I Went Into the Maverick Bar

John Whalen-Bridge: On "I Went Into the Maverick Bar"

The second way of dealing with duality I will call anti-dualistic dualism. The poet takes a stance against duality or dualistic thinking, which is of course an action which proceeds from dualistic mind. But anti-dualistic dualism differs from the failure of non-dualistic awareness (as discussed above) precisely in the poet's awareness of dualistic mind. Snyder signals such an awareness in the final lines of "I Went into the Maverick Bar," lines which trace important divisions in American culture:


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."


The final line, an allusion to Lenin's phrase taken from Chernyshevsky's novel, clearly challenges the thesis that Snyder attempts to forge a poetic of non-duality. The poet in the poem, in masquerade as a maverick bar redneck, attains a moment of awareness, a moment of openness to the joys of country music, but he slams the door on such a moment. Those people in the bar who hold each other "like in High School dances / in the fifties," those people who clearly would not accept long-haired, earringed Snyder, are plenty dualistic themselves; but the poet's dualism is equal and opposite. The reader is expected to understand the poet’s moment of awareness, to sympathize with the poet’s momentary sympathy, and ultimately to concur with the poet’s anti-dualistic dualism. Snyder has written in Earth House Hold that "Historically, Buddhist philosophers have failed to analyze out the degree to which ignorance and suffering are caused or encouraged by social factors, considering fear-and-desire to be the given facts of the human condition" (EHH 90). In other words, the struggle for non-dualism can be regarded as narrow minded in certain circumstances. I do not believe this poetic strategy works in "Maverick Bar." The poet asserts "I came back to myself, / To the real work, to / 'What is to be done,"' but nowhere does he establish or explain why the self in the bar is unreal or in any way different from the politically committed/anti-redneck self outside the bar. In "Marin-an" the poet looks down on cities and in "Maverick Bar" he looks down on rednecks: both poems are marred by a leakage of compassionate insight.

The third strategy I will call "undualistic dualism," the idea being that dualism is part of this world no less than anything else. In poems of this nature we come to understand the poem, as an expression of non-duality, even if dualistic understanding exists within the poem. The poet chooses not to repress dualistic understanding, but to set it within a non-dualistic vision. Gary Snyder writes poems which capture, value, present dualistic moments for their own sake, since it would be dualistic to segregate samsara (Buddhist hell—clinging to life, objects, concepts, etc., out of fear of sunyata, the void) from nirvana.

Let us look again at "I Went into the Maverick Bar." Suppose for a moment that Snyder knows full well that the self in the poem comes off as arrogant and partial in his vision. The final reference to Lenin and/or Chernyshevsky brings to mind dialectical materialism, and so we should perhaps understand the poem as concerning the dialectic of selves within non-dualistic reality. If we choose to read this way, the poem is a koan of sorts: how does Buddha free the Third World? The contrarieties of Buddhism and Marxism complement one another in "I Went into the Maverick Bar," but I will later discuss poems which resolve the duality of self and world much more successfully.

Charles Molesworth: On "I Went Into the Maverick Bar"

"I Went into the Maverick Bar," vividly captures the despairing lack of social possibility that is a minor but important theme counterpointing Snyder's utopian vision.

The allusion to Lenin's revolutionary tract in the last line of the poem, along with the use of what is one of Snyder's key phrases, "the real work," poses this anecdote on an edge of ambiguity that in many ways resembles that prized in the art-lyric. Yet the ambiguity here--the unspecified commitment, the feelings of rejection and fear mingled with nostalgia and fondness--actually dissolves with the phrase "I came back to myself." Here Snyder realizes how far his values are from those of many of his ordinary fellow citizens, but he also realizes he must and will maintain those values. Unlike the art-lyric, which traditionally strives for an image of closure that focuses and yet heightens ambiguity, this poem closes with an opening vista of resolution to pursue an ethically formed, intellectually shaped goal.

Patrick D. Murphy: On "I Went Into the Maverick Bar"

"I Went into the Maverick Bar" has received considerable attention, both positive and negative. In it Snyder recognizes that his own heritage is the same as that of the people he encounters here . . . .

In the end, however, he emphasizes the difference between him and them: he denounces that cultural heritage because it has become destructive, xenophobic, and repressive. The speaker realizes that his responsibility to Turtle Island and to these people--although they are not yet ready to recognize or accept it--requires that he continue to promote his alternative vision. That this vision involves nothing short of complete social transformation is suggested by his defining the "real work" in terms of " 'What is to be done,' " the title of a major theoretical work by Lenin on the necessity of a Marxist revolution led by a vanguard party in Russia at the turn of the century.