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% The Politics of Ethnopoetics, by Gary Snyder
% This essay was typed from the version that appeared in
% his book "Old Ways" (City Lights Books, 1977).
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% This online version is, hm, illegal, or at least sort of. I haven't
% asked for the permission of the author because I was afraid he would
% say no for hairy legal reasons... But I've been mentioning this
% essay to so many people over the last years, and I think that its
% contents are so important, that I finally decided that it should be
% made more easily available, and I took the pains to type everything.
% So: read it, LaTeX it (it is a LaTeX file), print it, give it to
% friends, and *please*, if you like it do show your gratitude to its
% author in the standard ways: buy that book, or another one called "A
% Place in Space" (see <http://www.serve.com/ecobooks/placspac.htm>;
% it has five of the six essays in "Old Ways", plus a lot (24?) more),
% and, I know that this expression sound ridiculous but I love it, do
% your part and save the world...
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{\bf The Politics of Ethnopoetics}

by Gary Snyder

\medskip

This politics'' is fundamentally the question of what occidental and
industrial technological civilization is doing to the earth. The
earth: (I'm just going to remind us of a few facts), is 57 million
square miles, 3.7 billion human beings, evolved over the last 4
million years; plus, 2 million species of insects, 1 million species
of plants, 20 thousand species of fish, and 8,700 species of birds;
constructed out of 97 naturally occurring surface elements with the
power of the annual solar income of the sun. That is a lot of
diversity.

Yesterday, (who was it), David Antin, I believe, told how the
Tragedians asked Plato to let them put on some tragedies. Plato said,
Very interesting, gentlemen, but I must tell you something. We have
prepared here the greatest tragedy of all. It is called The State.''

From a very early age I found myself standing in an undefinable awe
before the natural world. An attitude of gratitude, wonder, and a
sense of protection especially as I began to see the hills being
bulldozed down for roads, and the forests of the Pacific Nothwest
magically float away on logging trucks. I grew up in a rural family in
the state of Washington. My grandfather was a homesteader in the
Pacific Northwest. The economic base of the whole region
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was logging. In trying to grasp the dynamics of what was happening,
rural state of Washington, 1930's, depression, white boy out in the
country, German on one side, Scotch-Irish on the other side, radical,
that is to say, sort of grass roots Union, I.W.W., and
socialist-radical parents, I found nothing in their orientation,
(critical as it was of American politics and economics), that could
that through reading and imagination, which lead me into a variety of
politics: Marxist, Anarchist, and onwards.

Now I would like to think of the possibility of a new humanities.
Humanities, remember, being a post-renaissance way of looking at the
question of how to shake man loose from the theological vision of the
Middle Ages. But I can't think about our situation in anything less
than a forty thousand year time scale. Fifty thousand years is not
very long. If we wanted to talk about hominid evolution we'd have to
work with something like four million years. Forty thousand years is a
useful working time scale because we can be sure that through the
whole of that period man has been in the same body and in the same
mind that he is now. All the evidence we have indicates that
imagination, intellect, wit, decision, speed, skill, was fully
developed forty thousand years ago. In fact, it may be that we were a
little smarter forty thousand years ago since brain size has somewhat
declined on the average from that point of Cro-Magnon. It is
interesting
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%
that even the average size of the Neanderthal skull, (whom most people
have a rather unflattering image of), indicates larger brain size than
modern man. We don't know why brain size declined. It probably has
something to do with society,'' if you want to blame it on
something. Society providing buffers and protection of an increasingly
complicated order so that as it became larger in scope, and
populations larger in size, it protected individuals from those
demands for speed, skill, knowledge, and intelligence that were common
in the Upper Paleolithic. The personal direct contact with the natural
world required of hunters and gatherers --- men and women both --- a
tremendous continual awareness.

What we are witnessing in the world today is an unparalleled waterfall
of destruction of a diversity of human cultures; plant species; animal
species; of the richness of the biosphere and the millions of years of
organic evolution that have gone into it. In a sense ethnopoetics is
like some field of zoology that is studying disappearing species. We
must have a concern with this because our subject matter is rapidly
disappearing and we, (and I mean we'' to mean everyone, regardless
of his color or ethical background, who is now plugged in to the
fossil fuel industrial society, we are all that we''), we are the
ones who are in some inexorable, karmic, historical way keeping it
going down.

