May 8, 2007

Above Pate Valley

by Gary Snyder

TUESDAY, 8 MAY, 2007
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Poem: "Above Pate Valley" by Gary Snyder, from Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems. © Shoemaker & Hoard Publishers, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Above Pate Valley

We finished clearing the last
Section of trail by noon,
High on the ridge-side
Two thousand feet above the creek
Reached the pass, went on
Beyond the white pine groves,
Granite shoulders, to a small
Green meadow watered by the snow,
Edged with Aspen—sun
Straight high and blazing
But the air was cool.
Ate a cold fried trout in the
Trembling shadows. I spied
A glitter, and found a flake
Black volcanic glass—obsidian—
By a flower. Hands and knees
Pushing the Bear grass, thousands
Of arrowhead leavings over a
Hundred yards. Not one good
Head, just razor flakes
On a hill snowed all but summer,
A land of fat summer deer,
They came to camp. On their
Own trails. I followed my own
Trail here. Picked up the cold-drill,
Pick, singlejack, and sack
Of dynamite.
Ten thousand years.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Edmund Wilson, (books by this author) born in Red Bank, New Jersey (1895). He was a novelist, journalist, and a literary critic, and he wrote about all kinds of things, including Russian poetry, Haitian literature, the Hebrew language, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the literature produced during the American Civil War. He introduced Americans to writers like James Joyce, Marcel Proust, and Vladimir Nabokov, and he almost single-handedly resurrected the reputation of the novelist Henry James, who had been forgotten for years.

It's the birthday of novelist Thomas Pynchon, (books by this author) born in Glen Cove, Long Island (1937). He's the author of many novels, including V. (1963), The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), and Gravity's Rainbow (1973).

Today is believed to be the birthday of the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi (1911). We know very little about his life. He's been so mythologized that he's become almost a character out of a folktale. The only reason we know for sure he existed is that in 1937 he recorded 29 of his songs over the course of two recording sessions. He had two photographs taken of himself around the same time. Those were the only recordings he made and the only photographs taken of him in his lifetime, and he died the following year, at the age of 27.

It's the birthday of Gary Snyder, (books by this author) born in San Francisco (1930). As a student, he found summer work as a forest ranger, a logger, and a seaman. And in 1955, he worked on a trail crew at Yosemite National Park, where he began writing the first poems that he published. He participated in the Beat scene in San Francisco and then went to Japan. He spent most of the next 12 years in a monastery, studying Buddhism. He's since had a long, steady career as a poet, an environmental activist, and a Zen Buddhist.

Snyder said, "As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the Neolithic: the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe."

It's the birthday of one of the most popular Irish novelists of his generation, Roddy Doyle, (books by this author) born in Dublin (1958). Doyle was raised in a working-class suburb of Dublin called Kilbarrack. He knew he wanted to be a writer, but he decided to become a teacher because it was a good steady job. He got hired at the high school in his hometown and went on to teach English and geography for 14 years. His students called him "Punk," because he came to class everyday wearing an earring and combat boots.

He wrote his first novel, The Commitments (1988), about the rise an Irish soul band from a fictional Dublin suburb called Barrytown. He went on to write two more novels that took place in the same fictional suburb, The Snapper (1990) and The Van (1991). Those three books became known as the Barrytown Trilogy.

Those first three novels were popular, but many literary critics didn't take them too seriously, because they consisted almost entirely of dialogue. So for his next book, Doyle decided to draw on his own childhood and write a story entirely from within the mind of a 10-year-old boy. The result was his novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (1993), which became the first novel by an Irish writer to win the Booker Prize.

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