How to Live on Planet Earth: Poets and fans remember Nanao Sakaki

The San Francisco Poetry Center and Green Arcade Books hosted a tribute to Nanao Sakaki in a mattress factory. Report by Steve Silberman.

Steve Silberman
13 May 2013
A young Nanao Sakaki oversaw the procedings in this blown-up photo; Gary Snyder addresses the gathering. Photos and text by Steve Silberman.

The event featured Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Joanne Kyger, Patricia Wakida, Gary Lawless, Dale Pendell, Malcolm Margolin, and other poets and friends. It was a marvelous evening.

Nanao was a wonderful Japanese poet, ecological activist, and Zen rascal. When he was growing up in Japan during World War 2, he was drafted into the army. He was on radar duty the day that an American B-29 brought death to Nagasaki; he saw the little blip come in on his screen, and then the mushroom cloud rising in the distance. (“It’s a volcanic eruption!” some of the soldiers said.) After that, he became a lifelong wanderer, free Zen spirit “in the lineage of the desert rat,” original Japanese hippie and founder of a commune on Suwa-no-se island, and friend of American Beat poets including Snyder and Allen Ginsberg.

I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days with him, Gary, and Allen in the 1980s that included the most intense breakfast I’ve ever had: buckwheat soba with lots of wasabi, oysters on the half shell, green tea, and beer. He was quite old by then, but as we were walking in San Jose he suddenly climbed a tree like a young man climbs a staircase.

Nanao died in 2008.

Steve Silberman

Steve Silberman

Steve Silberman worked as Allen Ginsberg’s teaching assistant at Naropa University in 1987 and as Philip Whalen’s personal assistant in 1993. He is the author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity.