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.


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
Printer Friendly PDF Version
Contexts No Data Tags No Data

Rate this Content

No Data
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Total votes: 0
Use the above slider to rate this item. You can only submit one rating per item, and your rating will be factored in to the item's popularity on our listings.

Share via Social Media