Gary Snyder

Gary Snyder was born in San Francisco and studied at Reed College in Portland. Zen poet and environmental activist, he's worked as a logger and a trail-crew member, and studied Oriental langauges at Berkeley. He's also written many books of poetry and prose, including, The Gary Snyder Reader , No Nature:New and Selected Poems , Riprap , Axe Handles , Regarding Wave, and Turtle Island, which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

He is currently a professor of English at the University of California, Davis, and recently took the time to answer a few of our questions.

Caffeine Destiny: What is the most satisfying thing for you about writing, and has that changed over the years?
Gary Snyder: The act of making something, bringing elements together and creating a new thing with craft and wit hidden in it, is a great pleasure. It's not the only sort of pleasure, but it is challenging and satisfying, and not unlike other sorts of creating and building. In Greek "poema" means "makings." It doesn't change with the years, or with the centuries.

How do you know when a poem is finished?
It tastes done.

If animals wrote things down, who would you rather hear a poem by - a raccoon or a possum?
A raccoon's poem is alert and inquisitive, and amazes you by what a mess it makes. A possum's poem seems sort of slow and dumb at first, but then it rolls over. When you get close to it, it spits in your eye.

What's the most striking difference to you between California wilderness and Oregon wilderness?
You need to specify east side or west side, north or south, for this to be a useful question. The northwestern California-southwestern Oregon zone is basically one. Southeast Oregon belongs with the Great Basin and then a lot of eastern Oregon to the Columbia Plateau. Lower Columbia includes both sides of the river. The differences, east or west, are expressed basically in precipitation, and the Northern Spotted Owl needs bigger and denser groves than the Southern.

Do you find yourself working on several poems at once, or do you start one poem and see it through to some kind of conclusion before you start on another one?
Both, and also other strategies and variations as well. An artist is a total switch-hitter.

Are there some poets whose work you return to again and again?
Yes, among them Du Fu, Lorca, Basho, Pound, Yeats, Buson, Bai Ju-yi, Li He, Su Shih, Homer, Mira Bhai, Kalidasa.

What is your advice to writers who are just starting out?
Think like a craftsperson, learn your materials, your tools, and then read a lot of poetry so you don't keep inventing wheels.

Can poetry change the world?