Interview

The Post Natural World

An interview with Gary Snyder.

by John Felstiner
One of the original voices of the Beat Generation, Gary Snyder has been publishing poems for over 50 years. In addition to writing poems, Snyder has had a firm commitment to sustainability, a concern that is echoed in both his poems and essays. John Felstiner interviews.

John Felstiner: On the BART train this morning, someone said to me, “Ask Gary for one haiku I can take home with me.”

Gary Snyder: I don’t remember who wrote this one, but . . .

Walking on the roof of hell gazing at the flowers.


That haiku makes me think of William Carlos Williams’ challenge to poets toward the end of “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”:

          It is difficult
to get the news from poems
     yet men die miserably every day
          for lack
of what is found there.


Are haiku a concrete instance of us getting the environmental news from poetry?


More than any other literary tradition on earth, it has been the language of the natural world, and has had an enormously large readership for two and a half centuries. It is not a literary career; it’s an exercise in mind-focus that everyone shares. And they have not yet exhausted it; that is to say, there are major Japanese newspapers that still have a daily haiku page. Daily commentaries are provided by one or another of Japan’s most eminent haiku writers; they are sent in by the thousands, and the critics take one haiku and comment on it.


But given the “roof of hell” haiku you just recited, it seems that you don’t worry about the five-seven-five syllable count?

That’s for Japanese language. The ratio of morphemes to phonemes is different in English and in Japanese. I am in touch with the American haiku people and their magazines, like Modern Haiku. The position I take, and there’s several others who join me on this, is not to worry about syllable count. That’s a Japanese challenge, not an English language challenge.

I have vigorously declared when necessary that I am not a haiku poet, and that very few of my very short poems qualify as haiku. Haiku is a different aesthetic, which is very specialized. In the rest of the world, there are a number of short-poem traditions that are not necessarily haiku, but which are equally powerful and to the point.


Do you remember some moment in your recent or remote past when you got the connection between poetry and environmental consciousness, where you felt it as a kind of absolute truth?

I grew up with it. Beginning when I was four years old, five years old, in the countryside, in a wooded landscape north of Seattle, back in the days when kids weren’t programmed. We just ran loose around the family dairy farm and went through the gap in the fence and right back into the woods. I felt as welcome and as much at home in the forest, second-growth forest growing back, as I did anyplace else, and I was comforted by it. I was always easy being alone. And if I went with a friend, that was fine too.

So I grew up [with] a natural conviviality and sympathy and sense of belonging in the whole natural world. My parents were socialist-minded agnostics who did not subscribe to any Christian doctrine. My mother supported the idea that we should be aware and sympathetic to all of nature, and also taught that there was no transcendental deity that was set apart from the creation.


Was there any moment or moment within a particular poem when the nexus between poetry and environmental consciousness came home to you?

You know, it would have been first with Walt Whitman, although Whitman just embraces everything, so you get nature and everything else too. The next step for me was discovering the Birds, Beasts and Flowers collection of poems by D. H. Lawrence, which I stumbled onto, actually, looking for Lady Chatterley’s Lover when I was seventeen or sixteen at the Seattle Public Library. Of course they didn’t have the novel, but they did have Birds, Beasts and Flowers. That was a wonderful awakening to the fact that you can be absolutely straightforward and clear in taking nature as a subject.


How would one distinguish an environmental poem from what is sometimes called an ecological poem?

Look at the words. “Environment” means the surroundings. The surroundings can include an oil refinery, can include all of Los Angeles and the I-5 strip. That’s the environment too, whatever surrounds us.


So there’s an “us” in “environment.”

Everything surrounds everything else. Yes. What is “ecological”? Etymologically, the "household of nature" is what's being called up. “Ecological” refers to the systems of biological nature, which include energy, and mineral and chemical transformations and pathways. “The environment” is used more commonly to also include human and technological productions. And it’s not an absolute, hard and fast separation. . . .


Have you written poems that could be qualified as one way or the other, or as both together—environmental and ecological?

The best example of how you can cross the line is in this little book right here, Danger on Peaks.

