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 Karin Kukkonen

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Updated Up To 26/06/2018
Volume 5, Number 2 (June 2007) : 219--44
The Sexual Politics of Divine Femininity:
Tārā in Transition in Gary Snyder’s Poetry
John Whalen-Bridge
Rubric A: Topoi



Gary Snyder has described his book-length poem Mountains and Rivers without End (1996) as a “mythic narrative of the female Buddha Tārā.” Snyder’s poem “An Offering for Tārā,” like several other poems in his corpus, describes a sensual, forgiving feminine divinity of the sort that many literary scholars now find problematic. By considering two poems from the Sixties alongside one from the mid-Nineties, we can see the developments within Snyder’s own myths and texts, but we also see how the images and ideas woven into discourses such as “Orientalism” or “the divine feminine” can undergo dramatic changes within the career of a single writer. Examining Snyder’s early poems “For a Far-out Friend,” and “Hymn to the Goddess San Francisco in Paradise” alongside Joanne Kyger’s “Tapestry,” the essay closely examines instances of divine femininity in Beat writing before returning to Snyder’s mature work, “An Offering for Tārā,” to show how Snyder fashions a postmodern American mode of tantric poetics that is politically progressive. His poetic approach has not been to repress the afflictive desires identified by feminist and anti-Orientalist critics but rather, in the manner of tantric Buddhist practice, to mindfully embrace and re-organize them.

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