Renowned poet and prose writer, environmentalist, Zen Buddhist, and educator Gary Snyder presented the 2015 Daniel Patrick O’Connor Lecture at Colorado College April 22. He discussed current issues in environmental politics and read from his new book of poems, “This Present Moment.”
His Zen Buddhism and advocacy for wild places form the backbone of his craft, in which he explores a wide range of spiritual and social matters. He was awarded the Bollingen Prize (1997) and the Pulitzer Prize (1975), both for poetry. Snyder taught creative writing at the University of California, Davis, (1986–2002) and retired as a professor emeritus.
He first gave the lecture in 1996. The O’Connor family, which established an endowment to CC to fund the annual lecture, requested that Snyder reprise it this year. Approximately 400 people attended the event held in the Richard F. Celeste Theatre.
Senior philosophy major Kyle Lutz ’15 was one of about a dozen students who had a lunch discussion with Snyder preceding the lecture. He had read “Turtle Island,” a collection of poems and essays, on his own in high school. In CC Chaplain and Lecturer Bruce Coriell’s religion course, Wilderness and Spirit in Alaska last year, Lutz also read from “The Practice of the Wild.” He brought with him to the lunch “The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, 1956-1991.”
“Early in the collection in 1956, [Snyder] writes to Allen Ginsberg and says something to the tune of, ‘could you give me a statement of your theory on how Buddhism relates to Beat poetry?’ And there’s this line in there, because all you Beat poets, you are nothing, you have nothing, but you create still, like God. So my question [to Snyder] was, ‘How do you see Beat poetry and Buddhism having common ground, if any at all?’ His immediate response was, ‘there’s not much relation at all.’ Then I pulled out the book and I showed him that passage. He put his spectacles on, and asked, ‘Who wrote that? Me, I didn’t write that. Oh, I did write that!’ He’d totally forgotten. After he said that, he said, ‘Well, I suppose I was very optimistic then.'”
Lutz, who is 22, says he believes there is a romanticism of the Beat Generation writers among his own generation, and at Colorado College the interest in Snyder’s work may be more pronounced.
“One of the other themes in his work that resonates with people my age and with people at CC is the whole environmental movement, environmental activism, eco awareness,” he explains. “It can make its way into the Buddhist notions of interconnectivity and universality. Before it spins into those kind of spiritual ways of looking, you can just take it at the environmental activism level, which some people do. But also a lot of people want to learn about Buddhism when they read his work.”
Daniel Patrick O’Connor
Established in 1992 in memory of Daniel Patrick O’Connor, Class of 1994, The Daniel Patrick O’Connor Memorial Lectureship Endowed Fund recognizes O’Connor’s interest in civil rights and social justice and his high regard for Colorado College. It was made possible through generous contributions from Margaret, Michael, and Kathie O’Connor and their friends.
The lecture upholds the personal beliefs held by Daniel O’Connor of environmental protection, social equality, scholarship in service, and social change.
Dan O’Connor participated in the student protests against Battle Mountain Gold’s strip mine and cyanide leach mill in the foothills above the Chicano community of San Luis and in the alternative spring break program in the San Luis Valley during his time as a CC student from 1990 to 1991.