Four thousand different languages and cultures
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about the year 1900, also being swept away in the inexorable push
towards monoculture. Monoculture has had two specific kinds of
fuelling in the last six thousand years. In that fifty thousand year
time scale (I owe a great deal to Dr.\ Stanley Diamond for my sense of
this), the major part of man's interesting career has been spent as a
hunter and gatherer, in primary'' cultures. As recently as 12,000
years ago, agriculture began to play a small part in some corners of
the world. It's only in the last 3 millenia that agriculture has
really penetrated widely. Civilization, 8,000 years old; class
structure, surplus wealth accumulation, literate societies which on
balance in that total represent a very small part of human experience;
literacy representing an even tinier part of human experience, since
it's only been in the last two centuries that any sizable proportion
of any civilized country has had much literacy. Thus oral literature,
the ballad, the folktale, myth, the songs, the subject matter of
ethnopoetics'' has been the major literary experience of mankind.
Understanding that, it becomes all the more poignant when we realize
that the richness is being swept away.

Now, in the first issue of {\sl Alcheringa}, Jerome Rothenberg and
Dennis Tedlock made a statement of intention which I'd like to refer
back to because it also seems to me that gathering here in this way,
almost five years later, we can take a look back and see how those
original stated intentions of {\sl Alcheringa} seem to
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us now and how we'd worked with them. Eight points in this statement.
As the first magazine of the world's tribal poetries, {\sl
Alcheringa} will not be a scholarly journal of ethnopoetics,' so much
as a place where tribal poetry can appear in English translation an
can act (in the oldest and newest of poetic traditions) to change
men's minds and lives.'' Note that, to change men's minds and
lives.'' While its sources will be different from other poetry
magazines it will be aiming at the struggling and revelatory
presentation that has been common to our avant-gardes. Along the way
we hope: (1) by exploring the full range of man's poetries to enlarge
our understanding of what a poem may be; (2) to provide a ground for
experiments in the translation of tribal/oral poetry and a forum to
discuss the possibilities and problems of translation from widely
divergent cultures; (3) to encourage poets to participate actively in
the translation of tribal/oral poetry; (4) to encourage ethnologists
and linguists to do work increasingly ignored by academic publications
in their fields, namely to present the tribal poetries as values in
themselves, rather than as ethnographical data; (5) to be a vanguard
for the initiation of cooperative projects along these lines between
complex/primitive' systems of poetry, as (intermedia) performance,
etc., and to explore ways of presenting these in translation; (7) to
emphasize by example and commentary the relevance of tribal poetry to
where
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we are today; (8) to combat cultural genocide in all of its
manifestations.''

I think that most of us understand what has happened in regard to
those areas of interaction described in points 2 through 7 over the
last four or five years, so I'm going to concentrate my comments on
the two points combat cultural genocide'' and what a poem may
be.''

To combat cultural genocide one needs a critique of civilization
itself, and some thought about what happens when crossing barriers''
takes place; when different, small, relatively self-sufficient
cultures begin to contact each other and that interaction becomes
stepped up by a historical process of growing populations, growing
accumulation of surplus wealth and so forth. It's probably true that
there's a certain basic cross-cultural distrust in small societies
that is resolvable by trade, exchange, or periodic gambling games,
festivities, and singing together. The sheer fact of distance alone,
physical distance between two households, makes one group think of
those other people as the others.''

The real arms race starts maybe with bronze weapons and certainly with
iron. Raiding cultures emerge; this is the first turbulent kind of
interface. Some people quit farming and hunting, and take up raiding
for a living. This goes on today, in what Ray Dasmann calls the
relationship between ecosystem cultures and biosphere cultures.
Ecosystem cultures
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being those whose economic base of support is a natural region, a
watershed, a plant zone, a natural territory within which they have to
make their whole living. Living within the terms of an ecosystem, out
of self-interest if nothing else, you are careful. You don't destroy
the soils, you don't kill all the game, you don't log it off and let
the water wash the soil away. Biosphere cultures are the cultures that
begin with early civilization and the centralized state; are cultures
that spread their economic support system out far enough that they can
afford to wreck one ecosystem, and keep moving on. Well, that's Rome,
that's Babylon. It's just a big enough spread that you can begin to be
imperialist civilization with capitalism and institutionalized
economic growth. The first energy hit, to go back again to those two
fuelings of monoculture, was slavery. The energy we operate by
fundamentally is the annual solar income, via agrarian or natural
hunting and gathering modes of receiving it plus your labor --- man
for man --- woman for woman, labor. Slavery becomes the first energy
hit to speed things up a bit.

The next big energy hit is fossil fuels. Fossil fuels from the 1880's,
responsible for the explosion of all growth curves and consumption
curves we see in the world today. Impelled by and running parallel
with a pre-established ideology of economic growth, but the two much
reinforcing each other.

