Here in the Mind: Daisy Zamora and Gary Snyder

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In this series, Bill Moyers interviews 18 poets in front of a live audience at the fifth annual Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Waterloo, New Jersey. This episode features interviews with Daisy Zamora and Gary Snyder.

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BILL MOYERS: They are here to celebrate life.

They have come to celebrate language.

Poetry readings are flourishing across America in many different places, in wondrous variety.

Nowhere is the renaissance of poetry more vivid than in the historic village of Waterloo, New Jersey. Every two years thousands of people gather to hear some of the world’s best poets at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

In this hour, we will hear from the noted Nicaraguan poet, Daisy Zamora. We will also hear from Pulitzer Prize-winner Gary Snyder, joined by the Paul Winter Consort.


BILL MOYERS: Daisy Zamora and Gary Snyder. Theirs is the language of life.


GARY SNYDER: The bony cows of Baja, body of grass, brush, grouse. Dried meat. Charky. Jerky. Little church up the arroyo, leathery, skinny, twisted, ropy, Christ figure, racked to dry. (Foreign Language), good years and bad. With this meat, I thee wed.

GARY SNYDER: Poems for me always begin with images and rhythms. Shapes, feelings, forms, dances in the back of my mind. Much of the poem is already dancing itself out before I begin to look around for words for it.

GARY SNYDER: In the Thyssen Gallery in Madrid, there’s a painting by Simon Vouet, “The Rape of Europa”, from about 1640. The white bull is resting on the ground, the woman sweetly on his back. A cheerful scene. Two serving women, three cherubs, stand by, to help this naked lady and the handsome, eager bull, his big eyes looking up and back, flowers twined around his horns. The beginnings of modern Europe?

GARY SNYDER: Language for me comes after imagination. Imagination is pre-linguistic, pre-verbal. When you roam around in the spaces of your mind, you’re not forming sentences and … and reeling out vocabulary. You’re just looking, you’re looking at the landscape of your mind and you’re solving problems looking for your, how do you, how do you know where your socks are, in your drawer? You don’t make a sentence about, my socks are in the corner of my drawer. You, in, in your mind, you pull the drawer out, look around, you see all the socks are kept here. That’s how we get dressed in the morning. (Laughs)

BILL MOYERS: Is that how you write poetry?

GARY SNYDER: Yes. (Laughs)

BILL MOYERS: Rummaging in the socks? (Laughs)

GARY SNYDER: Rummaging around in the various places in my mind, and looking at what’s there.

BILL MOYERS: Here’s one of your little ones that I liked, it just explains what you were just talking about. Read that to me.

GARY SNYDER: Oh, all right. “How poetry comes to me,” yeah. “It comes blundering over the boulders at night, it stays, frightened, outside the range of my campfire. I go to meet it at the edge of the light.”

BILL MOYERS: You go to meet what at the edge of the light?

GARY SNYDER: I go to meet that blundering, clumsy, beautiful, shy world of poetic archetypal, wild intuition, that’s not going to come out into the broad day light of rational mind, but wants to peek in. (Laughs)

BILL MOYERS: Poetry like a wild animal.



BILL MOYERS: Gary Snyder has been writing poetry for over 40 years, and in 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize. He was one of the leaders of the Beat Generation, which revitalized American poetry. And today he is often asked to reminisce with his friendship with Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and others.

MIKE: And what was Kerouac really like?

GARY SNYDER: He was a – a complicated, stubborn guy.

MIKE: Did he have a sense of humor?

GARY SNYDER: Yeah. He had a sense of humor, and he also was serious, he had a deep sense of seriousness. He was a Catholic boy. What’s your name?

MIKE: Mike.

BILL MOYERS: It was 40 years ago, you and Allen Ginsberg, among others, were responsible for bringing poetry readings back into the American landscape.

GARY SNYDER: I guess it was bringing it back.


GARY SNYDER: Certainly for millennia, the oral tradition was the way poetry was shared around the world.

BILL MOYERS: In Chautauqua and other places like that.

