Riprap

by Gary Snyder
(1959)
   While Gary Snyder was in Japan, Cid Corman visited from Italy and, with financial support from lawrence ferlinghetti, arranged for the first edition of this book, Snyder’s first published volume of poetry, to be printed in Kyoto under the imprint Origin Press. In 1965 Donald Allen published it in his series for the Four Seasons Foundation and added Snyder’s translations of Han Shan, which had originally appeared in Evergreen Review in 1958. In 1969 a new edition was published with a photo of Snyder replacing the plain cover of the earlier editions; it remained in print until 1990. In that year a new edition appeared from Jack Shoemaker’s North Point Press with a photo of a riprap trail on the cover, and Snyder added an afterword about the genesis and aesthetics of the poems. In 2004 Shoemaker reissued this version under the Shoemaker and Hoard imprint.
   Riprap and turtle island are the two bestknown volumes of Snyder’s poetry. Riprap establishes one major strand of Snyder’s poetics. In contrast to the (Ezra) Poundian, highly allusive and esoteric poetics that define Myths & Texts and a significant portion of Mountains and Rivers Without End, his two book-length sequences, the poetics of Riprap generate relatively short lyric poems that average a half to one page in length. The majority of the poems also contain equally short lines of a half-dozen or so words, many of them monosyllabic. Identification of the speaker is generally omitted through frequent reliance on participles and infinitives, or it only appears late in the poem. While high in alliteration, there is little rhyme, and rhythm is established by means of syllable count, punctuation, and line breaks that are designed to mimic the described activity, such as walking, meditating, or running. Themes develop through accretion across the poems as a group, with some containing literal images that only take on added resonance when considered in the context of other poems in the collection. The poems of Riprap, although they can be read discretely as separate lyrics, can also be read as a loose sequence, unfolding in both time and space, encompassing Snyder’s time in the Sierra Nevada in the mid-1950s, his first years in Japan, and his return trip to the United States as a worker on the oil tanker, Sappa Creek. The sequence character of the collection is reinforced by Snyder’s placing the title poem, “Riprap,” at the end of the volume, functioning as a metapoetic statement that is directly addressed to the reader. The opening two-stanza poem, “Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout,” describes a moment in one of his work experiences as fire lookout for the Forest Service. The poem may be read entirely literally with the opening stanza describing the vision that the speaker has from his lookout tower on a specific day, with this specificity directing readers toward a literal rather than symbolic reading. In contrast, the second stanza opens with a reflective statement, “I cannot remember things I once read.” He can, however, remember friends, but they are beyond his vision in cities far removed from the wilderness in which he is immersed. The poem closes: “Looking down for miles / through high still air.” That is, he is working at the moment of the poem. It is the forgetting depicted that urges readers to add a layer of interpretation to the literal description, but the pace of the poem and the lack of evidently emotive words render it difficult to discern a specific tone. He has taken the time to take stock of what he is forgetting and what he is remembering, but only the “but” suggests that he may very well miss them, and clearly he is not brooding on his separation from other people. More than anything else, this poem provides a setting with the most significant word, probably the “still” of the last line, a reading that is encouraged by the highly emotional and agitated tone of the poem that follows it, “The Late Snow & Lumber Strike of the Summer of Fifty-Four.” By the time snow has fallen in the forested mountains, the speaker’s job as a lookout has ended for the season, and he must find other work to live through the winter. But the strike precludes finding a job anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. As a result, although he can climb Mount Baker and have the same solitude that he experienced as a lookout, he cannot gain a meditative state because he is “Thinking of work / . . . / I must turn and go back.” The emphasis on the disquiet that the work silencing strike causes encourages an interpretation that the city and its economy define the character of human life, even high on a mountain, from which there is no escape. Yet the speaker would like to escape such determinism, not because he does not wish to work, since the previous poem and lines in this one imply that work provides the basis for being able “to think,” whereas a lack of work disrupts it. Rather, the speaker pits the cities and their synthetic economies against the natural economies of the mountains.
   Here in these first two poems Snyder defines a signal difference between the West Coast and the East Coast Beat movements. The latter, as evident from its major figures, was urban focused and idealized the freedom of traveling by car on the open road. The former was nature focused and idealized the freedom of mountain climbing and getting away from the city into the wilderness. jack kerouac captures the essence of this distinction in his two most famous books, on tHe road and The dHarma Bums. At the same time, Kerouac, allen ginsberg, and others were quite open to undergoing the wilderness experience because underneath this initial urban/wilderness dichotomy lay the fundamental appeal of the rejection of 1950s consumerism that was reflected in their lifestyles and work decisions, whether living in the woods or living in the city, and the common interest in Eastern alternatives to Western philosophy and culture.
   Riprap also contains four poems set in Japan. The last of these, “A Stone Garden,” bears little resemblance to any of the others. The language is formal, the pace is measured and slow, it has four numbered movements, and it closes with a couplet. Snyder attempts to take in the land and the people as a cultural whole. The strong tone of nostalgia and longing for personal relationships and familial love, in contrast to the solitude and independence of spirit in the American poems, is explained by the place and date lines at the end: “Red Sea / December, 1957.” Snyder has left Japan, not knowing when or if he will return. Until the title poem at the end, “A Stone Garden” is followed by the other poems written aboard the tanker on which he worked as it made its way from Japan to the Middle East before heading to the United States. Like so much other Beat literature, Riprap records a journey, both physical and spiritual.
   Patrick Murphy