Within that context, we have a number of
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intellectual human beings especially of the occidental world that,
become students of other peoples, and (without involving ourselves at
this point much into the argument of whether or not anthoropology is
always imperialism) we can't help but see it as a politically related
factor. The very fact of anthropological curiosity is a function of
being a member of an expanding civilization. The opposite of that, of
the contrast to that, is to be in a cultural situation where you will
not have any particular interest in what other peoples' cultural
habits are, but simply, hopefully, respect them. In Zen Buddhism they
say, mise mono ja nai,'' which means this is not something we show
to people. No radio interviews, no tapings, no videos, no movies, no
visitors are permitted in Zen training establishments. It's not for
show. It's open to everyone who wishes to participate but it's not for
show. That is the sense that insiders have in their own culture as
members. They see people who come to them wanting to study (but not
participate) as strangely floating around the surface. We can begin to
imagine how weird our anthropological efforts must look to people who
are in that other kind of culture which is ecosystem based and deeply
rooted in its own identity while not doubting in the least the
humanity of other human beings.

Now I'd like to tackle this thing about combat cultural genocide.''
How do we combat cultural geno%-
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cide? Has {\sl Alcheringa} combatted cultural genocide within the last
five years? Have any of us in any focussed way combatted cultural
genocide? Where is cultural genocide taking place? Let's take Brazil.
In a recent issue of {\sl Critical Anthropology}, the magazine of
Marxist anthropology that Dr.\ Diamond has been associated with over
the last few years from the New School, we have an article where Dr.\
Jack Stauder makes these suggestions to fellow teachers about how to
take certain simple academic steps in the right direction. He says, if
you're going to be an anthropology teacher you should also be able to
teach your students the dynamics of their own culture, at least in the
critical area of understanding imperialism and capitalism. If you
talking to them about the Xingu. If you can't explain the banking
system, well, where are you? He says an anthropologist should be able
to teach members of an oppressed culture the dynamics of imperialism,
and useful economic understanding, in so far as they want to learn it.
I know people who don't want to put their heads into those occidental
categories, but if they want to learn they should be helped. It's the
difference between being victimized or being the master of the
situation: to simply understand how things work. Dr.\ Stauder suggests
that an anthropologist should play an active political role in
society. And that we should ally ourselves to peoples' struggle
everywhere.

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Brazil is only one case in point on the globe but a very instructive
one. People are of course oppressed everywhere and the destruction of
small traditions is taking place in countries of all degrees of
complexity. The Brazilian case is touching because it's probably there
that the last primary human beings in the world live: a few small
groups, apparently, that have not yet been contacted by expanding
civilization. Two hundred and fifty known tribes existed in Brazil in
1900: eighty-seven have become extinct. Between 1900 and 1957 the
Indian populations in Brazil dropped from over one million to less
than two hundred thousand persons. The population of Brazilian Indians
in the Amazon basin is now estimated at less than fifty thousand.
Nambiquara, Cintas Largas, Kadiweu, Bororo, Waura, for example. This
destruction is backed by large multi-national corporations; the second
largest investor in Brazil is Volkswagen. Volkswagen apparently does
not want to convert all its western hemisphere profits all back into
Euro-dollars, so it's heavily invested in the development of cattle
range in the Brazilian jungle, destruction of forests and replacement
of that by grasses to feed the afflent taste for beef of the people of
North America. Another is Georgia Pacific, in timber, a company which
is also deforesting some of the finest remaining virgin tropical
forests of the Phillipines on contracts with the Phillipine
government. Rio Tinto Zinc; Litton Industries doing aerial surveys and
mapping; Caterpillar Tractor in
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vast contracts for pushing out the jungle, going directly across the
Xingu park. The Brazilian official statement is, We think the only
way for the Indians to improve their health, education and begin
self-development is through development.'' Now, before you laugh, ask
yourself this question: Do you have a good answer to that argument? Do
you want to take the position that the Indians of Brazil should be
placed in a national park with a fence around it and have absolutely
no contact with the civilized world at all? How do you answer that? I
know as a student of anthropology in the 1950's I became convinced
(following along the lines of what my teachers were saying) that the
traditional cultures of the world were doomed. We could study them, we
could try to preserve what we could find of their languages, customs,
myths, folktales, ethno-botanic knowledge and so forth, but it would
be quixotic to think that we should invest any political effort in the
actual defense of their cultural integrity because the assumption was
almost automatic that there was a melting pot process of assimilation
(that was probably o.k.) underway and what we had to look for at the
other end of the tunnel was a hopeful, international, one world,
humane modernism, fuelled with liberal and Marxist ideas. But
Marxists, granted the precision of their critique on most points,
often have a hard time thinking clearly about primitive cultures, and
the usual tendency is to assume that they should become civilized.
Right? So I'll come back in a
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moment to what I think is maybe one way to approach an answer to that
question, why do you say that they should be developed? You want to
keep them from having aspirin? Or is it even possible?

