Judy Norton: On "Riprap"

We can imagine a poem such as Snyder's "Riprap"--a poem about building a trail--as itself a linguistic road. Elliptical as it is, Snyder's English syntax is nevertheless sequential, unfolding as a series of traces on the page. And it is a particularly Bakhtinian road, in that it is the location of a dialogic exchange between alien languages and poetics, and spiritual philosophies: . . .

Snyder was taught the technique of riprapping, or cobbling, as a trail crew member in the Sierra Nevada. To adopt this procedure as a metaphor for a poetics is already to dialogize it by transposing it from a distinctly unliterary practical context to a high literary, imaginative one.

To speak of laying down words "Before the body of the mind / in space and time" is to infuse English words, operating out of a Western, largely rationalist, philosophico-literary tradition, with a Ch'an sense of the interpenetration of body and mind. From a Ch'an perspective, poems and people are all "lost ponies with / Dragging saddIes," caught in a historical round of becoming, the reality of which is sheerly conditional.

Nor is the heteroglossia of "Riprap" purely a matter of figuration and thematics. Classical Chinese itself, with its heavy emphasis on nouns, and relative scarcity of verbs, modifiers, and pronouns, is very much a dialogic participant in lines such as

Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall

                        riprap of things:

Cobble of milky way,

                        straying planets,

These poems, people,

                        lost ponies with

Dragging saddles

"Riprap," then, cannot be made to fit Bakhtin's vision of the lyric; poem as "a unitary, monologically sealed-off utterance." His claim that no linguistic diversity "may be reflected in any fundamental way in [the poet's] work" simply does not hold true for Snyder's practice.

Details

Criticism Overview
Title Judy Norton: On "Riprap" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Judy Norton Criticism Target Gary Snyder
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 21 May 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Narcissus Sous Rature: Male Subjectivity in Contemporary American Poetry
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