GARY SNYDER: Yeah. But it’s true, poetry readings were not a very large part of the American cultural landscape, and you’re referring, of course, to some of those readings we gave in the Fall of ’55 in San Francisco …


GARY SNYDER: … where Allen and I and others first read our works. Literally, no kidding, Bill, from the night of the Sixth Gallery reading, on October of 1955, from that night on, there was not a night that there was not a poetry reading in the Bay Area. It just, (snaps fingers), started like that.

GARY SNYDER: It was a galvanizing event for all of us. It was still what you might call a literary event, but the social and political agenda that lurked behind that was dissent. Dissent against the America of the ’50s, and in my own poetry, it was already present, dissent against American attitudes towards nature and the environment. Since we’ve been talking this social and cultural history, I’m going to read a poem from the year 1955, called “Hay for the Horses”.

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the
sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
—The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds—
“I’m sixty-eight” he said,
“I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that’s just what
I’ve gone and done.”

BILL MOYERS: (Laughs) I can see so many heads nodding. Me too, Snyder …


BILL MOYERS: … me too. (Laughs)

GARY SNYDER: Well, I hope they all have a glint of humor in their eye, like that guy did. ‘Cause he wasn’t whining. (Laughs)

BILL MOYERS: Oh, no. In fact, the opening of that poem, where it says, he drove all night.


BILL MOYERS: To get there. Half the night.

GARY SNYDER: Half the night.

BILL MOYERS: To get there.

GARY SNYDER: Half the night, yeah.

BILL MOYERS: He was determined to do his job.

GARY SNYDER: He had to get there early, so we could get it all unloaded, so he could get back by nightfall.



BILL MOYERS: You talk about work a lot in your poems, and that moves me to one of my favorites, “I Went Into the Maverick Bar”. Now, what’s the story behind that one?

GARY SNYDER: We had to pass through Farmington, which, as they say in New Mexico, is not a New Mexican town, it’s a Texan town. It’s full of Texan coal, coal and oil people and considered, at that time, a pretty heavy town to go through. So we went through it and not only did we go through it, we stopped at a bar, (Laughs), which must be a mistake. So, afterwards I wrote this poem.

I went into the Maverick Bar

In Farmington, New Mexico.
And drank double shots of bourbon
                         backed with beer.
My long hair was tucked up under a cap
I’d left the earring in the car.

Two cowboys did horseplay

                         by the pool tables,
A waitress asked us
                         where are you from?
a country-and-western band began to play
“We don’t smoke Marijuana in Muskokie”
And with the next song,
                         a couple began to dance.

They held each other like in High School dances

                         in the fifties;
I recalled when I worked in the woods
                         and the bars of Madras, Oregon.
That short-haired joy and roughness—
                         America—your stupidity.
I could almost love you again.
We left—onto the freeway shoulders—
                         under the tough old stars—
In the shadow of bluffs
                         I came back to myself,
To the real work, to
                         “What is to be done.”

BILL MOYERS: The real work?

GARY SNYDER: The real work. What is to be done.

BILL MOYERS: For you was?

GARY SNYDER: Well, I’ve been working on that question ever since. What did I mean by that line? (Laughs)

BILL MOYERS: That happens to poets? It takes a long time to discover what you meant?

GARY SNYDER: I believe so, yes, if you’re honest. (Laughs) You might never know, you know? You might die without knowing, and that’s okay too.


DAISY ZAMORA: (In Spanish) …

BILL MOYERS: Daisy Zamora, a painter and psychologist as well as award winning poet, was a soldier in the revolution in her native Nicaragua. Did you really fight in the revolution? Were you a combatant?

DAISY ZAMORA: Yes, I was. Um-hmm. I really was, and I felt the bullets around me. Yes. I – I participated in the last part of the struggle, when we were fighting in all places in Nicaragua, and I had to fight with a squad. I was the only woman there. I was so afraid that I could die in the fighting that we had these knapsacks that we had to carry. So I took room from my knapsack and I – I – I took out some food, and I put all my poems there. Because I thought that if by chance I was killed, somebody will find them. And that was all I had to survive.