These strange contradictions. In Argentina there's a national park.
One of the groups of the Mapuche lives there. The forest huts are
deteriorating, not owing to laziness but because the park services
decrees that no wood may be cut or gathered by the Indians. Surrounded
by the forest yet disallowed wood and fined if they should dare to cut
any. The government provides bundled firewood, but never enough.

These are quotations from Argentina, but I have heard the same thing
said in Montana, Utah, Nevada, central Oregon and so forth. Talking
about the people called the Mapuche. A colonel of German origin. Are
you going to write about them? They're alcoholics and they sleep with
their own daughters.'' A store owner of Arab origin, But don't worry
for them. I hope they die. You had better concern yourself that there
will be a good road built.'' A restaurant owner, I don't understand
them. They starve but they are also so proud that they don't want to
become dishwashers.'' A lawyer with a tourist agency, The
Curruhincas live marvelously without any shortages at all, by God, you
and I would wish we had the same.'' A high official of Park Nationale,
What do you want to say about prohibiting their goats? What we want
is to throw them out of
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here. They are lazy, had bad customs and are dirty. What a spectacle
for the tourists. We are studying a project of displacement to another
part of the region where they can live as they wish without
problems.''

The official didn't mention that any other region in Neuquen province
is desert, bleak and barren, and besides the Curruhinca Mapuche belong
and are acknowledged as such under Argentinian law in the area of Lake
Lacar.%
%
\footnote{Information on South America from various publications of
the {\sl Indigena} group (P.O.\ Box 4073, Berkeley, CA.\ 94704)}

One of the criteria that can be brought to bear against the
destructive aspect of industrial civilization is ecological. It has to
do simply with this question of the reduction of diversity. I noticed
some comments earlier in this conference by some people that seem to
at least imply to me that they were in favor of, and assumed that, a
kind of one-world assimilation of languages and cultures or, you know,
some kind of internationalization, was a desirable process. The
ecological critique goes like this, (I quote from Roy Rappaport,
Flow of Energy in an Agricultural Society''): It may not be
improper to characterize as ecological imperialism the elaboration of
a world organization that is centered in industrial society and
degrades the ecosystems of the agrarian societies it absorbs. The
increasing scope of world organization and the increasing
industrialization and energy consumption on which it depends have been
taken by western man to virtually define social evolution and
progress. What we have called progess or social evo%-
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%
lution may be maladaptive. We may ask if the chances for human
survival might not be enhanced by reversing the modern trend of
successions in order to increase the diversity and stability of local,
national, and regional ecosystems even, if need be, at the expense of
the complexity and interdepence of international world-wide
organizations. It seems to me that the trend toward decreasing
ecosystem complexity and stability, rather than threats of pollution,
overpopulation or even energy famine, is the ultimate ecological
problem confronting man. Also, the most difficult to solve, since the
solution cannot be reconciled with the values, goals, interests,
political and economic institutions prevailing in industrialized and
industrializing societies.''

I was talking about economic growth the other day to a young woman.
And she said, But all life is growth; that's natural, isn't it?'' So
I had to explain this, following Ramon Margalef and others: Life moves
in certain kinds of cycles, and after an occasion of disruption or
turbulence, it rapidly replaces the disturbed fabric, but initially
with a small number of species. As the fabric is repaired, species
diversity begins to replace single species rapid growth, and
increasing complexity becomes again the model, what they call
tending toward climax'' resulting in the condition called climax.
That is, maximum diversity and maximum stability in a natural system.
Stable because there are so many interlocking points that one kind of,
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as they say, insult to the system does not go through too many
pathways, but is localized and corrected. If you have a field of
nothing but grass, and grasshoppers land on it, that's the end of your
grass. If you have an acre of which grass is maybe 12\% of the
biomass, then the grasshoppers hit 12\% of the biomass, but you still
have the other 88\%. That's all. The support implicit in that, the
richness implicit in that and also the richness of the recycling of
energy through the detritus pathways (organic matter on the downswing
rather than on the upswing, the fungi, insects, etc., that live in the
rotten wood and the rotten leaves rather than live off the annual
production of new biomass.) Detritus is a key to that stability and
maturity.

