From Gary Snyder — The Real Work: Interviews & Talks, 1964-1979, ed. Wm. Scott McLean, New Directions, 1980.
Paul Geneson drove from his home in Boulder, Colorado, to California in the summer of 1976 to interview Snyder. The interview first appeared in the Ohio Review (Fall 1977).
Paul Geneson: What exactly is the “real work?”
Gary Snyder: I’ve used that phrase, “the real work,” a few times before. I used that term, “the real work,” and then I asked myself a lot: what is the real work? I think it’s important, first of all, because it’s good to work—I love work, work and play are one. And that all of us will come back again to hoe in the ground, or gather wild potato bulbs with digging sticks, or hand-adze a beam, or skin a pole, or scrape a hive—we’re never going to get away from that. We’ve been living a dream that we’re going to get away from it, that we won’t have to do it again. Put that out of our minds. We’ll always do that work. That work is always going to be there. It might be stapling papers, it might be typing in the office. But we’re never going to get away from that work, on one level or another. So that’s real. The real work is what we really do. And what our lives are. And if we can live the work we have to do, knowing that we are real, and it’s real, and that the world is real, then it becomes right. And that’s the real work: to make the world as real as it is, and to find ourselves as real as we are within it.
I used that phrase again at the end of the poem “I Went into the Maverick Bar,” where we go back out of that bar in Farmington, New Mexico, out onto the highway
under the tough old stars—
. . .
To the real work, to
“What is to be done.”
To take the struggle on without the least hope of doing any good. To check the destruction of the interesting and necessary diversity of life on the planet so that the dance can go on a little better for a little longer….