Oct. 20, 2008: MU CH’I’S PERSIMMONS (Gary Snyder)

Hey folks, sorry for the missed week.

Couple things to report on.

1. Our resident Old and Middle English scholar reports:

“…read the comments you made on a poem by somebody i’ve never heard of from about 3 weeks ago, but i just wanted to be a persnickety medievalist and correct you on one tiny thing: you wrote that the ‘ubi sunt’ theme in poetry goes back to middle english…it actually goes back, within the english tradition, to OLD english. and, frankly, i have to say that i’m not sure anybody’s ever bested those anglo-saxon poets who spent most of their time writing poetry about wandering around by yourself outside in *really* bad weather with no hope of going back to civilization ever.”

Thanks for keeping us on our toes, LB! (ejemplos, por favor?)

2. Someone recently told me that a MV reader whom I don’t see often says, Well, you know, I still read the poems every week, but sometimes… I just really don’t understand them! Today’s poet will have something to say on that, see below.

3. We’re still running wrong answer poets, but I couldn’t find anything by wrong answer Neal Cassady aka Dean Moriarity. Bro never published anything in his life, really wasn’t a poet (more of a muse in fact–for Ginsberg and Kerouac particularly, and later a fellow-traveller of Ken Kesey), and the only thing that’s available by him nowadays is letters and such. So I’m pulling a high-handed, unilateral replacement, and running one by Gary Snyder.

Gary Snyder (b. 1930) isn’t really a beat poet, either, though he’s usually called one. He says that he shared a time with them, and was obviously friends with them (the Japhy Ryder of Kerouac’s Dharma Bums is a not-really-very-thinly-disguised portrait of him):

“I’m a historical part of that circle of friends, and I was part of the early sociological and cultural effect of it. My work did not fit with the critics’ and the media’s idea of Beat writing, ever.”

We could say what his writing is a part of, but space is limited, and maybe someone else can chime in here. More important for our purposes is the following statement he recently made to a reporter:

“When people tell me they don’t understand a poem, I say, ‘Fine, just listen to it. The exposure to it is part of its power. Don’t vex yourself with an intellectual understanding of it.’ We don’t expect to understand graphic art that way.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. So I mean it when I say, “enjoy.”


There is no remedy for satisfying hunger other than a painted rice cake.

Dgen, November, 1242.

On a back wall down the hall

lit by a side glass door

is the scroll of Mu Ch’i’s great

sumi painting, “Persimmons”

The wind-weights hanging from the

axles hold it still.

The best in the world, I say,

of persimmons.

Perfect statement of emptiness

no other than form

the twig and the stalk still on,

the way they sell them in the

market even now.

The original’s in Kyoto at a

lovely Rinzai temple where they

show it once a year

this one’s a perfect copy from Benrido

I chose the mounting elements myself

with the advice of the mounter

I hang it every fall.

And now, to these overripe persimmons

from Mike and Barbara’s orchard.

Napkin in hand,

I bend over the sink

suck the sweet orange goop

that’s how I like it

gripping a little twig

those painted persimmons

sure cure hunger



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