Now, in Dr.\ Eugene Odum's terms, what we call civilization is an
early succession phase; immature, monoculture system. What we call the
primitive is a mature system with deep capacities for stability and
protection built into it. In fact, it seems to be able to protect
itself against everything except white sugar and the money economy
trading relationship; and alcohol, kerosene, nails, and matches. (It
was John Stuart Mill who said, No labor-saving invention ever really
saved anybody any labor.'')

So: ethnopoetics, first as a field. The politics of inventing a new
academic field. Politics of having a magazine. Politics of having a
conference like this. That's just a little footnote on academic life
in America, and that we do these things. I say this
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jokingly because I'm grateful for what Jerome and Dennis have done;
I'm grateful for having been brought here today. That's one level. The
next level is ethnopoetics'' and that is, what we do when we start
going into other peoples' cultures and bringing back their poems and
publishing them in our magazines? I'll argue the positive side of that
and it's simply this. And expansionist imperialist culture feels most
comfortable when it is able to believe that the people it is
exploiting are somehow less than human. When it begins to get some
kind of feedback that these people might be human beings like
themselves it becomes increasingly difficult.

Collections of American Indian mythology, folklore, and song go back
to the 1880's. The quantity becomes really large after around 1900 ---
Annual Reports and Bulletins of the Bureau of American Ethnology, the
American Ethnological Society, the Memoirs and Journal of the American
Folklore Society, and so forth. A large body of American Indian
literature in English, but almost no publication of it in forms which
are easily available to large numbers of people. I ask why. I don't
know; it may be just market economy at work, and nobody wanted to read
that sort of thing. It may be that no one wanted it to be available
outside a scholarly circle.

A similar case: the Ainu and the people of Japan. Dr.\ Kindaichi and
his associates began collecting Ainu oral literature in the 1930's,
one of the largest single
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bodies of oral literature that's ever been collected; in Japanese
translation from Ainu. I find no popular Japanese publication of any
of that material through the earlier decades: it was just last year
that the first easily available paperback of a selection of the oral
literature collected by Dr.\ Kindaichi and jis associates has come
out. Until now it was buried in very expensive rare scholarly books.
The Iwanami Bunko series of paperbacks, about fifty cents a volume;
have translations of all the literatures in the world --- Dostoevski,
Tolstoy, they've got it all in Japanese translation. So the publishing
capacity was there. Why didn't it happen? Why did it just happen now?
What will the recent publication of the Villas Boas brothers' book on
the Xingu do for the Brazilian Indians? It will probably help. A few
people will read that and begin to think, These are human beings.''
So there is some tiny increment of political value from the
publication of oral literatures.

For most of the 40,000 year time span, people weren't particularly
self-conscious about their own body of songs, myths, and tales, but we
have some illuminating cases from the 19th century illustrating how
publication of ethnical literature reinforces a people's own sense of
identity. Take Finland. A young doctor named Lonnrat set himself to
walking widely through the northern parts of Finland, collecting the
remaining fragments of songs and epics and tales that the people were
still telling in the early 19th century.
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He strung those together in an order which he more or less perceived
himself, and called it the Kalevala. It became overnight the Finnish
national epic and helped the Finns hold up against the Swedes on one
side and the Russians on the other. It may well be that Dr.\ Lonnrat's
walking around in the summertime is responsible for the fact that
there's a nation called Finland today.

Point 4 in the {\sl Alcheringa} 8-point list was encouraging
ethnologists and linguists to do work.'' Something happens when you do
that work.

In March, 1902. Alfred Kroeber was in Needles, California. He says:
At Ah'a-kwinyevai, in a sand-covered Mohave house, we found
Inyo-Kutavére, which means Vanished-Pursue'... he went on for six
days, each of three to four hours total narration by him and as many
hours of translation by Jack Jones and writing down by me. Each
evening, he believed, I think honestly, that one more day would bring
never told the story through from the beginning to the end. He had a
number of times told parts of it at night To Mohave audiences until
the last of them dropped off to sleep. When our sixth day ended he
still again said another day would see us through. But by then I was
overdue at Berkeley. And as the prospective day might once more have
stretched into several, I reluctantly broke off, promising him and
myself that I would return to Needles when I could, not later than
next winter, to conclude recording the tale. By
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next winter Inyo-Kutavére had died and the tale thus remains
unfinished... He was stone blind. He was below the average of Mohave
tallness, slight in figure, spare, almost frail with age, his gray
hair long and unkempt, his features sharp, delicate, sensitive... He
sat indoors on the loose sand floor of the house for the whole of the
six days that I was with him in the frequent posture of Mohave men,
his feet beneath him or behind him to the side, not with legs crossed.
He sat still but smoked all the Sweet Caporal cigarettes I provided.
His house mates sat around and listened or went and came as they had
things to do.''%
%
\footnote{A.\ L.\ Kroeber, A Mohave Historical Epic,'' {\sl
Anthropological Records}, 11.2 (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1951), p.\ 71.}
%
That old man sitting in the sand house telling his story is who we
must become --- not A.\ L.\ Kroeber, as fine as he was.

