Charles Molesworth: On "Riprap"

If we look at the end of the title poem of Riprap, we can see that Snyder does not offer his dense images as only blocks or stones, thrown into the poem with a longed-for palpability in order to combat sensory drift or imprecision. Rather, the density of words and things contains a kind of impacted or solidified energy as well as a merely material dimension. This energized aspect of the "cobble" of rocklike words defines the mind's power to move from one solid place to another, both creating and exploring a field of awareness for itself. Snyder introduces another, ancillary comparison to clarify the mountaineer's "riprap"--one of "worlds like an endless / four-dimensional / Game of Go." This is a Japanese game much like the American child's hopscotch, where a rock or heavy object is thrown to determine the possibility and order of movement. The game utilizes a combination of will and accident, and it tests the limits of both by bringing them into play with one another. Likewise with the mind, or at least the mind as it is structured and reflected in and through the poem, for the mind creates a field of forces, rather than striving for a fixed object or floundering in unobjectified process. Here is how "Riprap" ends:

In the thin loam, each rock a word

    a creek-washed stone

Granite: ingrained

    with torment of fire and weight

Crystal and sediment linked hot

    All change, in thoughts,

As well as things.

The mental world and the object world are places of constant change, where an apparently granitic solidity conceals a process of flux and even "torment." So the objectivism of Snyder should never be understood as a lapidary poetic, or a static building of mosaic patterns, but rather as a "trail" of cobbled stones that leads to a higher state. Yet the higher state is impossible to reach without the very dense and lithic underpinning of close observation. "No visionary without the visual" might be a way of summarizing it.

The habits of mind that Snyder exhibits in dealing with the natural world, and the grammar of understanding that these habits generate and are supported by, are, as I've suggested, analogous to those he uses for the social world. His utopia remains a place of social bonds and values that work in an immanent way, unsanctioned by any larger theological order.


Title Charles Molesworth: On "Riprap" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Charles Molesworth Criticism Target Gary Snyder
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 21 May 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Gary Snyder: Poetry and the Real’s Work
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