Snyder, Gary

(1930– )
   Gary Snyder became connected with the Beat movement as a result of his participation in the famous October 1955 Six Gallery reading in San Francisco where allen ginsberg first performed the first section of Howl. Part of the West Coast wing of the movement, which also is referred to as the San Francisco Renaissance, Snyder viewed his wing as “cool,” while he viewed the New York wing as “hot.” This distinction can be seen clearly in the selections for that famous poetry gathering. While Ginsberg focused on anguish, despair, and the destructive oppressive forces of the American cultural and political system, Snyder read “A Berry Feast.” This poem, first published in The Evergreen Review in 1957, later became the opening poem of “The Far West” section of The Back Country. In contrast to Ginsberg’s poem, “A Berry Feast” alludes to positive Native American myths and the trickster figure of coyote. Human connection with nature is emphasized through mating with bears and coyote, and ancient wisdom and contemporary knowledge are married in a new hunter–gatherer consciousness. The poem ends: “Dead city in dry summer, / Where berries grow.” Clearly Snyder and Ginsberg’s selections at this reading display the differences in sensibility and poetics that Michael Davidson sees as distinguishing the East Coast and West Coast movements. Yet, Snyder will forever be associated with the East Coast Beats as a result of his immortalization by jack kerouac as Japhy Ryder in The dHarma Bums (1958) as well as his long friendships with Ginsberg and Kerouac. Born toward the beginning of the Great Depression on May 8, 1930, Snyder experienced financial poverty and material deprivation as a child. His father was away looking for work when he was born and they soon moved to a small farm in Washington state where they eked out a living through a combination of subsistence activities, jobs, and small enterprises, such as cutting shake shingles. In 1942, as jobs became more plentiful, the Snyders moved to Portland. His parents separated a few years later, and his mother worked for the newspaper where Gary also found employment. On the farm Gary had developed two very intimate relationships: one with nature, particularly with the woods, and one with books, which his mother persistently borrowed from the public library. In Portland he became the youngest member of a mountain-climbing club and extended his engagement with nature into true wilderness. In high school he began to write poems and articles for the club magazine. He also became interested in anthropology, particularly in relation to the native peoples of the northwest. In 1947 he entered Reed College in Portland on a scholarship and pursued a double major in literature and anthropology. There he was influenced by various progressive professors and developed a wide circle of friends, many of them aspiring writers and some of them quite interested in Eastern philosophy and religions. Like all Reed students, he wrote an undergraduate thesis, “He Who Hunted Birds in His Father’s Village,” which was published in book form in 1979. His love of myth and many of his own poetic themes are revealed in it. When he graduated in 1951 he was truly a working-class intellectual, squarely opposed to U.S. imperialism and highly critical of mainstream U.S. culture. After a brief stint in graduate school at Indiana University, he headed back to the city of his birth, San Francisco, intent on becoming a poet.
   With the Bay area as his home base, Snyder ventured into the wilderness of a variety of work experiences, including becoming a forest-service fire lookout on Crater Mountain in the summer of 1952. In the winter months he studied Chinese and Japanese at Berkeley and became involved with the Berkeley Buddhist Church. In 1954 he worked as a choke setter for a logging operation on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, an experience that was detailed in his essays which are collected in The Practice of The Wild. He had been blacklisted from working for the forest service because the coast guard had labeled him a subversive as a result of his membership in a left-wing seamen’s union, which he had had to join to ship out in summer 1948. Also, his affiliations with various radical teachers and other students at Reed College led to the same charge by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Of course, the FBI was correct in defining Snyder, as they would numerous other intellectuals who were associated with the Beats, as subversive: Snyder had already taken a stand against the Korean War and throughout his life would oppose large, centralized nation states. Somehow, though, Snyder was able to slip through the bureaucracy and obtain a position with the park service, clearing trails in Yosemite in 1955. During this summer Snyder began to write relatively short poems that were quite different in style from the segments of the mythopoeic sequence Myths and Texts that he had begun to write in 1952 and would not finish until 1956. These new poems, as David Robertson relates, became the core for his published collection, riprap, which appeared in 1959.
   The year 1955 proved to be a crucial one for Snyder. He began to write the poems that persuaded him of his own talent and his ability to sustain his vocation as a poet. He became more committed to Buddhism and determined to travel to Japan to study it more seriously. Also, he participated in the October 7 Six Gallery poetry reading, establishing himself as one of the rising stars of the San Francisco Renaissance and also linking himself and that group with the East Coast Beats. In 1956, he left San Francisco to study Buddhism in Kyoto and lived in Japan on and off into the late 1960s. Two poems in Riprap record his preparations for that journey: “Nooksack Valley,” written in Feburary 1956, and “Migration of Birds,” written in April. The latter makes a comparison between himself and Kerouac, with whom he was sharing a cabin in Mill Valley. Snyder had already begun to publish mature poems by 1954 and continued to do so while in Japan, with the result that he was already building up a reputation with readers of such journals as the Evergreen Review, which published his Han Shan/Cold Mountain translations in 1958. Then lawrence ferlinghetti started to distribute Riprap from City Lights Books in 1959. The following year, Myths & Texts was published, letting readers see both of Snyder’s major poetic styles in book-length collections.