What I want to talk about now is not the poetry of others, ethnoi,''
but the poetry of ourselves. Diné poetry, people-poetry, Maidu poetry,
human being poetry. In the 40,000 year time scale we're all the same
people. We're all equally primitive, give or take two or three
thousand years here or a hundred years there. Homer then, from this
standpoint, is not the beginning of a tradition but the end of a
tradition. Homer incorporates and organizes the prior eight thousand
years of oral material like the scribes who put the Japanese lore into
writing finally. Homer launches those things again forward for another
couple of thousand years so that we still have Ajax cleaning powder
and Hercules blasting powder. Some kind of looping.

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I was impressed by Lévi-Strauss' opinion that everything has gone
somewhat downhill in western culture since the neolithic. He also
argues that writing systems have served largely through history to
enslave men rather than to serve any useful religious, spiritual or
esthetic purpose, since the original use of writing was to write down
lists of slaves and to keep an account of what you had in your
warehouse, and only much later became used in these other ways.
However, the economic anthropologist Marshall Sahlins has changed my
mind because he says the paleolithic is where it's at. As mentioned
earlier, ecological criteria are moving in this direction also.
According to Sahlins' research, {\sl Stone Age Economics}, the upper
paleolithic was the original affluent society, and he estimates that
they worked an average of 15 hours a week. Sahlins says, if you are
willing to grant that paleolithic hunters were in business for their
health, then the bow and arrow served their needs.'' In those
societies nobody had very much but there were no poor people. There is
no class of landless paupers in primitive culture. Landless paupers
belong to civilization.'' This is also interesting: the average intake
of proteins, carbohydrates and all nutrients per day is higher for a
primitive person and probably for an archaic person than it was for
the vast population of serfs and peasants under the high civilized
regimes. The Chinese, who looked down the Tibetans so much, were not
themselves aware of the fact that the average nutrition for a
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%
Chinese person was far below the average nutrition for a Tibetan
person living as a nomad in those barren upland wastes.

So, what is this poetics then that starts back there? Like Dr.\
Diamond said, primary experience. Our hands got this way by doing
certain things a long time. The hand must still do those things or it
isn't what it can be. Beautiful little system. This is the origin of
language and poetry from the standpoint of India: Brahma, the creator,
is in a profound state of trance. He is silence, stillness. A thought
moves somewhere in there. It manifests itself as song, the goddess
Vak. The goddess Vak becomes the universe itself as energy. Of that
energy all sub-energies are born. Now, Vak, in Indo-European philology
is the same as the Latin vox'' of the English voice.'' This
goddess takes on another name: she's also called Sarasvati, which
means the flowing one,'' and she's recognized today in India as the
goddess of poetry, music and learning. She's represented as wearing a
white sari, riding a peacock, carrying the vina and a scroll.

In the primal days of that energy flow, language was just seed
syllables.'' The practice of mantra chanting in India, which is the
chanting of those seed syllables, is conceived of as being a way to
take yourself back to fundamental sound-energy levels. The sense of
the universe as fundamentally sound and song, begins poetics. They
also say in Sanskrit poetics that the original poetry is the sound of
running water
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and the wind in the trees.

There is sacred song and secular song. In the case of sacred song
there are two categories: songs which are made of magic syllables and
have magical meaning only, and sacred songs which have literal
meaning. In the category of secular song, you can think of all the
songs of all the people of the world as going through divisions like
these: lullabies to sing babies to sleep; playground rhymes for kids;
power vision songs of adolescent initiation; courting songs of young
people; work songs --- net-hauling, hammer-swinging, rice
transplanting, canoeing, riding, hunting songs, with a specific
magical set of skills and understandings; celebration songs, war
songs, death songs. We can fit all of our own poetries into these.

