Gary Snyder, at 70, Revisits Asia

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Gary Snyder, at 70, Revisits Asia

Gary Snyder lives in a mountain farmstead by the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. There he lives out his committment environmental awareness, an ideology that reverbates in his poetry.

Snyder's work "makes us far more alive and attentive," U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Haas said. "It reaches into our deepest and best resources, heartens us to the challenges and promises of restoration to a natural place from which many of us now feel ourselves estranged."

You can find this Pulitzer Prize winning poet of nature in downtown Seoul Friday.

What brings the 70-year-old lay Zen Buddhist monk to the 10th floor auditorium of the Kyobo building is a 4 pm poetry recital--Snyder's own as part of the Seoul International Forum for Literarature.

"Snyder's poetry blends America's native past with the grandeur and detail of nature, and the mental disciplines of Zen Buddhism," according to Glyn Maxwell who authored an article on Snyder's work in "The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English. "He writes in the first person, as individual in the wilderness, but the beauty and glory of the wilderness allows that individual the status of common man."

Snyder may write in the tradition of America's great nature poets Walt Whiman and Ezra Pound but Snyder's work exudes Asian mysticism. While studying history and literature in the 1930s, Snyder came across Eastern philosophies: "I learned that Hinduism and Buddhism shared the ethical precept of 'ahimsa,' a nonharming, and that this was meant to embrace not just human beings but all living beings," Snyder said during a seminar he gave on Tuesday at Sejong Cultural Center. "This definitely tilted me toward Asia."

In 1956 Snyder moved to Japan on a scholarship from the First Zen Institute of America and studied Rinzai Zen Buddhism under Zen master Oda Sesso Roshi. Snyder's 12-year sojourn in Asia included a six-month journey in India where he met the Dalai Lama, according to Eco Books publishers.

Before he left for Japan, Snyder was associated with the Beat movement, which sought the communal, peace and the ascetic and escape from city and industry, according to Maxwell. Snyder's philosophies, and his passion for nature, Zen Buddhism and ecology are evident in his writing.

In "For All," Snyder revels in nature: "Ah to be alive/ on a mid-September morn/ fording a stream/ barefoot, pants rolled up,/ holding boots, pack on,/ sunshine, ice in the shallows,/ northern rockies."

But more than showing a reverence for nature, Snyder advocates environmental awareness: "I pledge allegiance to the soil/ of Turtle Island,/ and to the beings who thereon dwell/ one ecosystem/ in diversity/ under the sun/ With joyful interpenetration for all." Snyder won the Pulitzer prize for his collection "Turtle Island" in 1975.

He shared his ecological idealogy in his Tuesday seminar, titled "Mountains Hidden in Mountain: Dogen Zenzi and the Mind of Ecology."

Snyder urged the audience to "accommodate and serve sentient beings." He said, "One should think: 'Throughout the realm-of-dharmas and the realm of space, in the ocean-like cosmos in the the ten directions, there are infinite kinds of sentient beings….To all these infinite kinds of beings, I will render my service and accommodate them in whatever way is beneficial to them.'"

Snyder also shared his idea of being rooted and reconnecting with a particular place and soil. "You cannot see the landscape with accuracy and clarity if you just drive across it in a train or car. The only way a landscape can be known is by walking across it, day after day."

The forum's organizing committee, Daesan Foundation, aims to gather writers from around the world to discuss social and cultural changes that are blending boundaries between race, sex, class and identity, according to Shin Chang-jae, Daesan Foundation chairman.

by Yonghee Joe

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