Gary Snyder – Myths & Texts (1960)

“Published in 1960 by Totem Press, Gary Snyder’s Myths & Texts (completed in 1956) gives the first indication that his career would be devoted to the long poem as well as the short poem. Anthologized as the author of lyrics like ‘Nooksack Valley,’ ‘The Bath,’ and ‘True Night,’ Snyder also worked away for forty years on the 152-page long Mountains and Rivers Without End (Counterpoint, 1996). Myths & Texts initiates Snyder’s struggle with the great modernists, many of whom attempted poems of length as well, and each of whom also discovered, like Snyder, that beyond a hundred or so lines, anything calling itself a ‘poem’ would usually prove to be a work of interconnected sections. The form of such a poem gestures less toward a completed unity than the possibility of endlessness (a friend once commented that Mountains and Rivers really was ‘endless’), of infinite, spiraling speculation and freeplay. Dividing the poem into three parts — ‘Logging,’ ‘Hunting,’ ‘Burning’ — Snyder then subdivides those parts into numbered sections averaging a page in length. By beginning with the activity of logging, he means to emphasize the human will to harvest the riches of the vegetable world, a process as common to ancient China as to the forests of his native Northwest. It is not a process from which he stands apart: Snyder’s typical stance is one of complicity, not judgment and distance, and he too cuts down trees in order to make a living. Everything goes, leaves, disappears — is in some way used.  Besides, the kids may ‘grow up an go to college’ and not ‘come back,’ but the ‘little fir-trees do.’ Similarly, in ‘Hunting,’ Snyder begins by saying ‘a man’s got to eat.’ In order to justify or simply to live with the killing involved, cultures have invented stories asserting a continuity between the human and the animal world, between ‘man and beast.’ And so we get the myth of the girl taken home by the bear who will give birth to slick dark children with sharp teeth. In retelling this story, Snyder glosses the meaning of the poem’s title. The sheer human need to eat is the ‘text,’ the unassailable fact. The ‘myth’ is the story we make up in order to rationalize the need. …”
W – Gary Snyder

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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