“In the Santa Clarita Valley”: That is the first valley north of the San Fernando Valley on Interstate 5. There’s a little river there, and it has become almost entirely suburban development now. Here's the poem:
Like skinny wildweed flowers sticking up
hexagonal “Denny’s” sign
starry “Carl’s”
loopy “McDonald’s”
eight-petaled yellow “Shell”
blue-and-white “Mobil” with a big red “O”

growing in the asphalt riparian zone
by the soft roar of the flow
of Interstate 5.
This is playing with the possibility that we might look at the human, physical, made environment as if it were natural environment.


So we move from “Mobil” into a “riparian zone.”
Yeah.
And hear that word “flow” for the highway.

Right, it’s ironic. I comment when I read this in meetings, that this is to help prepare us for a postnatural age. For writing nature poems in a postnatural age.


What’s always struck me is how your poems move through time and space—say, for example, in Riprap. First, it’s about being at a mountain lookout in ’52 and ’53; then, before we know it, without your giving us any warning, we’re in Kyoto, Japan. What makes this seamless movement? What’s happening as you pass between wild America and Japanese culture?

Well, it’s also wild Japan, too. The third step is when I left Japan for a while on my seaman’s papers. I shipped out from the Yokohama harbor and sailed in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean on several trips. Ah, so that also is just flowing right through it too.

Asia is far, far west. You have to understand that we are in the eastern Pacific. East and west no longer mean what they meant for the rest of the Occidental world. How does one get from the West Coast to Asia? Well, if you’re a working person and you have seamen’s papers, you sign on to a job and work your way somewhere. I did that back and forth across the Pacific Ocean as a working seaman two times. I had my little handbooks of ocean weather and birds and ocean fish, and I could keep track of where I was that way.


In this society we are burdened by the Abrahamic tradition—God’s giving us dominion over earth and its creatures. The Hebrew word for “dominion” even means “tyrant.” But I find other things, in Genesis plus Job and Psalms, which do speak to us. That great litany of wild nature that God challenges Job with, and the Psalms’ rolling praise of earth’s plenty.

Yes, it’s the Abraham story in Genesis, where everything is framed in terms of the poisonous covenant that grants that occupied country to Abraham and his followers, namely Canaan, the Promised Land. The Promised Land is a toxic image that the Occidental world has used as an excuse for going on to the next conquest ever since. And you know, the final poor end result of that is that California was called the Promised Land up to a few years ago.

Yet also, there’s a lot of good common sense in the Torah. It is Neolithic. It has nothing to do with Yahweh. It’s in the empirical and commonsense tradition of agrarian subsistence cultures.


So many of us find ourselves preaching to the converted 99 percent of the time. Is poetry, your poetry, getting out to the common reader, people who don’t know the terms “reinhabitation” and “bioregion”?

Well, I write prose as well as poetry. I never use the word “reinhabitation” or “bioregion” in poetry. [Laughter] So, I mean, I see my prose as serving one function, and my poetry is another. It’s true I’ve written a number of poems that are very, very accessible, and I’m happy to do that. And some of them come out of the world of work and daily life in such a way that people can read them with no difficulty.


Any other such poems in Danger on Peaks?

Yes, it’s almost all accessible, but it has a few little tricks and twists and turns in it, too. Which is part of the fun of being a writer. And it can be said that if you’re a literate person and you’re writing a book, you are already addressing the choir. The literate, reading population is the choir in that sense. I also like to think about the pre-literate oral tradition, and how it was performed for people who don’t necessarily read and write at all.


I have a memory of your reading at the ASLE [Association for the Study of Literature and Environment] conference a little over a year ago.

In Eugene?


In Eugene, right. I took some notes about your way of presenting poems. This is from my June 2005 notebooks:
moving from a deep voice to a tenor, varying speed, volume, tone, intensity, emphasis, with sudden enunciations, hands gesturing, fingers pointing, often with a comical shrug, facial turns and shakes and glances.
When you’re writing a poem, in your inner ear, do you already sense any of this activity?