   Also in 1960 while back in the States Snyder became involved with fellow poet joanne kyger and invited her to Japan, where he was returning for further Buddhist study. On her arrival she learned that the First Zen Institute of America, which financially supported Snyder, expected the couple to marry if they were to live together. Kyger has written of their life together in Japan, as well as their historic trip to India in The Japan and India Journals 1960-1964. On their six-month sojourn to India, which Snyder treats in Passage Through India (1983), Snyder and Kyger hooked up with Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky for part of the trip. Kyger left Snyder and Japan in early 1964, and Snyder did not return to San Francisco until the fall of that year. For the year that he stayed in the United States, Snyder participated in pacifist protests against the Vietnam War and briefly taught creative writing at the University of California in Berkeley. Snyder spent another year in Japan and returned to San Francisco in early 1967 in time to help provide leadership along with Ginsberg for the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park. By this time he had gained significant notoriety as a counterculture figure and as a proponent of an American Buddhism that was quite congenial to the developing Hippie movement. Back in Japan, Snyder hooked up with a commune movement that was headed by Nanao Sakaki and a small group of people who were engaged in subsistence living on an island south of Kyushu. There he married Masa Uehara, and in 1968 she gave birth to their first son, Kai. The first sections of Regarding Wave record the commune period, their marriage, and the period leading up to Kai’s birth. Shortly after that Snyder ended his years of living in Japan when the three of them returned to the United States, lived in San Francisco for a while, and then settled near Nevada City, California, where Snyder built a house on land that he, Ginsberg, and Jerry Brown had purchased. In 1969 Masa and Gary’s second son, Gen, was born. During the years 1968–70 Snyder published, now with New Directions, The Back Country (poems), Earth House Hold (prose), and an expanded edition of Regarding Wave (poems). His books were also being published in England. At this time translations of his poems began to appear in a variety of European and Asian languages. With his permanent return to the States, Snyder received every increasing attention, including various awards and numerous speaking and reading invitations. As Dan McLeod notes, “The example of Snyder’s life and values offered a constructive, albeit underground, alternative to mainstream American culture.” In particular, McLeod accurately concludes that Snyder’s “main impact on the Beat Generation, and on American literature since, has been as a spokesperson for the natural world and the values associated with primitive cultures” (487–488). As people might say today, Snyder was someone who “walked the talk” of the beliefs and actions that he presented in his poetry. Also, Snyder offered people a way forward, an alternative to, and not just a reaction against, mainstream American culture. His return to the States also coincided with an increasing global attention to environmental issues, ones that were linked to a critique of the Vietnam War and U.S. imperialism but also extended beyond that particular issue. His recognition as a spokesperson for new ways to think about how to live in the world can be seen in his invitation to give the Earth Day address in 1970 at Colorado State College and in his 1971 invitation to speak at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara. His environmental internationalism was also demonstrated by his 1972 participation in the United Nations Conference on Human Environment that was held in Stockholm, and his angry poem on the behavior of most of the delegations to that conference, “Mother Earth” (later retitled “Mother Earth: Her Whales”), was published in the New York Times on July 13, 1972, and reprinted in turtle island. That volume of poetry and prose won Snyder the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1975. Like The Back Country and Regarding Wave, this large collection is organized into sections, including a gathering of short prose pieces, the most culturally important of which is “Four Changes.” This essay had been written in summer 1969 and was distributed as a broadside by the tens of thousands around the country. After 1975 Snyder put more time into environmental politics, particularly bioregionalism, and less time into poetry, if his rate of publication is any indication. In fact, nine years passed between the publication of Turtle Island and Axe Handles, which although popular was less well received than his previous books of poetry. By 1983 Snyder’s tone had changed considerably. Unlike many writers associated with the Beat movement, Snyder neither burned out nor turned bitter and cynical; rather he became a homesteader, a father, and a responsible local citizen. Many of the poems in Axe Handles reflect those multiple responsibilities and also offer a long-term, long-range vision for social change rather than the kind of revolution-around-the corner attitude that energized the Hippie movement and much of the New Left of the 1960s. In 1983 Snyder became a professor at the University of California, Davis, spending less time on the road and paying greater attention to writing prose than he had in the past. Left Out in the Rain: New Poems 1947-1985 was published in 1986. It contained some 150 poems either previously unpublished or uncollected in other books. His main publications in the decade after taking up his teaching position consisted of the two prose volumes, The Practice of the Wild (1990) and A Place in Space (1995), which collected early and new essays. He also published in 1992 the equivalent of a selected poems titled No Nature: New and Selected Poems so that it and Left Out together contained the majority of his poems that had been written up to that time. In these years also, Snyder and Masa Uehara divorced, and Snyder married Carole Koda, who brought two daughters into the marriage.
   In the early 1990s many readers and not a few critics wondered if Snyder had peaked as a poet, even as his status as an international spokesperson for environmental issues continued to rise. Then in 1996 he stunned and pleased people with the publication of Mountains and Rivers Without End, a book-length poetic sequence 40 years in the making. Anthony Hunt has written a companion to this volume, Genesis, Structure, and Meaning in Gary Snyder’s Mountains and Rivers Without End, which provides a comprehensive study guide to Snyder’s masterpiece. Then in 1999 he published The Gary Snyder Reader, which contains a variety of poems, essays, and translations covering the years 1992 through 1998. Having retired in the early years of the new millennium from his teaching position, Snyder has not retired either from his writing or from his international reading and lecturing, as demonstrated by the 2004 publication of a book of new poems that are written in a variety of styles (some new for Snyder), titled Danger On Peaks. The septuagenarian Snyder continues to remain active as a writer and a speaker, one of the last of the Beats still standing.
 Bibliography
■ Davidson, Michael. The San Francisco Renaissance: Poetics and Community at Mid-Century. 1989. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
■ Halper, Jon, ed. Gary Snyder: Dimensions of a Life. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1991.
■ Hunt, Anthony. Genesis, Structure, and Meaning in Gary Snyder’s Mountains and Rivers Without End. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2004.
■ Kyger, Joanne. The Japan and India Journals 1960-1964. Bolinas, California: Tombouctas Books, 1981.
■ McNeil, Katherine. Gary Snyder: A Bibliography. New York: The Phoenix Bookshop, 1983.
■ Murphy, Patrick D. A Place for Wayfaring: The Poetry and Prose of Gary Snyder. Corvallis: University of Oregon Press, 2000.
■ Robertson, David. “Gary Snyder Riprapping in Yosemite, 1955.” American Poetry 2, no. 1 (1984): 52–59.
   Patrick Murphy

