I now get Gary Snyder

Last night, I rode the bus with my neighbor and writing group compatriot, Wendy Call to Benaroya Hall to listen to poet Gary Snyder. Snyder is a beat poet who was raised in the Pacific Northwest in the 1930s. He lived in Japan for 10 years and is known for his connection to the environment and Buddhism. Snyder won the Pulitzer Prize for his book of poems Turtle Island. I never truly connected with Snyder's work until last night's event presented by Seattle Arts & Lectures.

After his reading, Snyder fielded questions from the sold-out (2,500 seat) house. These responses, paraphrased through my memory, stay with me.

Q. How do we increase cooperation?
A. Poverty. Having grown up during the Great Depression and working on oil riggers and as a logger, Snyder said that when people have little, they work together.

Q. What did Allen Ginsberg teach you?
A. That a poet's life should be an open book. When Snyder and Ginsberg were roommates, he found Ginsberg opening and reading his mail. When confronted, Ginsberg said that he wanted to know more about Snyder and that a poet must let their vulnerabilities be public. Ginsberg then added that Snyder should not be scared to be indecent.

Q. What does the Black Bear found in Ballard want?
A. Music. Snyder said that humans don't have much to offer, that animals think humans are cute. One time, as he was walking home, Snyder heard his daughter play the piano. As he approached, he noticed a cougar listening to the music. As another bit of evidence, Snyder talked about the Ainu in Northern Japan; how they sing to the meat on the table, because the animal's soul expects a human song in return for their food.

Listening to 79-year-old Snyder last night was an opportunity to hear wisdom from one of America's elders. Thanks Wendy for bringing me to this ear-opening event where I am now closer to the meaning of Turtle Island.