I do indeed. And I really believe in the performance of poems; I believe poetry is an oral art, fundamentally. I hear a lot in my inner ear, of course, especially having done it for so many years, but then I finally learn more when I start performing a poem in public. That’s the last lesson.

You move through the gestures as you read the poem. There’s something physical in language. The gestures (in some languages more than others) go along with speech.


How do poems come to you?

You know, the writing is secondary. I often compose the better part of a poem in my mind before I ever write it down.


You compose when you’re walking outdoors?

Ah, sometimes, walking around doing physical work. Oh yeah, I’m doing work all the time. I compose while I’m working. When I was working on ships, I did a lot of menial chipping paint down in the hull and repainting down inside the lowest levels. And I wrote little poems in my pocket spiral notebook.


What are you working on now?

My publisher is going to bring out two previously published books of mine that never been very available; one is He Who Hunted Birds in His Father's Village, which is the retelling and analysis of a traditional Haida Indian story. This was my undergraduate thesis at Reed College, which was published as a book in 1959. A lot more work has been done on Haida oral literature since that time, particularly by Robert Bringhurst, who is a kind of classical linguistic thinker and poet, a Canadian, who lives in British Columbia. He has written a three-volume work on Haida oral literature. The story that my thesis is about is a version of the Swan Maiden Tale, which is found worldwide.

Then we’re bringing out a new edition of my little Grey Fox Press book called Passage through India, an account of the six months’ travel in India that I did in the early ’60s with Joanne Kyger, Peter Orlovsky, and Allen Ginsberg.

And now I have a book of prose essays just out, called Back on the Fire.


That’s an ambiguous but exciting title!

In terms of forest management and marshland management, it means to be a partner with fire and not treat it as an enemy.


We were speaking of Williams’ “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” In 1950 or so he took his Western tour, and he came to Reed, where you were with your poet friends. Is there anything specific you remember about that event?

There were several young people other than myself who were all writing poetry at that time, including Philip Whalen, William Dickey, Lew Welch, and several others. We did not have a formal poetry program yet at Reed, but we had Professor Lloyd Reynolds, who also was our calligraphy teacher. He was a kind of an expert on William Blake too, and had a print shop up on the top floor of one of the buildings where he taught people how to set type. He actually hosted Williams, who stayed at his house.

We all had one-on-one meetings with Bill Williams where he read our poems and gave us some little comments, said it was okay, made some points in regard to a couple of individual lines. And then there was a kind of a colloquium with a larger number of students in one of the meeting rooms. What stayed with me was how he said ultimately the poet, the artist, brings to society and to the world "conviviality.” That surprised me and stayed with me: conviviality.

He said art is about conviviality. I saw instantly that this goes past the idea of the solitary, romantic, lonely artist suffering for his art, which I never trusted. And the acknowledgment that artists have a role in society, which is to contribute to the community — to the heart of the community.

To take Williams’ statement that people “die for lack of what is found there,” I think this means lack of open-heartedness, lack of sweetness and tenderness to each other. But then a little later I saw that meaning also as ecological, that openness not just for the human community but for the natural community; it’s for our immediate neighborhood of all the other species, all of us passing through time. I get angered when the bears eat my apples right off the tree. But I can say well, okay, they got to them first; they must have enjoyed them.

Illustration by Marianne Goldin.
Originally Published: March 9, 2007

COMMENTS (30)

On March 14, 2007 at 10:41am charles waite nauman wrote:
thanks for introducing me to "conviviality" as a poet's responsibility

On March 17, 2007 at 11:32pm Pearl wrote:
"Yes, it’s the Abraham story in Genesis, where everything is framed in terms of the poisonous covenant that grants that occupied country to Abraham and his followers, namely Canaan, the Promised Land. The Promised Land is a toxic image that the Occidental world has used as an excuse for going on to the next conquest ever since."

Ah, if only the Occidental world had instead followed the tradition of the Egyptian empire of the ancient world, the pagan Roman empire, the Japanese imperialists, the Ottoman empire -- so many other examples to follow, east and more ancient and less ancient than Abraham. Alas, imperialism began with the Torah, which we carry with us today, and so lies our burden.

