It’s that time again: books received by The New Black Bart Poetry Society have been piling up ever since the Society’s librarian took a lunch break more than 12 months ago and hasn’t returned. Below are some recently received and not so recently received books that were recovered from a dusty nook in the Society’s office.
Donald Guravich, Joanne & Donald’s Trip To NYC, April 2002 Blue Press, 2021 —Joanne & Donald’s Trip To Boulder, June 2002, Blue Press, 2021
The titles say it all, two charmingly illustrated chapbooks by Donald Guravich detailing the salient and exhaustingly social aspects of his and Joanne Kyger’s trips to two of America’s poetry meccas, in limited editions from Blue Press.
Red Pine, A Shaman’s Lament, Two Poems by Qu Yuan, empty bowl, 2021
This translation of Qu Yuan, besides the usual Red Pine amply notated clarity, serves as a glimpse into an early manifestation of poetry illustrating its shamanic roots. Qu Yuan, contemporaneous with the Greek Golden age, in 93 quatrains treads the line between praise song and incantation, allegory and oblique criticism resonant with Daoist lore, that the heaven will be set right by the power of his testimony (lament) as a shaman. A terrific read, both poem and commentary. And supports Steiner’s contention that “poetry is lament.”
Sabina Knight, Chinese Literature, A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2012 —The Heart of Time, Moral Agency in Modern Chinese Fiction, Harvard University Asian Center, 2006
Moral agency is not something that is front and center in the Western imagination or is so buried in levels of deist hierarchy as to be almost invisible, even irrelevant. It is certainly more evident in Chinese literature where personal responsibility provides the ground for moral action found in the Buddhist teaching of “right mind, right act.” Perhaps that’s what makes Chinese literature so different and compelling is its world view.
Sabina Knight’s A Very Short Introduction, from the Oxford series of the same name, is a great primer for those unfamiliar with the traditions and authors of Chinese Literature, and a terrific refresher for the aficionado and armchair scholar. While Chinese Literature focuses on classical literature, Knight’s The Heart Of Time covers modern Chinese fiction to reveal a contemporary literature reflecting the growth pains of modern China, the tug of war between progressive and reactionary, and brings to the surface a public soul searching that is relevant to understand this ancient culture and tradition in literature transitioning into the secularity of the modern world.
Takuboku Ishikawa, Romanji Diary & Sad Toys, translated by Stanford Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda, Tuttle, 1985 Shuntaro Taniwaka, Selected Poems, translated by Harold Wright, , North Point Press, 1983 Chuang-Tzu (Burton Watson, tr.) Basic Writing, Columbia University Press, 1964
All three of these books were bequests from the Keith Kumasen Abbott Estate and for the most part are so obscure as to be lucky to find space on anyone’s shelves. Yet Kumasen and the Society’s tastes in such exotic appetites overlap and renders them treasures worthy of frequent perusing.
David Schneider, Goods (Short Stories), Cuke Press, 2020
David Schneider is the author of two biographies, Street Zen and Crowded by Beauty,The Zen and Life of Poet Philip Whalen. He was ordained as a Zen priest in 1977, and served as an acharya in Shambhala from 1996-2019. If you thought that being a Zen priest might be nothing but doing zazen and seeking enlightenment, Goods , Schneider’s selection of short stories of an unconventional Zen priest is bound to give you a different, very secular view of monastic life.
Mark Young, Sorties, Sandy Press, 2021
Mark Young is the editor and publisher of the Otoliths enterprise from Australia and its omnibus poetry magazine of the same name. Sorties consists of prose vignettes full of “intelligent, humorous, precise, well-informed observations.” If you haven’t seen a copy of his 2008 Pelican Dreaming (Meritage Press), a selection of poems spanning fifty years, you are missing a treat.
Robert Hébert Coulisses, La Compange A Numero, Montreal, 2020
Another gem of philosophical musing and poetry from the interior of a little appreciated literary French Canada and French Canadian soul, in French with some English
18 When exploring inside the tombs with a bear don’t be paradoxical Flaherty’s films are generous Man of Aran on Isle-aux-Coudres syzygy between humans word not said in discussion
(from 24 ossement exquis)
Elizabeth C. Herron, Insistent Grace, Fernwood Press, 2020
A handsome and substantial selection of poems from Elizabeth C. Herron, four time Pushcart Prize nominee in poetry, a fellow International League of Conservation Writers, and a poet in the forefront of ecopoetics from the beginning.
