Gary Snyder quote

We were reading a packed-full-of-revelations1992 interview with poet Gary Snyder when we came across this amazing, of-the-cuff line. What a concept!  The context is his answer to the question about whether he’d work as Secretary of the Interior or other political post if asked:

I’ve never thought seriously about that question. Probably not, although I am foolish enough to think that if I did do it, I’d do it fairly well, because I’m pretty single-minded. But you don’t want to be victimized by your lesser talents. One of my lesser talents is that I am a good administrator, so I really have to resist being drawn into straightening things out. The work I see for myself remains on the mythopoetic level of understanding the interface of society, ecology, and language, and I think it is valuable to keep doing that.

The gist: Don’t let a not-terribly-important skill that you happen to be good at sidetrack the real work you need to do. How wise that guy is, always was…

In case you don’t know Snyder, here’s a couple of his poems that have much to do with how any creative work gets made.

We recommend reading them out loud…

How Poetry Comes to Me

It comes blundering over the
Boulders at night, it stays
Frightened outside the
Range of my campfire
I go to meet it at the
Edge of the light


On Top

All this new stuff goes on top
turn it over, turn it over
wait and water down
from the dark bottom
turn it inside out
let it spread through
Sift down even.
Watch it sprout.

A mind like compost.

Related posts: pablo neruda on the creative process
‘the imperfect is our paradise’ (wallace stevens)
the magic of guerilla poetry (become a poetry bomber)
what happens if you start your day with a poem?
“don’t give up!” (the inspirational letters project)

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4 replies on “gary snyder ‘don’t… be victimized by your lesser talents’

  1. I love Gary Snyder, and I hadn’t read this interview and love that you highlighted this particular thought of his. Wonderful. It’s always a pleasure to come here and find something new and provocative. Now I’m off to wondering what my lesser skills are…

  2. Does 2 comments on your blog about poetry constitute a pattern?

    I don’t know but hats some beautiful work you’ve linked too.

    Here’s quite possibly the greatest poem ever written; like Mr Snyder focused on

    the spirtual and colored by Buddhist beliefs

    – hope you find space to leave it in your comments.



    (for Gary Snyder)

    “I think I’ll be the Buddha of this place”
    and sat himself

    It’s a real rock
    (believe this first)
    Resting on actual sand at the surf’s edge:
    Muir Beach, California
    (like everything else I have
    somebody showed it to me and I found it by myself)
    Hard common stone
    Size of the largest haystack
    It moves when hit by waves
    Actually shudders
    (even a good gust of wind will do it
    if you sit real still and keep your mouth shut)
    Notched to certain center it
    Yields and then comes back to it:
    Wobbly tons
    Sitting here you look below to other rocks
    Precisely placed as rocks of Ryoanji:
    Foam like swept stones
    (the mind getting it all confused again:
    “snow like frosting on a cake”
    “rose so beautiful it don’t look real”)
    Isn’t there a clear example here
    Stone garden shown to me by
    Berkeley painter I never met
    A thousand books and somebody else’s boatride ROCKS
    (nearly empty despite this clutter-image all
    the opposites cancelling out a
    CIRCULAR process: Frosting-snow)
    Or think of the monks who made it 4 hundred 50 years ago
    Lugged the boulders from the sea
    Swept to foam original gravelstone from sea
    (first saw it, even then, when finally they
    all looked up the
    instant AFTER it was made)
    And now all rocks are different and
    All the spaces in between
    (which includes about everything)
    The instant
    After it is made
    I have been in many shapes before I attained congenial form
    All those years on the beach, lifetimes . . .
    When I was a boy I used to watch the Pelican:
    It always seemed his wings broke
    And he dropped, like scissors, in the sea . . .
    Night fire flicking the shale cliff
    Balls tight as a cat after the cold swim
    Her young snatch sandy . . .
    I have travelled
    I have made a circuit
    I have lived in 14 cities
    I have been a word in a book
    I have been a book originally
    Dychymig Dychymig: (riddle me a riddle)
    Waves and the sea. If you
    take away the sea
    Tell me what it is
    Yesterday the weather was nice there were lots of people
    Today it rains, the only other figure is far up the beach
    (by the curve of his body I know he leans against
    the tug of his fishingline: there is no separation)
    Yesterday they gathered and broke gathered and broke like
    Feeding swallows dipped down to pick up something ran back to
    Show it
    And a young girl with jeans rolled to mid-thigh ran
    Splashing in the rain creek
    “They’re all so damned happy—
    why can’t they admit it?”
    Easy enough until a little rain shuts beaches down . . .
    Did it mean nothing to you Animal that turns this
    Planet to a smoky rock?
    Back among your quarrels
    How can I remind you of your gentleness?
    Jeans are washed
    Shells all lost or broken
    Driftwood sits in shadow boxes on a tracthouse wall
    Like swallows you were, gathering
    Like people I wish for . . .
    cannot even tell this to that fisherman
    3 of us in a boat the size of a bathtub . pitching in
    slow waves . fish poles over the side . oars
    We rounded a point of rock and entered a small cove
    Below us:
    fronds of kelp
    Then us
    then rocks at the cliff’s base
    (hundreds of them sunning themselves)
    final starfish on the highest rock then
    4 feet up the cliff a flower
    further up more grass
    grass over the cliff’s edge
    branch of pine then
    Far up the sky
    a hawk
    Clutching to our chip we are jittering in a spectrum
    Hung in the film of this narrow band
    to our eyes only
    On a trail not far from here
    Walking in meditation
    We entered a dark grove
    And I lost all separation in step with the
    Eucalyptus as the trail walked back beneath me
    Does it need to be that dark or is
    Darkness only its occasion
    Finding it by ourselves knowing
    Of course
    Somebody else was there before . . .
    I like playing that game
    Standing on a high rock looking way out over it all:
    “I think I’ll call it the Pacific”
    Wind water
    Wave rock
    Sea sand
    (there is no separation)
    Wind that wets my lips is salt
    Sea breaking within me balanced as the
    Sea that floods these rocks. Rock
    Returning to the sea, easily, as
    Sea once rose from it. It
    Is a sea rock
    I am
    Rocked by the sea

    – Lew Welch

  3. Just realised something, that’s not immendiately obvious.
    The “for Gary Snyder” in brackets at the start of Wobbly Rock is actually part of Lew Welch’s poem; he wrote it for Gary Snyder.
    Cheers (again),

  4. Yes, that is the question: what are those lesser skills?….

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