On March 18, 2007 at 11:04pm Anne McCrady wrote:
A true naturalist and gifted writer, Gary Snyder continues to remind us that poetry should open us out to our environment, whatever that is, and that we need poetry's tenderness and sweetness as we try to keep open hearts in a sometimes bitter world. His books are dog-eared and loveworn on my bookshelf.

On April 1, 2007 at 7:19pm Donald Masterson wrote:
thanks for the interview with Gary Snyder. A friend and I are currently teaching a course in the Beat writers and we are working with GS's poetry. As an assignment we have sent our students on a "meditative walk" on rural trails near our campus in Oswego, NY. Of course we should have thought of having them write a haiku on their walk, but now we will.

Our best,

Don Masterson & Kurt Phaneuf

On April 18, 2007 at 8:53pm Sylvie wrote:
One of the most amazing poetry readings I have ever had the privelage to witness took place deep in the Sierras one summer night in 2000, when Gary Snyder read under a backdrop of stars and trees. He has an amazing, inspiring spirit.

I may be biased because he was one of the founders of my major, Nature and Culture at UC Davis, but I really like reading his work. It just makes me happy.

On April 23, 2008 at 7:25pm tritran wrote:
What life would be like,

If haiku does not shine...

What is there to show?

On April 23, 2008 at 7:28pm tri tran wrote:
The sun has stopped to shine,

But the hue of the lilies blazes;

On May 5, 2008 at 8:04pm tri tran wrote:
her hair

I love her shoulder length hair,

Wavy and dishivered;

Mahogany shine,

Lights up the nights.

Each strand flutters in the air,

When the eastern wind blows.

Gleams under sunshine,

Glows in youthful joy,

Under the moonlit skies.

I love her hair, tickling my face,

When I am soundly asleep

On May 7, 2008 at 5:39pm tri n tran wrote:
My dreams meander into the vortex of exotic fruits,

Sipping wild nectar from the blue berries.

Each drop bitter like medications, dry like rice,

Hard to swallow, they feels their appetite evaporate into space.

My dreams sing to the silent fields,

Where riped cherries blossom and dangle.

Glisten crimson on the skins, scintilating like stars,

They pick to taste the sweetness of the fruits.

On May 22, 2008 at 6:25pm tri tran wrote:
ME, THE LAME DUCK

Run and trip,

Oh my hip!

What a pain,

In the rain!

Run and trip.

Like lame ducks,

Oh it sucks!

In the rain,

What a pain!

Like lame ducks.

My hip’s hurt,

On the dirt;

I complain,

Oh my pain!

My hip’s hurt.

On June 24, 2008 at 3:43pm tri tran wrote:
My skies

Beautiful skies, a distant mile,

So near to reach, yet too far to touch.

Azure gleams, gleam and gleam,

Beautiful skies, my home, my home.

Birds visit it everyday, day, day,

Firefires dance all night long, long, long;

Beautiful skies, a distant mile,

Shine till I say goodbye to rest.

Young skies, yet to turn black,

A gown for the old, old, old souls to wear;

Beautiful azure in my dream,

Forever, illuminate my night world.

On August 4, 2008 at 2:34am Gary wrote:
Carousing in the Wilderness

Smelling like grasshoppers on the beach

Cooked into thin soup

my lint laden pits

and crotch itch terribly

Then fat Japanese mute

bull nostrils stuffed with pine sap

barrels blunders over granite

and gullies, to sniff my mange

and twirl this old gray tail

busting out of zen pants soaked

with waterfalls of piss

Stinky Pants

On August 4, 2008 at 2:50am Gary Snyder wrote:
Bbblllllllaaaaaat! That’s the sound of the Japanese with their pants down mornings in their gardens, making fertilizer. The ratio of richness of the soil is different with the English the Japanese. I am in touch with the necessity of using raw sewage for the improvement of the planet The position I take is a modified squat, and there’s several others who join me on this, but all are assured not to worry about feces count. The point is, lay one in the garden. That’s a Japanese challenge, but it can become an English language challenge. They do it in Korea too.