Clifford Burke, Rain, Etcetera, 2018, Deer Creek
A beautifully produced selection of poems by the man who wrote the book on how to print poetry. The master of letterpress printing brings his talent and his considerable knowhow of this elegant desktop version of meditations on the nature of the world and the nature of self as realized in these concise beautifully realized poems
Eric Johnson, The Type Dreams of Ab Fulsom, Iota Press, 2020 —Excerpts from Tapered Pitch by Iklipz Dopplur, Farflungland Editions, 2020 —This, by Ekl Partz, Farflungland Editions, 2020 —Short Sorties, Iota Press, 2021
A particular school of the printing arts has sprung up around Eric Johnson much in the same way that fine letterpress printing and its esthetic took hold in the last quarter of the 20th Century under the guidance and tutelage of printers like Clifford Burke, Alastair Johnston, Kathy Walkup, and Susan King (to name just a few). As the founder of Iota Press, Eric helped establish North Bay Letterpress Arts, a fine arts printing coop, practicing the methods of handset type and printing on various antique but fully operational hand presses. His recent limited edition handmade books highlight his mastery of the book arts as well as a sense of language and humor peculiar to this who stand at the typecase.
Lucile Friesen, Blue Bicycle, Ideal Café Editions, 2021
Similar in its style to Johnson’s hand printed handmade books, Lucile Friesen, an alumnus of North Bay Letterpress Arts, who now practices her art in Montreal, offers her meditations on blue bikes and their permutations in the peddling of her witty and insightful poems on a bicycle built for blue.
John Johnson, Idiomatic, printed at Iota Press, 2013
The fine art of letterpress printing is also evident in this selection of John Johnson’s short incisive poems handset by the author and printed at Iota Press on a 193 C&P platen press.
Fell Swoop 164, Last Gasp Swoop, Joel Dailey, ed 2020 Scoop Bibliography, Dick Martin, Compiler, 2021 Roberto Hortikulture, Liquid Paper, Moron Channel, 2021 Joel Dailey, Current Manifesto of the Dumbass School of Poetry or Puncture Reptilian, Unarmed Chapbook (nd, St. Paul)
Fell Swoop is dead! Long Live Fell Swoop! His excellency, The Reverend X.J. Dailey, NOLA, has performed the last rites on his long running faux mimeo literary magazines after 164 issue thrown onto the bonfire of the vanities—that’s a lot of paper. Fortunately for the archivists (those that can, do, those that can’t, teach, and those that can’t do either become archivists) a Fell Swoop Bibliography complete with pithy comments and obvious omissions was compiled by the intrepid Dick Martin. Yet fear not, the Rev has reincarnated as another publication destined to be long lived, The Moron Channel, in which the authors all share the Rev’s outrageous wit and humid humor if not actual corporeal presence.
Tinker Greene, Flaming Serpents In The Desert (poems), Chicago, 2021
Tinker Greene’s infrequent but much appreciated poetry pamphlets now arrive as dispatches from the Midwest where winters are always a good reason to be from there. Flaming Serpents and all previous such outing are available for the asking from firstname.lastname@example.org Nice translation of a Reverdy poem from Les ardoises du toit.
Sandy Berrigan, Song Rhymes, 2020 — Viajes, When It Was Possible To Travel, 2020 —Spring Ahead, Fall Behind, 2021 —Random Wanderings of a Wayward Mind, 2021
When you are raised in a literate family, spend your adult life in the company of artists and poets, from the brick tenements of the lower East Side to the lush gardens of Hawaii and the redwood forests of Northern California, and are as well a seasoned world traveler, it seems only natural to set down your words to share your impressions, explore the sentiments of a communal investment in the life of literature and the art of poetry. That’s what Sandy does in these poems, she presents the disarming and unpretentious cadences of her authentic soul.