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Snyder, Gary — ▪ American poet in full  Gary Sherman Snyder  born May 8, 1930, San Francisco, Calif., U.S.       American poet early identified with the Beat movement and, from the late 1960s, an important spokesman for the concerns of communal living and… …   Universalium

  • Snyder, Gary (Sherman) — born May 8, 1930, San Francisco, Calif., U.S. U.S. poet. Snyder worked as a forest ranger, logger, and seaman and studied Zen Buddhism in Japan (1958–66). His poetry, early identified with the Beat movement, is rooted in ancient, natural, and… …   Universalium

  • Snyder, Gary (Sherman) — (n. 8 may. 1930, San Francisco, Cal., EE.UU.). Poeta estadounidense. Snyder trabajó como guardabosques, leñador y marinero, además de estudiar budismo zen en Japón (1958–66). Su poesía, identificada desde el comienzo con el movimiento Beat,… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Gary Snyder — Born May 8, 1930 (1930 05 08) (age 81) San Francisco, California Occupation Poet, essayist, travel writer, translator, educator Nationality American Period 1950 present …   Wikipedia

  • Gary SNYDER — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Snyder. Gary Sherman Snyder est un poète, traducteur, penseur et activiste américain né le 8 mai 1930 à San Francisco. Il est une figure importante au sein des mouvements de la Beat Generation, des… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Gary Snyder — Nacimiento 8 de mayo de 1930 (81 años) San Francisco (California …   Wikipedia Español

  • Gary Snyder — (* 8. Mai 1930 in San Francisco) ist ein US amerikanischer Schriftsteller und Umweltaktivist. Leben Gary Snyder wuchs in den Bundesstaaten Oregon und Washington auf. Er studierte zunächst Anthropologie am Reed College in Portland und schloss… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • SNYDER (G.) — SNYDER GARY (1930 ) Pour Jack Kerouac et Allen Ginsberg, arrivant de la côte est à San Francisco (où le mouvement beat a pris naissance), Gary Snyder, natif du Nord Ouest (Oregon), était «le type le plus fou et le plus intelligent que nous ayons… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Gary Snyder — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Snyder. Gary Sherman Snyder est un poète, traducteur, penseur et militant américain né le 8 mai 1930 à San Francisco. C est une figure importante au sein des mouvements de la Beat Generation, des… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Gary — /gair ee, gar ee/, n. 1. Elbert Henry, 1846 1927, U.S. financier and lawyer. 2. a port in NW Indiana, on Lake Michigan. 151,953. 3. a male given name: from an Old English word meaning spear bearer. * * * I City (pop., 2000: 102,746), northwestern …   Universalium

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.