BILL MOYERS: It’s hard, it’s hard for me to imagine a poet, (Laughs) …


BILL MOYERS: … not so much a woman, because I know that women …

DAISY ZAMORA: But you know, almost all women participated in Nicaraguan revolution. But after the revolution, there is a tendency to go back to old patterns, cultural patterns, especially in our countries. So, it was hard for us, women that have gained our space in the revolutionary process, to maintain that space. That’s why my poetry has to do also with the difficulties of everyday life being a woman, because to have a revolution doesn’t mean that – that, you know, it’s a miracle, then everything will change. It’s just the – the starting, it’s the beginning of the change.

DAISY ZAMORA: To be a woman, (Spanish Phrases). (Taped Voice in English Over Spanish)

Having been born a woman
means placing your body at the service of others,
giving your time to others, thinking only in terms of others.

Having been born a woman
means that your body is not yours,
your time is not yours,
your thoughts do not belong to you.

Being born a woman
is being born into nothingness.
If it weren’t that your body home
insures the continuance of the species,
you might as well not have been born.

To be born a woman
is to come to nothing,
to a life you do not inhabit,
in which everyone else–not your own heart–
determines and decides.

To be born a woman
is to be at the bottom of the well, the moat,
the pit that surrounds the walled city
where they live, they alone: those
you are called to admire, trick, charm,
humiliating and selling yourself,
you must swim against all currents, rebel,
fight and scream,
until you can push the boulders apart and slip
out through the crack,
destroying that drawbridge,
tearing down the walls,
making it into the moat and crossing the castle
and leaping without wings from the precipice,
impelled only by your heart,
sustained only by your mind,
until you have liberated yourself from the nothingness,
you will only conquer with your woman’s voice, your verb.


DAISY ZAMORA: Thank you.

DAISY ZAMORA: To be a woman is hard. In any, anywhere. And in all parts of the world, it’s hard. Although it may sound very silly for men, because, you know, since you were born, maybe you knew what you wanted to be. Because that was the way the world was. But when I was born, and I start to think, when I was very small, that I wanted to be a poet, that – that meant that I wanted to be something different from what all the preceding women in my house had been.

BILL MOYERS: Would you read “Lineage” for me? Because it is about the difficulty of being a woman.


I am looking for the women of my house.

I’ve always known my great-grandfather’s story:
scientist, diplomat, liberal politician
and father of many distinguished sons.

But Isolena Reyes,
married to him
from the age of 15 until her death,
what was her story?

My maternal grandfather graduated cum laude
from the University of Philadelphia.
We still preserve his dissertation, written in 1900.
He oversaw the construction of miles of track,
and only a sudden death cut short his dream
of bringing the railroad to the Atlantic coast.
Nine sons and daughters mourned him.

And his wife Ludacinda, who gave birth
to those children, who nursed and cared for their children,
what do I know about her?

I’m looking for the women of my house.

My other grandfather was the patriarch,
whose shadow the whole family lived,
(including brothers-in-law, cousins,
distant relatives, friends, acquaintances and even enemies.)
He spent his life accumulating
the fortune they waste when he died.

And my grandmother, Ilse, widowed and impoverished,
what will she do but die?

I am looking for myself, for all of them:
the women of my house.

BILL MOYERS: Why did you have to look for the women of your house? Where were they?

DAISY ZAMORA: These women are like shadows, like, like ghosts, that go, come in and out, but, but I don’t know, I cannot touch them, I cannot hold on to them, uh…

BILL MOYERS: Has your poetry helped you to connect with them, to feel them, to see them?

DAISY ZAMORA: Yes, of course, that’s part of what I write, that I want to find their faces. I have their photographs, of some of them, and I, sometimes I look at them and I just wonder, what these women dream, what they felt, nobody knows, (Laughs).

BILL MOYERS: One of those women in your house was your grandmother, Ilse, right?


BILL MOYERS: And you wrote, you wrote this little poem about her. Would you read that?

DAISY ZAMORA: This poem has to do also with, you know, finding your own face, and I named “Hand Mirror”, because actually I have the hand mirror of my great-grandmother, that my grandmother Ilse gave to me. “Hand Mirror”.

After so many years,
my grandmother Ilse returns
with her astonished
dark and melancholy eyes,
and glances
— slender Narcissus —
at her small silver pool,
her magic oval,
her moon of cut glass,
occupying this face
more and more hers,
and less mine.


