Monday, January 17, 2011

Building rip rap


For Gary Snyder, rip rap is a cobble of stone laid on steep, / Slick rock to make a trail for horses / In the mountains.

It's also his first book of poetry, first published in 1959. To use its own line to describe it, it's like drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup / Looking down for miles / Through high still air.

If you are from sea-level, tidal country, rip rap's construction is similar, but the cobble of stone is to battle the river, arrest erosion, save the shoreline.

For a kid in a canoe, rip rap conjured up castles.

If they are available, rip rap might be made out of stones nearby. If there are none around, you bring them in.

The mind wanders. A million
Summers, night air still and the rocks
Warm. Sky over endless mountains.

What if we built a rip rap of lines and thoughts and verses, those we've found that hold meaning, interspersed with those we create, to shore up our minds and souls, to make a trail leading to...

All the junk that goes with being human
Drops away...

But what is it that falls away? What is it that goes with being human? The unsettled mind, maybe. The dwindling of the modern attention span. To be human is to oscillate like a fan.

A clear attentive mind
Has no meaning but that
Which sees is truly seen.

And that's what Snyder is to me. Clarity. Clean clear lines and thoughts. Drinking snow-water from a tin cup. Building a rip rap with our thoughts, re-imagining the word between mountains and shoreline.


* italics are Gary Snyder's words from Rip Rap.

3 comments:

41hebrewcat said...

Powerful stuff. I've been struggling for a week now with a post about words, and how words get in the way of themselves. Ironically, it's written in words.

When I was young, I wanted to write powerful words; I wanted to use common words to describe common things in ways the world have never seen before. W.S. Burroughs had this wonderfully sinister way with words. He could write about a red sailboat at sunset in the harbor, but the specific selection of the sharp shiny words he selected from his surgeon's tray made you feel that all was not well aboard that merry craft...

Kelly said...

god, o god. that's just what i was thinking: clarity. it just is what it is, rocks on a path. to be so vested in the real work--to be master! yowza all i had to do was read that

The mind wanders. A million
Summers, night air still and the rocks
Warm. Sky over endless mountains.


it's sooo clear he was student, he was engaged. i just read The Real Work essay again, and just the idea of knowing the origins of what you love. of truly studying them. he writes a few precise words and i am immediately seized: silence. i FEEL his clarity.

that zen thing~challenging. always, begin again~

how does he do it?!

Michael Valliant said...

TWM - "how words get in the way of themselves." I get that, man. Boy do I get that.

Kelly - Snyder is one of those cats, among only a handful maybe, who I can always turn to to clear my head, get me right, and maybe figure out what the hell I'm trying to say :)