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Poet of 'Beat' fame to tackle environmental issues

Gary Snyder, whose influence on American literature dates to the 1950s, will give a reading and answer questions Oct. 20, 2018, at the Anderson Center. Submitted

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, who is considered "one of the giants of American literature and life," will present a public program at 7 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Anderson Center. James Lenfestey of Minneapolis, who is a poet, an environmental writer and a former editorial writer for the Star Tribune, was instrumental in bringing Snyder to Minnesota for events at Macalester College and to Red Wing for a rare public reading.

The two poets/environmental activists have known each other since the late 1960s, when Lenfestey, a young professor at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, invited Snyder to campus at the urging of his students.

"He already was one of the great poets of the age," Lenfestey said.

Snyder's poetry career began in the 1950s. The California native was associated with the Beat Generation and the San Francisco Renaissance. A part of the community of writers that included Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, Snyder was present when Ginsberg and the Beat poets of San Francisco read Ginsberg's poem "Howl" in October 1955. According to a Poetry Foundation article on Snyder, "Kerouac modeled his character Japhy Ryder in 'The Dharma Bums' on Snyder."

"His first book, 'Riprap,' published in 1959, is considered a classic in American poetry and his 1990 collection of essays, 'Practice of the Wild,' is one of the most influential books about the environment in the last 50 years," Anderson Center Director Stephanie Rogers said.

Snyder won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1975 for his best-seller, "Turtle Island," and has since then won virtually every major poetry award in the United States, from the American Book Award to the Bollingen Prize, the John Hay Award for Nature Writing, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize and both the Shelly and Robert Kirsch awards for lifetime achievement.

"Gary Snyder is a giant in the fields of poetry and the environmental movement," Rogers said. "It is an honor to have him read at the Anderson Center."

His work reflects an immersion in both Buddhist spirituality and nature, according to his biography. Snyder has translated literature into English from ancient Chinese and modern Japanese. That attraction to the Asian thought and way of living led Lenfestey to describe him as "the embodiment of the classical Chinese poet scholar." In addition to the Orient, the Poetry Foundation said, Snyder also has "looked to the beliefs of the American Indians for positive responses to the world."

"He was a harbinger of new understanding about how one might live one's life on this earth, this land. It turns out he was prescient, especially about the environment," Lenfestey said.

In his own words, Snyder wrote, "As a poet, I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the late Paleolithic: the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the love and ecstasy of the dance, and the common work of the tribes."

His Oct. 17 presentation at Macalester is titled "Minding the Wild." In an interview with Snyder after the poet reads some of his work, Lenfestey anticipates asking Snyder what he means by "Minding the Wild."

He may also ask about Snyder's life as a "mountain man" in his travels and his longtime home in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in northern California. "I am eager to show him a different kind of landscape in the Midwest," Lenfestey said. "Gary is very interested in ecosystems and how they work," so he will introduce Snyder to the Mississippi River, Red Wing, the historic Anderson Center and its restored barn, and perhaps Barn Bluff.

Tickets for the Snyder reading are $10 general admission, $5 students, free to Anderson Center members. Book sales and signings will follow the reading and interview. For reservations contact the center at 651-388-2009.