I have vigorously declared when necessary that I am not a poet, and that my poems about pissing like a waterfall is not Haiku, but a true story. Morphine is a different anesthetic, which is very specialized. When you place a bit around the rectal cavity, it removes any pain experienced from supplementing the fertility of the garden, the woods, the wilderness. In the rest of the world, there are a number of defecation traditions that are not necessarily haiku, those little black things that drop like currents into your socks if you're not careful, but which instead are powerful, reeking foot-long Zen wonders. All I can tell you is, eat your Arugula, brown rice and Wheaties with plenty of water. If you have to, stuff your nostrils with pine sap.

Love to all who, like bears, fertilize the earth.

Gary

On October 10, 2008 at 9:28am isabel guzman wrote:
this are all really good keep writing

On January 19, 2009 at 2:22am tri tran(poetri) wrote:
PARIS,EARLY EVENIING

Paris beckons the tourists.

Aromas of croissants and pate chaud;

Cafe au lait and grenadine.

Champ Elisee, a sea of human beings.

The Effel tower stands tall,

Watching the activities of les Parisians.

Strollers rest their tired feet,

Inhaling the succulent breaths of autumn winds

And discussing the Champion League matches.

The evening scintillates in joy

As she drifts into the sunset hour,

Yearning to sniff the last amber ray of the sun.

On January 28, 2009 at 5:19pm tri tran(poetri) wrote:
REMINISCING YESTERYEARS

Nostalgia within my soul,

Tears upon my scarlet soil;

I, a schoolar boy,

Lost in this labyrinth of woes,

Yearning to escape.

I see my joy fly away,

I feel the winds melt,

I scent the foul odor of muds,

I taste bitter pain in my heart,

And hear the sad cry of my corpuscles.

I sail away from my homeland,

Blowing the fnal kiss to my people.

Morning, covers its pretty facade,

And homesickness eclipses the bright sun.

Goodbye Vietnam-- good bye!

On February 6, 2009 at 12:55am TRI TRAN wrote:
MORNINGS AND NIGHTS

Mornings

Are not morning

Till

Sunrise,

Till

The birds sing

And,

Till I wake up;

Nights

Are not nights

Till

The lights are on,

And

I can't see my way .

On March 20, 2012 at 5:25pm Leslie Kitchen wrote:
This topic caught my attention because I knew I would find a symbolic message in the article. I also knew that I would learn some new information. I am addressing my comment to the writer because I think he did a terrific job interviewing Gary Snyder. The questions you asked when you interviewed the poet were interesting questions. I wonder what made you think of these questions because they were so perfect. When I read this article I was able to put the missing pieces in the puzzle about the significance of poetry. I learned that the natural environment is an important aspect when writing poetry. It came to my attention that humans are poetry. I love the statement “it is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably everyday/lack/of what is found there” because it so convincing. I think you did a wonderful job on the questions you’ve asked Gary because many people worldwide would love to have the answers to those questions.

On March 20, 2012 at 5:49pm Leslie Kitchen wrote:
This topic caught my attention because I knew I would find a symbolic message in the article. I also knew that I would learn some new information. I am addressing my comment to the writer because I think he did a terrific job interviewing Gary Snyder. The questions you asked when you interviewed the poet were interesting questions. I wonder what made you think of these questions because they were so perfect. When I read this article I was able to put the missing pieces in the puzzle about the significance of poetry. I learned that the natural environment is an important aspect when writing poetry. It came to my attention that humans are poetry. I love the statement “it is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably everyday/lack/of what is found there” because it so convincing. I think you did a wonderful job on the questions you’ve asked Gary because many people worldwide would love to have the answers to those questions.