GARY SNYDER: Whatever complicated things one says about poetry, what it comes down to really, ultimately, is real life, and real feelings. And in its simplest form, poems are what you do when you want to talk about what really happened, and how you really feel about it.

DAISY ZAMORA: When you leave each morning, I keep so much. Your shadows scatter among the sleeping wrinkles of the sheets. The silent rapture of your dream and the light distract mark in the tenuous air of your kiss.

BILL MOYERS: What is there about a poetry reading that brings out so much electricity, so much intensity?

GARY SNYDER: Real community is happening. People are not reading a book or watching the TV in solitude. They’re with each other. It’s communal, it’s community spirit, it’s convivial.

DAISY ZAMORA: In Nicaragua, everybody talks poetry.

BILL MOYERS: Do people turn out for poetry readings the way they’re here …


BILL MOYERS: … at Waterloo today?

DAISY ZAMORA: We have two sports, two national sports. One is baseball, the other one is poetry.

BILL MOYERS: I heard these high school students walking around here after listening to you and others, saying, gee, I’d really like to write like that. But it takes a lot of work, doesn’t it?

GARY SNYDER: Work and play.


GARY SNYDER: Play. You know, you have to let loose the idea of correctness, doing any one you have to do, you have to be relaxed with language and goofy with it. Loose as a goose. And then throw away the excess. (Laughs) So this poem is called “Goofing Again”.

Goofing again
I shifted weight the wrong way
flipping the plank end-over
dumping me down in the bilge
and splatting a gallon can
of thick sticky dark red
Italian deck paint
over the fresh white bulkhead.
such a trifling move
and such spectacular results.
Now, I have to paint the wall again.
And salvage only from it all a poem.

BILL MOYERS: Many years ago, you spent some time alone, as a look out for the Forest Service. And you wrote a poem about that experience, I have it here, “Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Look Out”. Would you read it?


BILL MOYERS: Where is it?

GARY SNYDER: Just south of the Canadian border, in the northern Cascades of Washington State, in what is now the North Cascade National Park, head waters of the Skadgett River system.

BILL MOYERS: And you were in solitude?

GARY SNYDER: Yeah, that’s the way look out work is. You’re up there by yourself for the whole summer, with a radio that keeps you in touch.

Down valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain
Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.

I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.

BILL MOYERS: And this poem came out of that?

DAISY ZAMORA: Yeah. “Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Look Out”. Down valley, a smoke haze, three days heat after five days rain. Pitch glows on the fir cones. Across rocks and meadows, swarms of new flies. I cannot remember things I once read. A few friends, but they are in cities, drinking cold snow water from a tin cup, looking down for miles through high, still air.

BILL MOYERS: Then the solitude was broken, and you wrote a sequel about that. Here it is, would you read that?


BILL MOYERS: And with the title?

GARY SNYDER: Yeah. Right. (Laughs) Dick Brewer came to visit me, a friend from San Francisco, a painter. “August on Sourdough, A Visit from Dick Brewer”. You hitched a thousand miles north from San Francisco. Hiked up the mountain side, a mile in the air. The little cabin, one room, walled in glass. Meadows and snow fields, hundreds of peaks. We lay in our sleeping bags, talking half the night, wind in the guy cables, summer mountain rain. Next morning I went with you as far as the cliffs. Loaned you my poncho, the rain across the shale. You downed the snow field, flapping in the wind, waving a last good bye, half hidden in the clouds, to go on hitching clear to New York. Me, back to my mountain, and far, far west.

BILL MOYERS: Now, he only stayed overnight.


BILL MOYERS: Why was the visit so important?

GARY SNYDER: Well, when you’re alone, for week after week, human beings become uniquely interesting. And you are very happy to see them. (Laughs)

BILL MOYERS: What happens to you when you’re alone like that, with only your memories, and only your own thoughts?

GARY SNYDER: It gives one this large landscape view, this sense of the space of the planet, and what it was like to look at range after range of mountains, through changing light, day after day after day. And seeing, on different days, different mountain ranges come forward, then retreat, according to the light. That led me, ultimately, to the project I’m working on now. Where I’m finally trying to come to terms and to speak for the landscapes of the planet in some small way.

GARY SNYDER: The occasion of this poem is in southern Taiwan, in the mountains of southern Taiwan, where I came on to a band of wild macaques a few years ago, traveling with some Chinese friends.

Macaques in the sky.
Walking the trail
with Wong Ching Wah, Red Pine,
Lo Ching, and Carol from Nonren Lake,
we see a clear spot in the jungle canopy of leaves,
a high point arch of heavy limbs.
A lookout on the forest slope.

A mother monkey sits and nurses.
A couple perching side by side.
A face peeks from another leaf screen,
pink cheeks, shining eyes.
An old male, silver belly,
furrowed face, laid back in a crotch.
Harsh little off calls echo.
Faces among the leaves, being,
ears and eyes of trees.
Soft hands and haunches pressed on boughs and vines.
Then, whaaaa!

She leaps out in the air,
the baby dangling from her belly.
They float there.
She fetches up along another limb
and settles in.
Her, arching like the Milky Way,
mother of the heavens,
crossing realm to realm, full of stars,
as we hang on beneath with all we have,
and drink her light, enjoy her flight.
Rhesus macaque.

BILL MOYERS: What your work does, it seems to me, is to affirm, assert this, this larger loyalty, this relationship of, we human beings to the other kingdoms.

GARY SNYDER: Well, growing up on a dairy farm in northern Washington, on the edge of a clear cut, right where the, some of the largest conifer forests in the world had ever been, right back of the fence of our cow pasture, 12 foot high stumps, 12 feet across the giant Douglas fir and western hemlock and western red cedar of Puget Sound. That’s what I played among as a kid. And I think of it now as, you know, I was, I became so tuned in, and in a certain sense, so radicalized so early, that I like to think that the ghosts of those giant trees were whispering to me, as a kid, saying, do something about this. (Laughs)

BILL MOYERS: Was there a moment of realization that I can best be loyal to all of this by being a poet?

GARY SNYDER: It was some time in college, when I was doing my best to write good academic papers in anthropology and English and so forth, and learning how to get it out, you know, with foot notes and documentation, and still not being able to say what I wanted to say. And so then I turned to poetry and it became very clear, there are things that you cannot say except in poetry, and those are the things I need to say.


Ah to be alive
on a mid-September morn
fording a stream
barefoot, pants rolled up,
holding boots, pack on,
sunshine, ice in the shallows,
northern rockies.

Rustle and shimmer of icy creek waters
stones turn underfoot, small and hard as toes
cold nose dripping
singing inside
creek music, heart music,
smell of sun on gravel.

I pledge allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the soil
of Turtle Island,
and to the beings who thereon dwell
one ecosystem
in diversity
under the sun
With joyful interpenetration for all.

GARY SNYDER: Now teach that to your kids.


GARY SNYDER: For Americans, the real work is becoming native to North America. Is coming to understand we really live here. That this is really the continent we’re on, and that our loyalties are here. To these mountains and rivers, to these plant zones, to these creatures. A loyalty that goes before the formation of any nation state that goes back millions of years and goes thousands of years into the future. A – a citizenship that is deeper than the USA, but is citizenship in the continent itself. That’s what the real work is.

DAISY ZAMORA: I believe that all of us are political, in a very broad sense, and – and if I write about a – a housewife that is battered or that is disdained, that’s politics, it’s my understanding of politics, you see. And if I write about women’s issues in general or about a – a waitress that – that has been mistreated by life, that’s politics. So I have been writing these poems through which I – I want to speak for women, you know, to ad, I pretend to – to interpret the feelings of my fellow women and translate them to poetry, so I’m going to read this “Waitress” poem. Once I truly believed that my looks will be good for something. Only for me, because I was dark and slender, did the hardest of customers come from Managua and Los Cuelos, not to mention those from here in Masaya. They pat my ass and I got lots of offers. It start with sweet talk and went on from there …

DAISY ZAMORA: From there.

Of course, I remember you, castajito,
after you left to study in Mexico,
I always ask your friends about you.

Now, you see how the boys have left me.
Tired and fat, varicose veins.
I’m not even very old,
but that’s life.

The prettiest waitress in the mini at 16
and what good did it do me? (Laughs)

DAISY ZAMORA: I don’t believe in heroes and heroines of one day. I believe in heroes and heroines of everyday life, that it is hard enough, you know, to wake every morning and to do what you have to do, no matter what happens in your life. So I’m going to read today “Loyal Housewife”.