One other category which is critical is healing songs,'' because out
of the healing songs, songs that were obtained by people who got
particularly strong power vision songs and went back for more, evolved
specialization: that is to say, the specialization of the shaman or
medicine person as a singer/healer. That comes to us in history as the
fellows Plato wanted to kick out. Now, I like to think that the
concern with the planet, with the integrity of the biosphere, is along
and deeply-rooted concern of the poet for this reason: the role of the
singer was to sing the voice of corn, the voice of the Pleiades, the
voice of bison, the voice of antelope. To contact in a very special
way an other'' that was not within the human sphere; something that
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could not be learned by continually consulting other human teachers,
but could only be learned by venturing outside the borders and going
into your own mind-wilderness, unconscious wilderness. Thus, poets
were always pagans,'' which was why Blake said Milton was of the
devil's party but he didn't know it. The devil is, after all, not the
devil at all, he is the miming elk shaman dancer at Trois Frères, with
elk antlers and a pelt on his back, and what he's doing has to do with
animal fertility in the springtime.

% «how-do-you»

At very bottom is the question, how do you prepare your mind to
become a singer.'' How to prepare your mind to be a singer. An
attitude of openness, inwardness, gratitude; plus meditation, fasting,
a little suffering, some rupturing of the day-to-day ties with the
social fabric. I quote again from the Papago: a man who desires song
did not put his mind on words and tunes. He put it on pleasing the
supernaturals. He must be a good hunter or a good warrior. Perhaps
they would like his ways. And one day in natural sleep he would hear
singing. He hears a song and he knows it is the hawk singing to him of
the great white birds that fly in from the ocean. Perhaps the clouds
sing or the wind or the feathery red rain spider on its invisible
rope. The reward of heroism is not personal glory nor riches. The
reward is dreams. One who performs acts of heroism puts himself in
contact with the supernatural. After that, and not before, he fasts
and waits for a vision. The Papago holds to the
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%
belief that visions do not come to the unworthy, but to the worthy man
who shows himself humble there comes a dream and the dream always
contains a song.''%
%
\footnote{Ruth Underhill, {\sl Singing for Power} (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1968), p.\ 7.}

The symbolism of the muse, the goddess, is strong in our occidental
tradition and it's also strong in the Sanskrit and Tamil traditions of
India. The Chinese tradition is somewhat different but has very
interesting contacts with a kind of muse point of view that very early
that became covered over: It's in Taoism, and within the emphasis on
the female, the feminine, the spirit of the valley, the {\sl yin}.
Taoism being, following Dr.\ Joseph Needham's assessment of it in {\sl
Science and Civilization in China}, the largest single chunk of
matrilineal descent, mother consciousness-oriented, neolithic culture
that went through the, so to speak, sound barrier of civilization in
the Iron Age and came out the other side halfway intact. Thus through
its whole political history it has been anti-feudal and
anti-patriarchal, so much so that Dr.\ Needham says that in a way
Taoism was a 2,000 year-long holding action for the Chinese communist
revolution. Dr.\ Needham is a bio-chemist from England.

Our own mythology --- mostly accepted on faith --- is the scientific
view of the universe. There's an interesting convergence that I want
to develop a bit now, which is delightful. It's the Gaia Hypothesis.
The earth-goddess again. Two scientists, James Lovelock and Sidney
Epton, in England, have done a paper called The Quest for Gaia.''
Gaia, in Greek mythology,
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%
is the original earth-goddess sprung from Chaos, who produced Uranus,
mated with Uranus, mothered Chronos, the Titans, the Cyclops and the
Giants, and then the next generation was the first generation of gods.

The Gaia hypothesis is a biochemists' hypothesis, that the whole of
the biosphere is one living organism which has strategically
programmed its evolution for 3 billion years, including producing us.
(Which may have been its one mistake.) One of the most interesting
evidences of this kind of work is the releasing of oxygen into the
atmosphere by oceanic micro-organisms, creating first an oxygen
environment but then also by a breakdown of certain oxygen molecules
creating the ozone shield screening ultra-violet rays, permitting
cells to move out onto the land. As cells get out onto the land, more
oxygen, more ozone shield is created, thus increasing the possibility
of the spread of life. Thus, green plants not only get the benefit
of carbon dioxide but also are warmed by the radiant flux returned to
the ground by the atmosphere. The atmosphere's window on space is
transparent to visible light but is closed at the ultraviolet end by
ozone absorption and carbon dioxide and water vapor. This grand scale
synergy of green plants in the atmosphere is the result of millions of
years of evolution of life and of the atmosphere which are therefore
closely interdependent.''%
%
\footnote{David M.\ Gates, The Flow of Energy in the Biosphere,''
{\sl Energy and Power} (N.Y.: {\sl Scientific American}, 1971), p.\
45.}
%
The atmosphere is the creation of life for its own uses. Hence, the
planet
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%
earth looks like a nacreous shell from outer space such as that which
Venus might have stepped out of.