Carl Wendt, not quite Charles Baudelaire, not quite Charles Bukowski, but one of the last of the hard boiled, streetwise, post-Beat Neo-Romantics (in other words, a dinosaur) not sucking the institutional teat, author of Synthetic Lament, (rhymes with cement), recent winner of the Pillsbury Prize in Poetry, finds himself washed up like a wounded lovesick sealion on a sandy stretch of Pacific Ocean beach north of Frisco, and later a cliff overlooking the crashing surf, rehearsing the rhythms of his thoughts as strophes for an ode to sunset.
(excerpts from the final section of Ode To Sunset, A Year In The Life Of American Genius, originally published in 2017 as an online serial fiction by Pat Nolan)
The glare of white sand shadowed to gray, rumbling waves lost their green sheen, and the hiss of dissipating foam edged closer. Sea birds screeched, gulls hopped among the debris of apple cores, carrot ends, food wrappers left by his rescuers, and his own empty beer cans, slim jim sheaths, and chip bag. Otherwise he was alone. A wind skimmed the waves chilling the air. In the distance the orange orb crushed a stratum of cloud dyeing the horizon with the blood of its muted fire. “Suppose you really do, toward the end, fall away into a sunset which is your own self-ignited pyre,” the dying sun sang in his ears, a siren chorus with the shrill voices of cicadas.
Stupid. And I am the exemplification of that stupidity. Shake it off. Gulp in breaths of denial that it can’t be all that bad. But which is worse, the headache or the heartache. The topsy-turvy scramble to regain mental balance in the face of an onslaught of contradiction and self-delusion painfully limited by my bone headedness or the gut churning, heart arresting, adrenal fueled, fear-based realization that it must end, and the immense futility of it all. Is there hope, that mocking seductive chimera, fickle as flickering day or is there only dark despair and night? Well, you live, you die.
Getting to his feet, wrapped in the blanket and feeling the full cold weight of being soaked to the skin, he stared out at the giant orange eyeball above the vast eyewash sea that seemingly demanded, “Just who the hell do you think you are?” He replied, “Nobody.”
All the bad luck, terrible accidents, cruel circumstances, the waking horror I’ve been through, brushed off simply to continue. I can hear people say, “What great promise he had when he was younger.” At least I haven’t self-immolated as have so many of my contemporaries. Nora likes to joke, “There’s the smell of smoke about you, Carl, and I don’t mean cigarettes. It’s all those burned bridges.”
Me and my shambling machinations, in the end the question is who are these worthless pricks and why am I wasting my time trying to be one of them? I have no use for tight-ass flyblown poets, confining my associations to a few friends and lovers. The lovers never hang around for very long, and the friends have become victims of the three deadly D’s of friendship: disaffection, distance, and death. It’s when those names come with a face and a memory of palpable interactions that are no longer active on the perceptual plane, having achieved the stasis of the infinitesimal, that the truth of mortality sinks in or at least gives pause to the recall of a vivid impression. You live. You die.
I shouldn’t think of life as disappointing. If nothing else it is consistent in its suffering, and that, in the face of it all, I am helpless. There’s suffering because nothing stays the same which plays havoc with my desire to hold on to what works even if only for an instant which in turn causes the anxiety that makes me suffer. Nothing lasts forever and even that is gone in an instant. Life isn’t anything unique by itself. It is what comes after what went before and what goes before what’s to come. Conditioned by the past, it affects the future as a chain of instances linked by memory, desire’s intelligence. It matters not one way or the other. It is all the same. Life or death.
All I can hope for is a kind of intuitive understanding of death, dying, which surpasses reason and rules out any further discussion. All things, being impermanent, have no separate and independent identity. The absolute is inherent in all phenomena. Ultimate reality can’t be explained in terms of existence and nonexistence. Everything is real. Each thing is identical with all things. To exist is to be in relation to other things that exist. The universe is simply the set of all these relations. You live.