Everything ended with the honeymoon,
the orange blossoms, the love letters,
the childish whipping.

Now you crawl at your master’s feet.
First in his harem,
taken or abandoned according to his will.

Mother of children who bear his name,
bemoaning your lot beside a clothesline
heavy with diapers, wringing your heart
until it is purified in sheets and towels.

Accustomed to the shouts,
the humiliation of a hand held out
for the woman corner.
A plain shadow,
suffering migraines, varicose veins, diabetes.

A young girl kept for show,
who married her first boyfriend
and grew old listening to
the distant song of life,
from her place of wifely honor.

BILL MOYERS: A lot of women, I’m sure, identify with that.


BILL MOYERS: In your culture as well as our culture. A young girl kept for show, who married her first boyfriend and grew old listening to the distant song of life, from her place of wifely honor.

DAISY ZAMORA: Yes, it’s like, you know, that life passes by, and you are just sitting there doing nothing. I mean, losing your life.

BILL MOYERS: How did you escape it? What happened to you?


BILL MOYERS: Why did you become a poet?

DAISY ZAMORA: My grandmother, she was a woman that wanted to be different, she studied French, she studied English. She spoke fluently French and English and she who, she read a lot, and actually my name, it has a literary source, I believe she had read “Daisy Miller” from Henry James?


DAISY ZAMORA: And she thought she – she thought this name was lovely, and she named her first child Daisy. And she said that she was the first person that brought this name to Nicaragua, (Laughs), but there this – this child, when she was grown up, it was discovered that she had cancer, and this woman, this young woman, decided to kill herself, and – and she – she didn’t say anything, and just one – one morning, she – she drank a poison and she – she died. And she was 18 years old. So I was named Daisy, after this woman, and I knew about this tragedy and it, it was very strong for me to – to – to grow with this name, (Laughs), so, maybe the stories I heard helped me to develop a different way of looking at life.


GARY SNYDER: Ungdoo’s parents were still out in the fields, so he stepped into a half-built house up the hill, and were served both butter tea and black tea. A little tara shrine in a corner. A floor sitter’s table, and a small blue rug. Catty-corner on a torn-out tarp, was something drying, twiggy bunches, wild caraway seed heads. We do the tara mantra for the shrine, Om tara tu tara etc. (Foreign Language Chant).


GARY SNYDER: There’s a freedom of mind, imagination, language, spirit, that is granted you in poetry, it’s the singing voice. It’s the dancing body, that is not in prose. It is ritual, it is ceremony, it is magic, it’s our earliest hominid being, that comes out in poetry, that we can touch on.

GARY SNYDER: “Magpie Song”

Six A.M.
Sat down on excavation gravel
by juniper and desert S.P. tracks
interstate 80 not far off
between trucks
Coyotes — maybe three
howling and yapping from a rise.

Magpie on a bough
Tipped his head and said,

“Here in the mind, brother
Turquoise blue.
I wouldn’t fool you.
Smell the breeze
It came through all the trees
No need to fear
What’s ahead
Snow up on the hills west
Will be there every year
be at rest.
A feather on the ground–
The wind sound–
Here in the Mind, Brother,
Turquoise Blue”

BILL MOYERS: There are moments when I think all of us aspire to be poets, but of course, not all of us can get it out of us that way. Any, are there any – any ways we can work on that?

GARY SNYDER: Yeah, I’m glad, I’m glad you’re saying that, really. Because I don’t want people to think that there are some uniquely gifted people who have the capacity to speak in some special way and that nobody else can do it, I don’t believe that’s true. The mind that explores the world, can find many ways to express that, and poetry is only one of the ways you express that. You can move through those realms and see those connections and be delighted by these connections, these energies, and then speak it out in dance. Or in painting. Or in cooking. Or in child care. Or in teaching kindergarten. With a full heart, finding your expression in the work you do. And this is the truth of the world, really.

BILL MOYERS: “The Zen Art of Motorcycle Repair”.

