
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