What comes of the illusion that even though I am edging toward the last days of my life that it is far from over, and joy and dread combined will find time enough to grow, planted in the fertile soil of anything of any moment up till now? Should I regret that at the end no one really ever got what I was doing and all the fame and attention are based on a house of cards, not on truth but on assumption and conjecture that have nothing to do with my poetry? You die.
I acknowledge that there can be no other way. I must say my goodbyes with the realization that the world says goodbye to you long before you leave it. Goodbye means the same in all languages although for some it is more definitive than others. In my language I must say goodbye to friends because either they died or I did, or they have alienated me, or me them, by their, or my, thoughtless behavior, which is a kind of death to me, and to them. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. So goodbye to those of parted ways, you are dead to me as I am to you. And those who have through necessity and circumstance physically removed yourselves from the immediacy of my presence, might as well be dead because memory is fickle and the longer separation is maintained the less the fact of your being matters. Nostalgia is merely the stubbed toe that calls attention to the foot and the blindness of inattention.
As the limping man, I am Jason, and all smithies made lame or hamstrung. The limping hero, one shoe on, one shoe off, the missing sandal, the single footed, the dancer, the shaman. I go through life doing the same old thing over and over and then one day it’s different. I’ve reached a threshold. Step across, carrying the bride of my enlightenment or disillusionment.
All I know is that every six months or so I die. I have died a hundred times a hundred, and it’s always the same death. I don’t know what dies, and why I have to be reborn again, always with the same high hopes, always the identical death. Death is a return to the cocoon. I should have died young like all the other promising poetry talent but through some fluke I was passed over. Now I am caught in the thrall of the denial of death syllogism: other men die, I am not other men, therefore I cannot die. I live.
What will they say about me when I’m gone? “He was a bit of a bastard and a bit of a genius too. He could be an egotistical drunk and even he hated his guts.” Some might even say I was being too easy on myself. Besides when I imagine someone saying something about me, they never say anything I don’t already know. I die.
When I still held the idea that I would end up in the ground like everyone else, I wanted the quote from Tristan Shandy on my tombstone, De Gustibus non disputandum est. I’ll settle for I am not done reading. Now more like the Icarus of my previous days I’m tempted to fly into the sun, but reborn in my epiphany as Daedalus, I hesitate, my shadow tangled around my feet. The owl of Minerva flies at dusk, something that Daedalus should have reminded Icarus, when the sun’s effect on wax wings is diminished. Where does that leave me? People don’t want the soul-fashioned-out-of-thin-air stuff anymore. They want conceptual and commercial or tritely trendy tried and true. No soaring on wax wings, no clambering up to a seventh heaven, no leaps off cliffs, metered feet fitted with the conventional cement of sensible shoes.
So who is the one called Wendt? To whom the mail is addressed, whose name appears as a byline or on the title page of books and in discussions on the art of poetry. It would not be obvious just by looking at him that he was well known as a poet although in the eyes of some he was a poseur, a mountebank, a throwback, a full-time charlatan. As it was, he recognized himself less in his own books than he did in those of others. His life was a flight from himself. Everything he ever was or could be was lost to inevitable oblivion. He couldn’t even remember which one of his selves had written this. Ink like blood flows in the slow spill of a lifelong intellectual sacrifice or suicide.
To be successful you have to believe in something. At the very least, yourself. I am too skeptical of everything, even myself, to be truly successful. I follow Descartes’ original proposition, dubito ergo sum, I doubt therefore I am. Even my small successes are not my own, but those of others who see something in my work, something worthwhile. Moments of faith have allowed me to write and being able to write allowed me faith. Yet I undermine it all by my lack of conviction beyond that original instance of creation. I’m only as good as my next poem. And a poem is just another bread crumb in the journey through the deep dark forest. The older I get the more I realize that it’s not just that the competition gets better, it also gets cuter. As Granahan once advised, “If all you got is technique, you ain’t got much.” Rationalizing with every breath, I follow the way of why, seeking the answer, any answer. But it’s always someone else’s answer and I hate being told what to do. Imprisoned behind the solitude of a fervent smile I am a virulent fever passing through a lukewarm crowd as my natural cowardice shrinks from the occasion. I mythologize my life to give it meaning at the most basic anthropomorphic level. Impatient with the slow return and low interest yield of poetry, impatient with a life that continually marginalizes me. Poets, like gypsies, are each about as welcome in polite society.
