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Two Introductions: Gary Snyder and Michael Palmer Gary Snyder Since 1956, when he read his poems about the Native American trickster Coyote at a reading in San Francisco during which Allen Ginsberg read Part One of Howl, Gary Snyder has been developing a selfless, sensual , landscape-attuned poetry of change and becoming that in the light of our current awareness of planetary potential and doom has become a clearing in American consciousness. It presents itself as ruggedly and thoroughly as monumental Chinese Sung Dynasty landscape painting in a context of interconnectedness involving lore, research, meditation, and a range of living and mythical companions. In "the cold companionable streams" of Snyder's poetry, there is a deep faith in the capacity of the earth to injure and to restore. Rivers and Mountains Without End is Snyder's sixteenth book, 138 pages of text, thirty-nine poems in four sections or movements. This work was struck, some forty years ago, off a Sung Dynasty scroll painting. Snyder's opening poem, the key to the book, describes the painting as, scene by scene, it unfurls to the left. He comments: "At the end of the painting the scroll continues with seals and poems. It tells a further tale." Rivers and Mountains Without End, then, is the twentieth-century addition to the painting. In its own interlocking, unfolding segments, it draws upon ecological awareness and nature's architecture to such an extent that I want to coin a term for what ishappening , to suggest that Rivers andMountains Without End is an ecotecture, a habitat-structure. It redirects Whitman's "adhesive love" from solely I introduced Gary Snyder's reading from Mountains and Rivers •without End at the University of Michigan, November 16, 1996. The Michael Palmer introduction took place at Eastern Michigan University,February 4, 2000. io8 C O M P A N I O N S P I D E R human comradeship to a comradely display that includes artemisia and white mountain sheep. Thus I feel that this work is not really an epic, as the dust jacket states, in the tradition of Pound and Williams. Snyder himself thinks of it as a sort of sutra. A string of kayaks comes to mind. Functionally speaking, this book is a rock with centrifugal eddies that can be set at the center of Snyder's life work. What appears to be the leanness in the work is actually Snyder's precise observation, which obviates explanation. At its most intense, his observational power evokes prayer and praise. Snyder adheres to the Buddhistic principle of emptiness; there is no self, everything we see and are is empty. Thus the absence of the sensitive or tormented psychological subject in this poetry. In the spirit of Sung landscape painting, as well as in the later Cezanne , one thing is as important as another, each part is as important as the whole. Thus the nodes of illumination strung throughout the writing . Snyder's world is redolent with common wealth—his elixir of enlightenment is buttermilk. Finally, all is metaphoric, or let's say any truth is in the synapse between the parts of a metaphor. For example:two kilograms soybeans equals a boxwood geisha comb. Four thousand years of writing equals the life of a bristlecone pine. Our love is mixed with rocks and streams. To overturn two thousand years of Christian dominion over "unChristian " nature—"over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth," including women and human slaves— the scale of values has to be massively rebalanced.Mountains and Rivers Without End is the first major Western poem to sweepingly foreground the natural world from a Buddhist perspective and, without cynicism, to present civilization on a sharply diminished scale. Or as Furong Daokai, as quoted by Dogen, puts it: The green mountains are alwayswalking; a stone woman gives birth to a child at night. Michael Palmer Palmer writes: "I wasborn in Passaicin a small box flying over Dresden one night, lovely figurines. Things mushroomed after that.... Asa child I slept beneath the bed, fists balled. ... I grew to four feet then three. I drove a nail through the page and awoke smiling. This was my Two Introductions 209 first smile." Observationally speaking, Palmer was born in New York City and has lived in San Francisco since 1969. He has worked extensively with contemporary dance for more than twenty years and has collaborated with numerous visual artists and composers. The most recent of...


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