Poetics of the earth. Concentrations of communication-energy result in
language, certain kinds of compressions of language result in
mythologies; compression of mythologies brings us to songs. The
transmission'' --- this is Dr.\ H.\ T.\ Odum --- the transmission of
information is an important part of any complex system. Small energy
flows that have high amplification factors have value in proportion to
the energies they control. As the smallest of energy flows,
information pathways may have the highest value of all when they open
work gate valves on power circuits. The quality of this information,
tiny energies in the right form, is so high that in the right control
circuit it may obtain huge amplifications and control vast power
flows.''%
%
\footnote{H.\ T.\ Odum, {\sl Environment, Power, and Society} (N.Y.:
John Wiley, 1971), p.\ 172.}
%
In the great universe, the main theme'' of energy flow is in massive
objects coming together realizing their own gravity. Solar radiation
per square meter out in space is 1.395. 99.98\% of the energy influx
on the earth is solar. The tiniest fraction of that is captured by the
chlorophyll of plant leaves. Here's the poetics: Morowitz has
presented the case, in thermodinamics, for the hypothesis that a
steady flow of energy from the inexhaustible source of the sun to the
unfillable sink of outer space, by way of the earth, is mathematically
destined to cause the organization of matter into an increasingly
ordered state. The resulting balancing act involves the ceaseless
clustering of
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%
bonded atoms into molecules of higher and higher complexity and the
emergency of cycles for the storage and release of energy. In a
non-equilibrium steady state, which is postulated, the solar energy
would not just flow to the earth and radiate away; it's
thermodinamically inevitable that it must rearrange matter into
symmetry, away from probability, against entropy, lifting it so to
speak into a constantly changing condition of rearrangement and
molecular ornamentation. If there were to be sounds to represent this
process, they would have the arrangement of the Brandenburg concertos,
but I'm open to wondering whether the same events are recalled by the
rhythms of insects, the long pulsing runs of bird songs, the descants
of whales, the modulated vibrations of millions of locusts in
migration.''%
%
\footnote{Lewis Thomas, {\sl The Lives of a Cell} (N.Y.: Viking Press,
1974), pp.\ 27--28.}

That is, you know, on some subliminal level what we're tuned into ---
for our language, for our songs. It keeps bringing us back around to
earth: I'm going to quote one which you all know. Don Juan squatted
in front of me. He caressed the ground gently. This is the
predilection of the two warriors, this earth, this world. For a
warrior there can be no greater love. Only if one loves this earth
with unbending passion can one release one's sadness. A warrior is
joyful because his love is unalterable and his beloved the earth
embraces him and bestows on him gifts. This lovely being, which is
alive to its last recesses and understands every feeling, soothed me,
cured me of my pains and finally
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%
when I had understood my love for it, it taught me freedom.' ''%
%
\footnote{Carlos Castaneda, {\sl Tales of Power} (N.Y.: Simon \&
Schuster, 1974), p.\ 285.}

Now, looking at our poetry of North America --- Turtle Island --- in
the light of the past, of other traditions, and this old new sense of
the Earth, it seems to me that we are just beginning. It wasn't until
the 3rd century A.D.\ in China that landscape poetry began to emerge,
poetry which developed over a number of centuries and ultimately
amplified, informed, explored the seasons, the rivers, the waterfalls,
the mountains, creating a lore of reference and allusion to plants,
each in their season, and the qualities of those seasons in relations
to human affairs.

We're just starting, in the last ten years here, to begin to make
songs that will speak for plants, mountains, animals and children.
When you see your first deer of the day you sing your salute to the
deer, or your first red-wind blackbird --- I saw one this morning!
Such poetries will be created by us as we reinhabit this land with
people who know they belong to it; for whom primitive'' is not a
word that means past, but {\sl primary}, and {\sl future}. They will
be created as we learn to see, region by region, how we live
specifically (plant life!) in each place. The poems will leap out past
the automobiles and TV sets of today into the vastness of the Milky
Way (visible only when the electricity is turned down), to richen and
humanize the scientific cosmologies. These poesies to come will help
us learn to be people of knowledge in this
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universe in community with the other people --- non-human included ---
brothers and sisters.

[Based on a talk given at the Ethnopoetics conference at the
University of Winscosin, Milwaukee, April 1975.]

\end{document}