GARY SNYDER: The Zen art of being a human being. (Laughs)

BILL MOYERS: So that whatever you do …


BILL MOYERS: … motorcycle, cooking …


BILL MOYERS: … plumbing, carpentry.

GARY SNYDER: Yeah, exactly.

BILL MOYERS: Well now I think I get a better understanding of why so often you come back to the work people do with their hands. You have a real respect in your literature for what we call craftsmen and tradesmen and ordinary workers.

GARY SNYDER: I grew up in the Depression, in a working class family. All my uncles were loggers or fishermen. My father was hand splitting cedar shakes, to make a few bucks when I was a kid, during the Depression, so I grew up with it.

BILL MOYERS: That’s why you pay such honor in your work to all kinds of work. This one.

GARY SNYDER: Removing the plate of the pump on the hydraulic system of the back hoe, for Bert Highbart. Bert Highbart was a true wizard with a back hoe, and I wrote this poem for Bert when his back hoe broke down on a job at my place, he pulled in his welding torch and he went to work on it, and fixed it right there in front of me. Through mud, fouled nuts, black grime, it opens. A gleam of spotless steel, machined fit perfect. Swirl of intake and output. Relentless clarity, at the heart of work.

BILL MOYERS: Relentless clarity. He knew what he was doing, didn’t he?

GARY SNYDER: Yeah. And all tasks present within them a relentless clarity. Which is just wonderful.

BILL MOYERS: How do we pass …


BILL MOYERS: … that on? How does the next generation take from that clarity, that commitment, that – that tradition, that heritage?

GARY SNYDER: If you don’t have the tools in your hands, the little tools, even a hammer or a wrench, as a kid, and somebody to show you how you tighten and nut and how you loosen a nut, you’re in trouble. That’s where, you know, on those fundamental level our society is kind of in trouble. Because we’re not passing it on. how you do the details. How you literally handle the tools and how you put them away when you’re done.

BILL MOYERS: You know, you raise that in, I think you raise it in “Axe Handles”, right?

GARY SNYDER: Yeah. “Axe Handles” (Clears Throat)

One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
“When making an axe handle
         the pattern is not far off.”
And I say this to Kai
“Look: We’ll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with—”
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It’s in Lu Ji’s Wên Fu, fourth century
A.D. “Essay on Literature”-—in the
Preface: “In making the handle
Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand.”
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

BILL MOYERS: I really like that one. Kai was your son?

GARY SNYDER: Kai’s my son, he’s now 26. (Laughs)

BILL MOYERS: What about fathers and sons?

GARY SNYDER: If not fathers and sons, younger people and older people. Daughters and mothers, or daughters and aunties, or sons and uncles, or sons and some big guy, they all need each other.


GARY SNYDER: Yeah, I feel that so strongly now.

DAISY ZAMORA: I love this poem very much. I wrote it to my mother. It’s called, “Taking You for Granted”. We keep on seeing you as if timelessly preserved. Suddenly I notice your white hair, wondering when it lost its mahogany splendor, or watch you as you change clothes, and I am moved. Your body now so fragile and small. How many prices have you suffered in silence through all these years of lonely widowhood? But these are moments, brief moments, which we later forget, engrossed, as we are, in ordinary tasks. We take you for granted, visiting every once in a while, and as if we were birds coming up on one another in flight, exchange a word or two. We keep on putting off that real meeting, the important conversation we meant to have, as if life is forever, and everything might not end today.


BILL MOYERS: And her hand, it was so painful to her. Was that a painful poem to write?

DAISY ZAMORA: Yes. It was a very painful poem to write to my mother, because my mother has, through her life, very hard times with me. When I went into the movement of liberation in my country, she was even in prison. And when I …

BILL MOYERS: Because of you?

DAISY ZAMORA: Yes, because of me, and I …

BILL MOYERS: The government locked her up because…


BILL MOYERS: … you had become a rebel.



DAISY ZAMORA: I was deeply hurt for this, because she did her best to understand what we were doing.

BILL MOYERS: Has she read your poems?

DAISY ZAMORA: Yes, yes. She …

BILL MOYERS: Has she accepted them?

DAISY ZAMORA: Yes. Now we have a very good relationship. (Laughs) And …

BILL MOYERS: So the poetry was a healing …


BILL MOYERS: … influence?