On October 17, 2012 at 10:02am Stephany Hall wrote:
Wow what a great interview. John did an amazing job with the questions he put together for Snyder. Snyder gave great feed back to the questions he was asked. I actually had a moment where I felt like I was sitting in that room with the both of them as the interview was being conducted. I love how he explained that the style of Haiku as far as the syllable count is more of a Japanese style than it is an American. He stated that there are numerous short traditional poems that are not Haiku but they are equally powerful and to the point. Another answer that really grasped my attention was how he broke down the difference between environment and ecological meaning. He stated that when poems are written and depicted as ecological or environment writing, that when you think of the environment you think about your surroundings, and the environment is your surroundings just like ecological. They both are a part of nature. Nature offer's so many beautiful things that you can write about. Whether it’s about the trees, the birds, the pollution in the air, to fire, and the wood's, these are all things that can be classified through ecological and the environment. As a person that love's to read and write and my spare time, I am definitely going to read more of Snyder's work because I felt a connection to him through this interview.

On October 23, 2012 at 2:42am Anthony Reynozo wrote:
I am not much of a poet but when reading this article Gary Snyder strong minded poet from what I see. In the interview he seemed like he was on top of every question and felt real strong about his responses. To John Felstiner I believe you asked very good important questions that caught reader’s attentions.

On March 18, 2013 at 5:26pm Tiffany Hammond wrote:
Gary Snyder is a great poet. He is gifted and passionate
writer. This interview was very interesting and
informative to me since I know little about him. I like
he talks about the important of the environment in
poetry. He develops his love for nature at a young age.
I found at intriguing that he does not consider himself
as a haiku poet since many qualified some of his work as
haiku but they are not and that they were equally
powerful and to the point. Also, he does not worry about
the syllable count that it is a Japanese language
challenge not as English language challenge. In
addition he introduces me to conviviality and it
important to writer and poet.

On March 18, 2013 at 11:54pm Krystaly I. Ruiz wrote:
The interview was well executed. The questions asked
were perfect and even more so the answer given. Gary
Snyder seems like a very intelligent, educated poet. He
writes from the point of view of nature. Everything is
answered in a poetic tone, at least to me. I like when
he talks about being a child back in the day is way
different from being a child now a days. Back then
running into the forests through a broken plank in the
fence was an amazing adventure, and that if a friend
accompanied him it was even better. Adventure written in
words tht flow off the page.

On March 19, 2013 at 12:15am Krystaly I. Ruiz wrote:
The interview was well executed. The questions asked
were perfect and even more so the answer given. Gary
Snyder seems like a very intelligent, educated poet. He
writes from the point of view of nature. Everything is
answered in a poetic tone, at least to me. I like when
he talks about being a child back in the day is way
different from being a child now a days. Back then
running into the forests through a broken plank in the
fence was an amazing adventure, and that if a friend
accompanied him it was even better. Adventure written in
words that flow off the page.

On March 20, 2013 at 4:17pm Max P wrote:
Snyder's explanation of the term environment as all of
that which surrounds us, including that of our own
doing, shows the observable progression of the
relationship between poetry and nature. The dramatic
changes in our surroundings, brought about by the
revolutions of the industrial era and continuing through
the modern one, have altered our perception of nature in
a peculiar way: Where we once saw beauty and power, we
now see a decaying afterthought; a ghost of what once
was. Whats worse is the psychological effects of
realizing that it is our own fault. Poetry seems to have
a powerful effect on how we understand nature and our
connection to it. You cannot help but feel the irony of
Snyder's poem which uses distinctly natural language to
describe the modern environment, filled with concrete
and infinitely repeating neon signs. The sadness of the
whole thing is heightened as one imagines a future where
the irony of such descriptions is removed and becomes
commonplace. Perhaps poetry like Snyder's will help to
elevate the global awareness by articulating exactly
what we have lost.

On October 30, 2013 at 10:54am Collin C. wrote:
It’s important to be in tune with nature. Nature is home to everything
living, to all energy, and the swelling of ideas. Whether it’s natural or
man-made, that which surrounds us deserves to be embraced. Poetry
is the way of connecting and sharing our environment with each other.
As I have learned through Gary what he learned through Bill Williams,
“Art is about conviviality.” Our world is constantly evolving, being
transformed and created by all of life. Art is our common ground, the
act of creation. To not embrace it with a friendly manner is to not be
welcomed into the hearts of the rest of the world.

