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© 1974 Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, and the University of North Dakota

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."

"STEAK"

Up on the bluff, the steak houses
called "The Embers"--called
"Fireside"
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;
                 "rare"

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
breathing,
frosty--breezy--
early morning prairie sky.

"NO MATTER, NEVER MIND"

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.

"CONTROL BURN"

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.

"CONTROL BURN"

What the Indians
here
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
burn.
             (manzanita seeds will only open
              after a fire passes over
              or once passed through a bear)

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

Before.

"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

CHARMS.

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]

["FACTS"]

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.

"PINE TREE TOPS"

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.

"FOR NOTHING"

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

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

listen.

[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.

"MAGPIE’S SONG"

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.

["HWA YEN TOTALISM"]
MY SWEET LIBERATION
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
horn,
born
by his might
through the tight
side of a sailing ship.
-------

DO

I

KNOW

THIS
TOUCH?
I love black valentines!
--------

Everything is mysterious wine
that drips from a spike
and bumps
like gems
from a diamond mine
AND
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
gods.

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 TOOTH
insults
my bald
pate.
I'll
dance a state-
ly step
to
cicada's song
whilst
I
imbibe
the grape.
Ah, there goes
a lovely shape!
Hey, wait!

[Audience laughter]

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

["A BREATH"]

HOW
SWEET
TO
BE
A
ROSE
BY
CANDLE
LIGHT
or
a
worm
by
full
moon.
See the hop-
ping flight
a cricket makes.
Nature loves
the absence of
mistakes.

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.

["LINES WITH WHITEHEAD"]

"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
coasting
through
the
nave.
"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?

IF THIS WERE ANOTHER TIME
then the skyscraper
would chime
with mud
and antlered worms
would turn
in the baggage
of the stern
as we pulled
away
&
left
reality
behind
confined
within the husk
of what
we touch:
-----------
CONCRETE
-----------
NEON
-----------
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"

MY EYES ARE WIDE EXPLOSIONS
in the field of nowhere.
My pocketwatch burns air
and sprouts golden antlers.
I'm
the stand-in
for flaming stars;
my heart murmurs
are electric guitars
and
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.

["BEGINNING WITH LINES BY ROBERT DUNCAN"]

"WERE YOUR ANSWERING LOVE
but stuff of passing dream I'd
dissolve my soul in sleeping surfaces"
and smile
AND SMILE
AND SMILE
in a song that is pouring Nile
of bubbling slumberous grins
and elfin mumbles
on the pillow of delight;
I'd
break from unconsciousness
with laugh,
facing my mortality,
and
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:

["DEAR JANE"]
LIFE IS A CURTAIN
drawn across
the past
that
we know
and yet
forget.
We're
enchanted
by the fit
of silk
and glow
of melodies.
HOW
GLAD
WE ARE
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.

["FOR JOANNA"]

PINK ON THE CEILING--
gray-blue
in the eaves.
The
doves
are
mumbling.
The fall
of the leaves.
My
eyes
love
yours.
Hold
my hand,
please.

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.

["TO A GOLDEN LION MARMOSET"]

OH BEAUTIFUL LITTLE FACE,
PEERING THROUGH
THE DAWN
OF TIME,
THE GOLDEN FUR UPON YOUR CHEEKS
is precious as a rhyme.
The April in your gracious snarl
can loose a body to ungnarl
and
stand
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
BEASTS
ARE
MEN;
all men are beasts.
-----------------------

BUT
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 comp…in 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.

THE BEAUTIFUL LINES OF FLAMES
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.

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,
succulents.
Squid eggs
in jelly bags (with moving
embryos) wash up on
the strand.
It is the night of the solstice.
The fox coughs,
"Hahh!"
Kicks his feet--
stretches.
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.

AMERICANS PASS BY,
WORLD LORDS,
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
treasure.
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
agriculture.
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
from
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]

[Transcription of part one of the recording by Nicholas Gowan; Reviewed by Dr. Crystal Alberts 18 November 2012]