The wind riffled the edges of the army blanket wrapped round him lifting the free folds like the edges of a cape and in turn shuffled the neocortex rolodex between his ears and stopped at the appropriate citation. “It is he of the billowing greatcoat, Cedric Silkyshag.” Or Lazlo Pierce, his alter ego lothario, expert in passion. How does the Iliad end? He was a refugee from the age of heroes.
I am the hero poet awakening the sleeping images of the future which can and must come forth from the night in order to give the world a new and better face. I am the enemy of the old ruling system, of the old cultural values. Poets are necessarily anonymous. “I am a voice with no name,” echo the ages. Poets should prize their anonymity.
The absurd excitability of my system which forces me to create crisis out of every experience and puts drama into the smallest incidents of life makes it impossible to count on me in any way. I am no longer a poet. And then I am. At most I am a rendezvous of poets who, from time to time, appear as that one or this one with cocky insistence. For this very reason, like in some B western I find myself riding off into the sunset. Destiny imposes its own consistency and my thoughts and wishes are but a pretext for what I find myself doing. No passion, no act of heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling will preserve my life beyond the grave. All the labors of all my days, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the high noon brightness of my genius are destined for extinction in the vast solar munch, and the whole edifice of my literary achievement will inevitably be buried with me. A poet once wrote, “When I die I want to be buried in a book.” Needless to say, it was his own book. The Fates do not have “needless” in their vocabulary. Death is the ultimate defining instance. To live in the present is to live facing death. Man invented eternity and the future to escape death, but each of these inventions is a fatal trap. Only in facing death is life really life. Within the now, death is not separated from life. Both are the same reality. The search for immortality is a dead end in the labyrinth of existence. Death chews us up from the moment of birth and then shits us back out into a hole in the ground.
The blanket slipped from a shoulderand the dying breath of sunset pushed against his chilled torso, pulled at his sodden sanded hair. “I’m rich! I’m famous! Why can’t I happy with that?” And that caused him to cackle knowingly. He imagined the mess he must look. He just wished the day would end. Even if there was no guarantee of another one? Even. He was nothing when he should have been everything. The search for absolute beauty is the quest for death, the exercise of reason’s constant critique of mortality. From a technical point of view, the world is comical. Death knells come cheap.
I tell my life to myself as dreams, images, fantasies, and an array of deliberate states reflective of the vast inherent power of cerebral activity underlying consciousness. What I speak is never the absolute truth. It’s either a half truth or a truth and a half. I understand now that I am essentially a monologist in poet’s clothing. First of all, the monologue is an art without an audience. And without an audience, the expressions of artist and art don’t exist. It is an art of forgetting and of forgetting myself as a function that eliminates the subject, indifferent to the outcome. In this boundless universe everything is arranged according to the principle of cosmic necessity as a manifestation without self-consciousness. My monologue begets the world itself. The boundaries of art are breached yet no originality is attempted because to try to treat the monologue in terms of esthetics is pointless. The eternal monologue that accompanies my consciousness overcomes all obstacles and concentrates much too much in every nuance in the steady erotic connection with language only possible in perfect solitude. All distraction disappears and nothing remains but a hidden maze and the echo of fragments in endless pursuit of each other. I don’t know of any more profound difference in the whole orientation of an artist, whether I look at my work in progress, essentially at myself, from the point of view of a witness or whether I have forgotten the world, simply humming a tune to myself.
Well, it’s been going this way for a while, impatient with the inevitable, I want to hurry it along, don’t cry for me Argentina or Paraguay or Slovenia or Madagascar. It’s been a great ride, and I got everything I deserved, good and bad, and maybe a little something that belonged to someone else. And know that I loved you, all of you, but there was only so much I could give after I served myself. Thank you for your belief, your disbelief, your indulgence, your indifference. You won’t get hurt if you stand back out of the way, look on objectively and consider it the end of an era, my era and error, a bid for freedom, me free of pain and suffering, you free of me and my pain and suffering.