DAISY ZAMORA: Yes. She had to adapt her mind from traditional thinking to a different thinking, and she had to learn to love all her children, especially her daughters. Accepting us, with all our different way of – of – of looking at life and building our own lives.


DAISY ZAMORA: I want to share this poem with you. It – it’s called “Mother’s Day”, and it’s Mother’s Day seen from the point of view of mothers, you know. And I wrote it to my children so that they understand, (Laughs), what we think and what we feel as mothers. I do not doubt you will have liked one of those pretty mothers in the ads. Complete with adoring husband and happy children. She’s always smiling, and if she cries at all, it is absent of lights and camera, make up washed from her face. But since you were born of my womb, I shall tell you, ever since I was small like you, I wanted to be myself, and for a woman, that’s hard. Even my guardian angel refused to watch over me when she heard.



I do not doubt you would have liked
one of those pretty mothers in the ads:
complete with adoring husband and happy children.
She’s always smiling, and if she cries at all
it is absent of lights and camera,
makeup washed from her face.

But since you were born of my womb, I should tell you:
ever since I was small like you
I wanted to be myself — and for a woman that’s hard —
(even my Guardian Angel refused to watch over me
when she heard).

I cannot tell you that I know the road.
Often I lose my way
and my life has been a painful crossing
navigating reefs, in and out of storms,
refusing to listen to the ghostly sirens
who invite me into the past,
neither compass nor binnacle to show me the way.

But I advance,
go forward holding to the hope
of some distant port
where you, my children — I’m sure —
will pull in one day
after I’ve been lost at sea.

BILL MOYERS: What did you mean when you said, even my guardian angel refused to watch over me?

DAISY ZAMORA: (Laughs) Well, because I think that guardian angels watch over good girls.

BILL MOYERS: Good girls?

DAISY ZAMORA: Right, and if you decide to be yourself, you – you have to be nasty sometimes. You cannot be all the time walking in the right path, you know? So…

BILL MOYERS: Doing what your …


BILL MOYERS: … family wants you to do?

DAISY ZAMORA: Right. Right.

BILL MOYERS: Do your children understand what you were trying to tell them in this poem?

DAISY ZAMORA: They make all kinds of, (Laughs), of comments about this poem. I think in a way they feel different, because they also have to understand me. It’s not that I – I have to understand them only, but that they have to think that I am a person also, and that I – I deserve to be a person, distinct from them.

BILL MOYERS: Are you at peace with being a woman now? Do you feel you are yourself, in a world where you can make your way? Or is it still a struggle?

DAISY ZAMORA: Well, I think I will be in peace when I die, (Laughs), because …

BILL MOYERS: That’s no comfort. (Laughs)

DAISY ZAMORA: (Laughs) Because I feel that we are the lost generation. We didn’t want to be as our mothers were. We dreamed to be different, we are trying to be different, but we will never be the women we dreamed we were going to be, because we – we have all this burden of the past, calling us every day, we are in no-woman’s land, you know. With cross fire, but we are staying there, to – to be able to – to cross the fire.

BILL MOYERS: And poetry is a record of that journey?



BILL MOYERS: Well, let’s finish with one poem that …


BILL MOYERS: … I think sums this up. And I think is so Gary Snyder. Here’s your little poem, “What Have I Learned?”

GARY SNYDER: Oh yes. What have I learned about the proper use for several tools? The moments between hard, pleasant tasks, to sit silent, drink wine, and think my own kinds of dry, crusty thoughts. The first calochortus flowers, and in all the land, it’s spring. I point them out, the yellow petals, the golden hairs, dig in. Seeing, in silence, never the same twice, but when you get it right, you pass it on.

BILL MOYERS: Pass it on.

GARY SNYDER: Pass it on. And don’t pass it on till you get it right. (Laughs)

GARY SNYDER: (Singing)
“Here in the mind, brother
Turquoise blue.
I wouldn’t fool you.
Smell the breeze
It came through all the trees
No need to fear
What’s ahead
Snow up on the hills west
Will be there every year
be at rest.
A feather on the ground–
The wind sound–
Here in the Mind, Brother,
Turquoise Blue”

This transcript was entered on July 11, 2015.

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