Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Posts Tagged ‘Gary Snyder

The poet’s sock drawer

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I never find words right away. Poems for me always begin with images and rhythms, shapes, feelings, forms, dances in the back of my mind. And much of the poem is already dancing itself out before I begin to look around for the words for it. So I’m not a language poet in the sense that some people say all poetry starts with language…When you roam around in the spaces of your mind, you’re not forming sentences and reeling out vocabulary, you’re just looking. You’re looking at the landscape of your mind, and you’re solving problems. For example, how do you know where your socks are in your drawer? You don’t make a sentence, “My socks are in the corner of my drawer.” You pull the drawer out, look around, and you see all the socks are kept there. That’s how we get dressed in the morning…

It comes together by itself, by my letting it come together and not interfering too much until it begins to pull together. Now all of this is not to say that after a poem is written down it’s finished. By no means. There comes a further exercise, which is tuning—fine tuning, revision, listening to it many times and touching it up a bit—and when one comes to that, of course, language is of great importance. So I was just talking about the roots, the origins. Both exercises are real.

Gary Snyder, to Bill Moyers in The Language of Life

Written by nevalalee

June 4, 2017 at 7:30 am

Quote of the Day

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Gary Snyder

An ethical life is one that is mindful, mannerly, and has style. Of all moral failings and flaws of character, the worst is stinginess of thought, which includes meanness in all its forms…One must not waste, or be careless, with the bodies or the parts of any creature one has hunted or gathered. One must not boast, or show much pride in accomplishment, and one must not take one’s skill for granted. Wastefulness and carelessness are caused by stinginess of spirit, an ungracious unwillingness to complete the gift-exchange transaction. (These rules are also particularly true for healers, artists, and gamblers.)

Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild

Written by nevalalee

July 11, 2016 at 7:30 am

Signals to the inner world

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Gary Snyder

The first step is the rhythmic measure, the second step is a set of preverbal visual images which move to the rhythmic measure, and the third step is embodying it in words—and I have learned as a discipline over the years to avoid writing until I have to…

[My notes] are all organized, but their only function is as mnemonic aids, like signals to open up the inner world. The inner world is too large to ever put down; it’s a sea, it’s an ocean; and guides and notes and things like that just help me—they’re like trail-markers. It’s like finding your way back to the beginning of the right path you were on before, then you can go into it again.

Gary Snyder

Written by nevalalee

May 24, 2015 at 7:30 am

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Learning from the masters: an introduction

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Today’s quote of the day comes from a fascinating interview with the poet Gary Snyder, which I came across yesterday after seeing it mentioned in Robert and Michèle Root-Bernstein’s stimulating book Sparks of Genius. The part of the interview that caught my eye goes as follows:

Say you wanted to be a poet, and you saw a man that you recognized as a master mechanic or a great cook. You would do better, for yourself as a poet, to study under that man than to study under another poet who was not a master, that you didn’t recognize as a master.

Snyder goes on to give a specific example:

I use the term master mechanic because I know a master mechanic, Rod Coburn. Whenever I spend any time with him, I learn something from him…About everything. But I see it in terms of my craft as a poet. I learn about my craft as a poet. I learn about what it really takes to be a craftsman, what it really means to be committed, what it really means to work.

Which struck me for a number of reasons. As a writer, I’ve always been conscious of the fact that much of what I’ve learned about the creative process comes from the work of nonliterary artists. Regular readers of this blog know how much I’ve learned about writing and editing from David Mamet and Walter Murch. My approach to my own work owes as much to The Mystery of Picasso or the video games of Shigeru Miyamoto as to John Gardner’s Art of Fiction. More recently, Stephen Sondheim’s Finishing the Hat, with its detailed descriptions of the lyricist’s craft, has been an endless source of instruction and encouragement.

The point of all this, I think, is that it’s easy to get caught up in the conventions of the craft—whether it’s fiction, poetry, art, or something else entirely—that you know best. Studying other forms of art is one way, and perhaps the best, of knocking yourself out of your usual assumptions. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. I recently came across an interview with cartoonist Daniel Clowes in which he explained how his work in film (including Ghost World and Art School Confidential) has influenced the way he plans his comics:

To me, the most useful experience in working in “the film industry” has been watching and learning the editing process. You can write whatever you want and try to film whatever you want, but the whole thing really happens in that editing room. How do you edit comics? If you do them in a certain way, the standard way, it’s basically impossible. That’s what led me to this approach of breaking my stories into segments that all have a beginning and end on one, two, three pages. This makes it much easier to shift things around, to rearrange parts of the story sequence.

And the best way to put lessons from other media to work, as Snyder points out, is to study the masters. This week, if time permits, I’m going to be talking about a handful of artists in other media—music, comics, film, and television—that have influenced the way I approach my own writing.

Quote of the Day

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I would say, offhand, if you want inspiration the two simplest and best ways to get it are to go on a long walking trip by yourself, or take a sweatbath. This will inspire you for poetry. Sweatbaths, especially.

Gary Snyder, The Real Work

Written by nevalalee

March 28, 2011 at 8:39 am

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