He felt a chill that cooled his liver and made him shiver. “This is the way the world will end, in rays, red,” Kerouac had dreamed, “silent, tired—the world of the mind is the real world—the rays of the mind, the real rays.” The old king must die before a new one is born, his legacy his grand illusion.
Gazing at the dying sun, what anthropomorphic arrogance is it that steals the essence of cosmic eternity and absurdly imputes it to an immortal self? Why must I insist on combining the attributes of myself with that of the universe? To be a poet means to calmly weigh the eventual terror and degradation of impotence at averting my own death and that of my friends and lovers, and by extension, the death of a clueless feisty species, the death of the planet, incubator of a vaunted sentience. And even the death of its vital star, that bright orange dollop sinking into the ironic sea. Will anyone mourn that in this place over a span of untold eons there once lived poetic intelligence?
He lit his last cigarette and stepped to the edge to relieve himself. As he watched the unremitting froth of breakers spray phosphorescent arcs among the jagged dark shapes below, hypnotic in their mutability, his attention turned to the next swell of wave approaching as the edge of a mysterious and chimerical energy. And what exactly is the attraction of that shaped force consisting of undifferentiated particles caught up in concert until it breaks into the disarrayed individual wash of ephemeral droplets? It was all he could do not to join the cosmic undulation and become a part of it all. He contributed a little of himself anyway which pretty much summed up his life as a poet, a piss in the ocean.
I am as eternal as the universe and so the endless sea of matter, constantly unfolding enfolded forms, will find something else to do with me. Then my spirit should not be afflicted or frightened for I am this enchanted unity stable in my oneness and will remain so eternally. I am a non-symbolic thing signifying what I am. Those who consider the divine one thing and I another do not know. I is another, the rest is silence.
Pat Nolan’s poems, prose, and translations have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in North America as well as in Europe and Asia. He is the author of over a dozen books of poetry and two novels. His most recent books of poetry are So Much, Selected Poems Volume II 1990-2010 (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2019) and the thousand marvels of every moment, a tanka collection (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2018). He also maintains Parole, the blog of the New Black Bart Poetry Society. His serial fiction, Ode To Sunset, A Year In The Life Of American Genius, is available for perusal at odetosunset.com. He lives among the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.
“What a fool to be tricked into seriousness.” —William Carlos Williams from Kora In Hell
This year marks a century since the publication of Sour Grapes by Williams Carols Williams. The previous year, 1920, in the aftermath of a global pandemic, Williams had published his most radically modern work, Kora In Hell, Improvisations—prose improvisations in part influenced by what he had read of Gertrude Stein’s work in Alfred Stieglitz’s art magazine, Camera Works, (an early indication of the visual bias/esthetic in 20th Century) as well as Kandinsky’s essays on art. Kora In Hell was the starter’s gun that signaled Williams’ sprint into a decade of innovation and imagination, and in which he would develop and integrate esthetic concerns that would follow him for the rest of his days.
The germ of modern American poetry is in these 42 poems, a synced modernism in which Williams focused on the trends of the day (Expressionism, Futurism, Vorticism, Cubism, even Dada) from his semi-rural suburban redoubt and made them his own, using what fit with his vision and discarding the rest. To reread the poems in Sour Grapes is to contemplate the flourishing of a unique shift in American poetry, one that has endured a century and is practiced widely, often with barely an inkling of its provenance. They are poems of ease and elegance, notations of a particular perceptual identity tuned in to the times. In quoting Kandinsky’s “Every artist has to express himself, express his epoch, the pure and eternal qualities of the art of all men,” Williams affirmed what he was setting out to do. Just about everything in modern American poetry that is currently conventional can find its roots in Sour Grapes, the succinct paratactic directness of the poem stripped bare of its allegories.
