By Matthias Petry
About 50 people joined a discussion panel with Utah's poet laureate Ken Brewer as a moderator and Gary Snyder in the Tippetts Gallery.
Main topic was, of course, Gary Snyder's poetic work and even more his strong environmental commitment.
The career of 73-year-old Snyder has always been marked not only by his great abilities as a writer and poet, but also by his love and respect for nature.
His other great field of interest is Asian cultures. After college he studied Oriental languages at Berkeley, spent 12 years in Japan where he later studied Zen Buddhism and also traveled throughout Asia, including India, where he met the Dalai Lama in 1962. Over the years he has won numerous prizes such as the Pulitzer Price in 1975 for Turtle Island and the American Book Award in 1983 for Axe Handles.
First Snyder talked about his home in Northeastern California and the founding of the Yuba Watershed Institute, a bioregional organization in the Sierra Nevada devoted to the Yuba River Community.
He was aware of how hard it is to motivate the people in Utah for environmental issues nowadays, yet he believes it can be done. Brewer added that "nature writers are very nice people and very non-confrontial, but we need to be a little louder."
They both agreed that art usually always plays an important role in social change: "Art is under the radar, art sneaks by, arts gets under your skin before you know it. that's the way that social an cultural change has always happened," Snyder said.
Referring to poetry and writing in particular, he said: "If you want to get your point across, then you write prose. And it's a good idea if you write prose that you back up your prose with a little bit of underground-walk-the-talk action.
An issue the audience was also very interested in the confrontation he mentioned between philosophies and religions. "There are some philosophies and religions that see nature as field that humanity has no moral or ethical obligation to a . . . as against the position that the non-human world, the natural world is a moral institute in its own right," he said.
However, he warned that one should not judge too quickly and that this confrontation does not necessarily mean a confrontation between eastern and western philosophies and religions. "It's not like one is east-Asian and spiritual and the other one materialistic," he said.
Later the discussion focused more on his work as a writer.
Asked about must-read-pieces literature his point was very simple: "The classics, do not neglect the classics," he said.
Brewer added that your current situation in life is usually decisive whether or not a book becomes important and something special to you.
Finally Snyder said that "your study and practice and knowledge of this artistic form, of the history of language and poetry can make you feel more secure in the craftsmanship." However, in the end, "poems come to you," he said.