Today, wood s lot wishes Gary Snyder a happy birthday and provides the usual feast of links, beginning with a marvelous poem, “Why I Take Good Care Of My Macintosh Computer” (“Because it broods under its hood like a perched falcon/ Because it jumps like a skittish horse/ and sometimes throws me/ Because it is pokey when cold…”), which I would quote in full except that I was plunged into a nostalgic reverie by a much older poem, “Riprap,” which I have known ever since it served as the epigraph for my high school literary magazine (and if you ever dig up a copy of that, I’m gonna have to neuralize ya), and I’m going to quote it instead:


Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
    placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
    in space and time:
Solidity of bark, leaf or wall
    riprap of things:
Cobble of milky way,
    straying planets,
These poems, people,
    lost ponies with
Dragging saddles—
    and rocky sure-foot trails.
The worlds like an endless
Game of Go.
    ants and pebbles
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.

Oh, all right, here’s another:


Those are the people who do complicated things.

    they’ll grab us by the thousands
    and put us to work.

World’s going to hell, with all these
    villages and trails.
Wild duck flocks aren’t
    what they used to be.
Aurochs grow rare.

Fetch me my feathers and amber

There are also some good Pynchon links and this philosophy paper on “Language and Meaning.” It can’t be very good philosophy because I can understand most of it, but I’m mentioning it here anyway because I like its central statement so much:

Usage is right. Usage wins. All language is folk language. All language is slang.

You tell ’em, John Gregg!


  1. thanks for civilisation …

  2. aldiboronti says

    Good poem. Its form reminds me of Christopher Smart’s Upon His Cat Jeoffrey, from Jubilate Agno. (Smart was insane at the time he wrote it).
    It begins:
    “For I will consider my Cat Jeoffrey
    For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
    For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
    For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant
    For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his
    For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
    For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
    For this he performs in ten degrees . . ”
    Read the rest at

  3. I think more accurate would be to say that Christopher Smart was sane when he wrote it.

  4. John Cowan says

    Dr. Johnson took an intermediate position on Smart:

    Concerning this unfortunate poet, Christopher Smart, who was confined in a madhouse, [Johnson] had, at another time, the following conversation with Dr. Burney.—Burney: How does poor Smart do, Sir; is he likely to recover?” Johnson: “It seems as if his mind had ceased to struggle with the disease; for he grows fat upon it. Burney: “Perhaps, Sir, that may be from want of exercise.” Johnson: “No, Sir; he has partly as much exercise as he used to have, for he digs in the garden. Indeed, before his confinement, he used for exercise to walk to the ale-house; but he was carried back again. I did not think he ought to be shut up. His infirmities were not noxious to society. He insisted on people praying with him; and I’d as lief pray with Kit Smart as anyone else. Another charge was, that he did not love clean linen; and I have no passion for it.

  5. AJP Crown says

    Father of Fanny Burney, and that’s not a bad portrait by/for Reynolds. But why do they call each other Sir all the time, do you think it was like Dude?

    “Perhaps, Dude, that may be from want of exercise.”
    “No, Dude; he has partly as much exercise as he used to have, for he digs the garden.”

    If Burney had been Australian,
    “How does poor Smart do, mate; is he likely to recover?”

    I don’t think Sir works any more to represent normal conversation; it’s way too contrived and mannered. This is the same problem as translation.

  6. John Cowan says

    I think dude/mate etc. is exactly right. I remember someone modern saying (or words to this effect): “If we asked Dr. Johnson that question, he would reply ‘Sir,’ — and we can’t be quite sure what he would have said next, but he would certainly have said that.”

    I think the military use of sir is a direct survival of this, except that it’s asymmetrical. As sergeants say (at least in the U.S.), “Don’t call me ‘sir’, I work for a living!”. And in a case of confusion over ranks, one might hear something like “You don’t call me ‘sir’, sir; I call you ‘sir’, sir.”

    In the 1970s I used to hang out with people who enjoyed speaking somewhat bizarrely (teenagers!), and ‘Sir’-filled conversations like this were common. Like many Americans, I do use “sir” to address an adult male I don’t know, especially if he belongs to a group (how to put this?) which historically has been denied the use of the ordinary titles in direct address.

  7. PlasticPaddy says

    In Johnson’s time, duelling was not unknown, and there were men who pounced on “slights”, so using the correct form of address was a practice that contributed to one’s health and wellbeing. Johnson himself seemed to think duelling, although repugnant was a pragmatic necessity when faced with the alternative of ostracism by Society.

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