Gary Snyder On Doing The Work You See For Yourself, ‘Mind Like Compost’

In a packed-full-of-revelations 1992 interview, the great poet Gary Snyder described how one of his lesser talents is that he is a good administrator. He resists being drawn into straightening things out —administrating — which hijacks time and energy he needs to use for work he sees for himself.

When asked whether he’d work as Secretary of the Interior or other political post, he answered:

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.

It is a principle that can clarify the path.

It’s got us thinking about the “lesser talents” we let bump aside what we really feel called to do. Because you have them doesn’t mean you have to use them.

The guy’s a serious wise man, in an unassuming, never preaching, stripped-down Buddhist sort of way. Our copy of The Gary Snyder Reader: Prose, Poetry, and Translations is leafed with markers on passages we return to often, always finding something that changes our view, TEACHES US.

Sally Schneider

He knows a lot about the creative process. His poem On Top resonates perfectly with his smart advice about lesser talents.

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.

 

 

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