Gary Snyder at City Lights Bookstore

Went last night with loved ones to the holy ground of City Lights Book Store to again see poet Gary Snyder. These days a giant of letters like Snyder usually has readings at libraries and University auditoriums. However yesterday as part of the 60th Anniversary of City Lights’ founding, he returned home to San Francisco to read his works in the funky little storefront so many people love. (“I first walked into this place in 1953” he said. “I’m surprised we are both still here.”)

The place was packed to the rafters with publishers, editors, aged members of the beat and hippie generations, college students and professors, poetry aficionados, bag ladies, street hustlers and millennial hipsters. A typical San Franciscan crowd. In the small main room of the store, bookshelves were pushed aside, some folding chairs set up and a barely working microphone was wired to a speaker in the alcove where people stood three deep for over an hour waiting to hear the evenings readings.

Snyder was wonderful. As always. Although he said “I have lived too long to remember much of my life” (he is 83) he spun wonderful tales of his journeys through the American West, India and Japan. He spoke movingly of his commitment to Buddhism. He recalled his early days in San Francisco and marveled at a City that could still sustain a literary community of poets and radicals…and still keep a small independent bookstore like City lights thriving after all the decades. “This place ” he said talking of San Francisco’s North Beach, “has a special cultural and spiritual presence.”

Then Snyder read poems from his collection “Mountains and Rivers Without End”. Afterward he took questions which ranged from his thoughts on Walt Whitman (“It all started with Whitman. He freed us to develop an American language for poetry”) to a wild eyed boy asking if Snyder had any metaphysical experiences in his travels throughout the far east (“Yes, but I won’t tell you about them. They are my secrets.”)

Afterwards he met with people and signed books. I was very happy to have a few moments with Snyder before he was enveloped by fans and well wishers. A magical evening.

~ Tony Head, Dec 5, 2013

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