May 8, 2009

What Have I Learned

by Gary Snyder

What have I learned but
the proper use for several tools?

The moments
between hard pleasant tasks

To sit silent, drink wine,
and think my own kind
of dry crusty thoughts.

     —the first Calochortus flowers
     and in all the land,
              it's spring.
I point them out:
the yellow petals, the golden hairs,
              to Gen.

Seeing in silence:
never the same twice,
but when you get it right,

     you pass it on.

"What Have I Learned" by Gary Snyder from Axe Handles. © Shoemaker Hoard, 1983. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of writer and journalist Naomi Klein, (books by this author) born in Montréal (1970). Her parents and grandparents were activists, but she wasn't interested in her family's leftist politics. As a teenager, she rebelled by hanging out at the mall and shopping for brand-name clothes.

She went to college, became interested in politics and journalism, and started thinking about the ways that radical young activists had changed over the years — instead of protesting directly against the government, they were focusing energy on fighting big corporations and their role in the government. She was interested in the World Bank and the WTO, and the way globalization affected consumer trends. She also looked at huge corporations like Nike, Disney, and Wal-Mart, and the power of their brand names to sell an image as much as a product. So she wrote a book about it, No Logo (1999), which became an international best seller.

She said, "Ads and logos are our shared global culture and language, and people are insisting on the right to use that language, to reformulate it in the way that artists and writers always do with cultural material."

Gary Snyder (books by this author) turns 79 today. He was born in San Francisco in 1930. When he was a teenager, he wrote articles for the mountain-climbing club's magazine and his high school newspaper, and then he went to Reed college, where he started reading Asian poetry. In the summers, he worked in logging camps, on trail crews, and as a fire lookout in the mountains. And it was while working in Yosemite in 1955 that he found his voice as a poet. That same year, he read with Allen Ginsberg at the famous October Sixth Gallery Reading where Ginsberg read "Howl" for the first time, and the two poets became lifelong friends. Snyder became a hero of the counterculture when Jack Kerouac published book The Dharma Bums (1958), whose hero, Japhy Ryder, is a barely disguised version of Snyder. For about 12 years, Snyder spent most of his time studying Zen Buddhism in Japan. He has published more than 20 books of poetry and prose, including Axe Handles (1983), Mountains and Rivers Without End (1997),and Turtle Island (1974). He is a respected environmental activist and thinker, and a professor at the University of California, Davis.

He said, "Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there."

It's the birthday of the reclusive novelist Thomas Pynchon, (books by this author) born in Glen Cove, Long Island (1937). He went to Cornell University to study engineering physics and got straight A's in all his classes. But then he took a class from Vladimir Nabokov and switched his major to English literature. He moved to Mexico and published his first novel, V. (1963), when he was 26 years old. It was a huge success, as were The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) and Gravity's Rainbow (1973).

It's the birthday of the popular Irish novelist Roddy Doyle, (books by this author) born in Dublin (1958). He was raised in a working-class suburb of Dublin, and even though he wanted to be a writer, he knew he needed a good steady job. So he taught high school for 14 years, and he wrote in the evenings. He started thinking about some of his students, and what they might be doing in a few years. He imagined that a group of these kids could form a band, and they could choose to play American soul music. He took that idea and wrote The Commitments (1987). He published 1,000 copies himself with a bank loan, and a London publisher got hold of one and republished it the next year, and it became a big best seller. He went on to write The Snapper (1990) and The Van (1991), and then a book from the point of view of a 10-year-old boy, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (1993). It won the Booker Prize and Doyle was able to quit his job and write full time.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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