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Ríos, Alberto. "Words like the Wind: An Interview with
Alberto Ríos, by William Berillas." Americas Review
"RIPRAP" GARY SNYDER (1958) The 25 line poem "Riprap" registers the zen-inspired aesthetics of Chinese poetry that Gary snyder inherited from his modernist predecessor Ezra pound and his contemporary Philip whalen, as well as the Western landscapes in the poems of Robinson jeffers and Kenneth rexroth. "Riprap" is part of a cycle of poems Snyder composed during his stint as a trail crew laborer in California's Sierra Nevada. By the summer of 1955, Snyder had dedicated himself to the study of Chinese language and Buddhism and had abandoned writing poetry. But, as he would write later, "under the influence of the geology of the Sierra Nevada and the daily trail-crew work of picking up and placing granite stones in tight cobbled pattern on hard slab," Snyder found himself writing poems that did not resemble anything he had done before (qtd. in Allen 420-421).
The opening lines, "Lay down these words / Before your mind like rocks," compare the mental activity of arranging words on the page with the physical activity of laying stones on a mountain trail. A celebration of the body and mind at work, the poem begins with the speaker instructing himself on the intentional activity of poetic composition. The activity is not determined by the existing structures of the mind, but rather by the exigencies of constructing a functional pattern, a means of access to new terrain.
The body of the poem opens into a sequence of associations, moving from substantial objects in the world—"Solidity of bark, leaf or wall"—to the cos-mological arrangement of the "straying" planets in the universe. The lines, wrestling free from the constraints of syntax, follow the requirements of the poem's associative method. The second controlling analogy in the poem is between the world and "an endless / four-dimensional / Game of Go." An ancient Chinese game of strategy, Go involves placing stones on a board to control space and in response to the emergent patterns of the game as it unfolds. The comparison is perfectly appropriate to Snyder's under standing of the ever-changing realm of the phenomenal world.
"Riprap" is the product of a mind sharpened by the hard-edged, sun-splashed natural forms of the high Sierras; its economical structure, moreover, reflects the rhythms of working with stone. Literally the pattern of well-placed stones offers a foothold in otherwise slippery terrain. By analogy, Snyder suggests, the poem provides a similar solidity in the changing order of thoughts as well as things.
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