We waited each afternoon amidst the 19th century décor in the largest first floor room of Old Main. We could hear him coming—the jingling sound of the bells in his boots as he strode hard down that hallway where Abraham Lincoln had once walked. Then for a couple of hours each day for two or three days running, we listened, mesmerized, to Gary Snyder read his poems.
That was in the spring of 1967, when apparently he hadn’t yet moved permanently back to the U.S. from Japan. We knew him as a West Coast representative, the lineage of Beat and Zen becoming hippie maybe, bringing mind-expanding poetic visions to the Illinois prairie, just ahead of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
He read—intoned, chanted—from Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems, probably Myths and Texts, and definitely his long poem even then in progress, Mountains and Rivers Without End.
Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks
placed, solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
in space and time…