On October 30, 2013 at 12:52pm Diana Guerrero wrote:
I have never heard of Gary Snyder before today and maybe never will again, but from this interview I conclude him to be a stellar poet. Before taking a poetry class I had never read or understood the meaning of poetry. I thought a poet must have brilliant ideas to make us perplexed as to what we are actually reading. Although I still find poems that are this way(this may just be lack of practice), I am now finding that poems are not about non- relative subjects. The greatest poems I’ve read are those than involve your everyday objects, thoughts and feeling. The ones that make you think of a tree in a way that you never thought could happen. Snyder talks about the environmental poems, he says that they are about everything that surrounds us, isn’t that an answer? When everything that surrounds us is life? The life in a doe is the same as a life in a tulip and both are miraculous. Reading this article has convinced me think that maybe I could be a poet and merely translate what my eyes see from my surroundings, because surely it can only be an extraordinary thing.

On March 19, 2014 at 12:44pm Helen D wrote:
I enjoyed reading the interview by John Felstiner of Gary Snyder, “The Post Natural World.” While the entire interview was enlightening, especially Snyder’s discussion of his writing process, I found his approach to adapting haiku, a Japanese form, to his native language, English, very interesting. In response to a question about the reason he doesn’t feel circumscribed by the five-seven-five syllable convention of traditional Japanese haiku, Snyder notes the difference in the ratio of morphemes and phonemes in the Japanese and English. Additionally, he also infers that Japanese culture is interested in the syllable count, whereas he is not. He wants his poetry to be “powerful and to the point.”

Ultimately, he disavows the label of haiku for his poems, backing away from his earlier comments. Yet, that which is most compelling to me is the recognition that traditional form can and should be adapted to the native language and culture of the poet and audience – the environment. Further, it seems that one can do the aforementioned and still remain true to the intent of the form (I have often found this to be the case with sonnet as well; there are many a poem in 15 to 17 lines with argument/resolution and regular meter and rhyme that seem to be a form of sonnet, yet are not considered such because of the line count and the conventions of Petrarch, Spenser or Shakespeare).

Snyder makes other good points in the interview, i.e., the connection between poetry and the environmental consciousness; haiku, Williams and Whitman; and, notably, his reminder that “we” are included in conversations about the environment, that the “environment” can as easily by a field of flowers as a city block.

On March 19, 2014 at 11:45pm Corey Ray wrote:
I believe this to be a very interesting interview. I really like haiku poems anyway, I love how short they are and how they're like many metaphors. The reason I like haiku poems is because I myself love to create a good short poem and tend to almost always capture a certain image or feeling. I don't really go for the environmental but more so to the experiential side and beauty as well. I also admire a poet who makes sure his work for the most part isn't out there and its easy to break down. In any great poet I think a defining characteristic of theirs within their work and that is definitely seen within the work of John's.

On March 19, 2014 at 11:58pm Corey Ray wrote:
First and foremost, who doesn't love a good haiku?! I feel like I've loved these poems so much over the years because of their length but as I grew up, I learned to appreciate the meaning in them. I don't know how right I would be in the world of poetry but I see them as little metaphors through poetic glasses. I feel like a haiku poem is a great way to expand your creativity as a writer-given you write a poem and have to get your point across as quickly as possible. When writing haiku poems of my own I tend to focus on the beauty of an object or an experiential one. I'd also like to go on and state that I love how easily the poets work is to read and actually understand and think it'd ironic he writes haiku poems- although I'm not sure if they're meant to be metaphorical all the time

POST A COMMENT

Poetryfoundation.org welcomes comments that foster dialogue and cultivate an open community on the site. Comments on articles must be approved by the site moderators before they appear on the site. By submitting a comment, you give the Poetry Foundation the right to publish it. Please note: We require comments to include a name and e-mail address. Read more about our privacy policy.

Related

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.