As an independent professional, William Carlos Williams, M.D., was free to explore a certain radicalism in the arts without fear of it affecting his livelihood. The language would be spare yet elegant, with the objectivity of a scientist in its experiential expression. The poems have no theme (aka prompt) except for being in the moment, and the language that precipitates its transcription, once organized in verbal expression, can be viewed as the material from which a composition is articulated, the product of the writer/artist and a typewriter, the de facto canvas of the letter size sheet of paper implicit. The convention of topic and syllogistically clever resolution as homily, moral judgement/indignation, or resolute declaration (i.e., rhetoric) are abandoned for the perceptual/cinematic pan across a sequence of images to trigger a piano roll of subtle and harmoniously linked synapses much like the eyeful of a painting in which interest is aroused by various aspects of artistry, a sense of cohesiveness that is ineffable in nature. As Bruce Holsapple notes in his excellent Birth Of The Imagination, William Carlos Williams on Form (University of New Mexico, 2015), Sour Grapes and the poems of that period cued off the pictorial arts Williams would have seen in Stieglitz’s gallery, the Armory show of 1913, the Duchampian/Cubist fracture of planes, and a revelatory reading of Kandinsky’s essays on esthetics,
Kandinsky’s The Art of Spiritual Harmony (1914) is a point of reference around which much of Williams’ subsequent vision of a liberated poetic for the new age would revolve. Kandinsky and his ideas about art were hot topics of discussion, relevant to a particular coterie in the Stieglitz circle of artists and writers in the first decades of the 20th Century with whom the doctor from New Jersy was peripherally associated. Williams appropriated the terms “improvisation” and “composition” from Kandinsky, and was familiar with Kandinsky’s triadic sources of inspiration, responsibilities of the artist, guiding principles, and the mystical elements of inner need. Kandinsky’s idea of complementarity aligned with Williams’ idea of correspondences between unlike elements in apposition, of a resonance that ensues similar to the complementarity of colors, the binary of juxtaposition familiar from Seurat and pointillism but extended to a larger domain of abstraction and pure form. In absorbing Kandinsky’s idea of composites and composition, design and form, Williams removed himself from the literary sphere in his approach to writing, adopting extra lyrical methods closer to the visual esthetic of the 20th Century.
The pictorial arts played an influential part in Williams’ self-definition as a poet. He was a contemporary of Duchamp, in the era when literature became art (vividly retold in Shattuck’s The Banquet Years). The example of Mallarme’s Coup de des, with its emphasis on chance operation, juxtaposition, and the unpredictable, and Apollinaire’s graphical Calligrams presented the bridge to the visual esthetic in the way the poem could appear on the page. Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Imagism, Dada were all part of the artistic buffet available to Williams. In the new century, paintings were now visual poems, lyric, geometric, primitive, psychological representations of a nonverbal right brain. Poetry became indistinguishable from prose, imagistic verbal sketches, experientially schematized, sensually parsed, with the immediacy of the new now.
As Duchamp professed and predicted, anything and everything that can be appropriated is art. The outcome is a blending in which the literary incorporates (is incorporated by) the spatial approach of the plastic arts, and vice versa. Duchamp, as an example, is literary and literal: he creates a narrative with his objects by their confounding explicitness—you have to consider them. And Duchamp exemplified the new artist, one who is conceptual as well as intuitive. Expressionism added the analytical comprehension of form as an essential and spiritual element of artistic creation. Cubism, as a juxtaposition of elements in a brash remote mechanically abstracted assemblage, reflected the undaunted lines of machinery, supreme icon of the age, creating an environment of jarring loud designs, confounding in cacophonous announcement the representation of their workings. The Futurists were in love with machines as were architects and graphic designers. Dada, in all its seriousness, was aimed at producing laughter (albeit nervous), a release, an escape velocity from the grave grip of tedium and the troughs of repetition when things weren’t all that funny anymore.
If there is anything Dada about early Williams innovation, it is invisible to us now unless we take into consideration the provocative in Dada is the outrageousness of Williams’ method for the poetry readers of his time. What Williams realized is that the disjointed fragmented illustrative irony that dominates the eye can also be represented as a verbal construct. The found, the juxtaposed, the technical, scientific, photographic, cinematic, anecdotal can be objectified in situ by the form of the page. Like abstract paintings, poems “need not be intelligible to others,” Williams states in the Prologue to Kora In Hell, as they are unique engagements of perceptual identity and the creative impulse to frame sentience.