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Riprap — also known as rip rap, rubble, shot rock or rock armour is rock or other material used to armor shorelines and streambeds against water and sometimes ice erosion. It is normally made from hard rock, commonly granite or concrete rubble recycled… …   Wikipedia

  • riprap — [rip′rap΄] n. [echoic redupl. of RAP ] ☆ 1. a foundation or wall made of large chunks of stone thrown together irregularly or loosely, as in water or on a soft bottom ☆ 2. chunks of stone used for this vt. riprapped, riprapping ☆ 1. to make a… …   English World dictionary

  • Riprap — Rip rap , v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Riprapped}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Riprapping}.] To form a riprap in or upon. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • riprap — also rip rap, loose stone thrown down in water or soft ground as foundation, 1822, Amer.Eng., from earlier nautical meaning stretch of rippling water (often caused by underwater elevations), 1660s, probably of imitative origin (Cf. riprap a sharp …   Etymology dictionary

  • Riprap — Rip rap , n. [Cf. {Rap}.] (Masonry) A foundation or sustaining wall of stones thrown together without order, as in deep water or on a soft bottom, or in a river channel. [1913 Webster +PJC] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • riprap — I. noun Etymology: obsolete riprap sound of rapping Date: 1833 1. a foundation or sustaining wall of stones or chunks of concrete thrown together without order (as in deep water); also a layer of this or similar material on an embankment slope to …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • riprap — n. pile of broken stones used for foundations (in water or on soft grounds) or embankment; foundation made of broken stones put together loosely; stone wall used as a barrier to break the force of waves; material or stones used for riprap v.… …   English contemporary dictionary

  • riprap — N. Amer. noun loose stone used to form a foundation for a breakwater or other structure. verb (ripraps, riprapping, riprapped) strengthen with riprap. Origin C19: reduplication of rap1 …   English new terms dictionary

  • riprap — akmenų metinys statusas Aprobuotas sritis statyba apibrėžtis Konstrukcinis elementas iš sumestų akmenų be rišamosios medžiagos, naudojamas vandentėkmių vagoms ir (arba) krantams, vandens telkinių krantams, dambų ir užtvankų šlaitams tvirtinti.… …   Lithuanian dictionary (lietuvių žodynas)

  • riprap — large rocks or artificial structures used to stabilise stream banks or protect areas subject to wave action against erosion …   Dictionary of ichthyology

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