When considering Williams and form, the forms are not those of literary convention: sonnet, terza rima, ballad, villanelle, ode, blank verse, and so on. Nor is there rhyme or meter. “Nowadays poets spit on rhyme and rhetoric,” Williams states in the Prologue. The point of emphasis is that they are not literary forms at all, but products of impression, imagination, and composition, all guided by an initial stance in the moment of inspiration and self-organized according to the author’s esthetic understanding of what has presented itself, and not fit into the strictures of antiquated cleverness. Conventional literary forms would have no bearing on the new poetry, the one with the American voice.
In TheBirth Of The Imagination, a fascinating and erudite close reading of the good doctor’s early work, Bruce Holsapple examines what distinguishes Williams’ approach as a radical shift from the conventions of literature. “[T]he innovations of Sour Grapes entails minimizing propositional content and decentralizing imagery. . .boosting the significance of the simplest of phrases, heightening all elements equally. . .[with] meaning distributed throughout, not located in a macrostructure or in what the poem is ‘about’.” Many of the poems in Sour Grapes are extraordinary for their “painterly organization” as well as their use of “prepositional phrases” and their “conspicuous lack of propositional content.”
Holsapple uses the poem “Approach To Winter” as an example to focus on Williams’ method. The poem is distinguished by intense visual focus, lacking overt propositional content as well as being “an esthetic event in of itself.” Williams naturally thinks of the poem as “a kind of object with its own ontological status.” With the physicality of an objet d’art, the poem is now more than just literature—the typewriter had allowed the writer to own the page as an object of his making. Nor is the poem structured by theme but schematically (visually) as perceived events with bits of inner reflection sprinkled throughout. The absence of propositional content doesn’t invoke an outside referent in support of its non-theme nor is it especially representational in its non-expository presentational directness. The poem is not about anything in the conventional sense and as a consequence diminishes the distance between the subject and speaker to emphasis a unique and personal intimacy. “What occurs takes place on the page, resulting from a ‘poetic’ design,” Holsapple insists. The shift from an ideational to an experiential mode of organization has the effect of decentralizing the poem, an innovation begun in Kora In Hell.
Williams realizes his aim by first establishing perspective, accomplished in distinctly spatial terms, decentralizing the poem, and allowing the eye to follow the imagery much like it would in looking at a canvas. Point of view is flattened, redistributed, and the background brought forward to engage the reader much as modern painting does away with perspective for the effects of color and shape. The poems in Sour Grapes are not possible without the radical reappraisals of linear modes of poetic organization. As well, notions of content have undergone similar transformations. The poem is not meant to be taken as a representation of experience, but experienced as an artistic construct, one in which theme is no longer the primary principle of development, and that “the meaning resides in the very structure.”
“The form of the work, the compositional design, gives evidence of thought. . .innovative design is the [poet’s] primary task,” Holsapple notes in his conclusion to the section detailing Williams’ groundbreaking method in Sour Grapes. “The content of the poem arises from experience. . . the poet’s attention. . .focused at the point of origin, on immediate experience, as a legitimizing moment. The organization of the poems becomes schematic. . .rather than organized by hierarchy,” he maintains, and consequently the poems in Sour Grapes are allowed to expand beyond the bounds of literary conventions into those of visual tropes. Williams’ improvisational modes become part of a calculated method as requisite to composition.
There is not a little irony in Williams’ titling of his 1921 poetry selection Sour Grapes, an expression that suggests dissatisfaction and envy. When I first noticed the title in the table of contents of my 1951 edition of The Earlier Collected Poems many years ago, I thought, “Sour Grapes, now there’s a fitting title for a book of poems.” It certainly articulates a universal mood, especially among poets who feel marginalized or don’t get the attention they think they deserve (on a sliding scale). Despite his current status as a major literary figure in the American canon, a thirty seven year old (in 1921) Williams Carlos Williams was shoveling shit against the tide and he knew it. His ideas did not have a chance in “hell” when the literary establishment was favoring T.S. Eliot whom he viewed as a subtle conformist, a conscious simplicity, a man content with the connotations of his masters, and the antithesis of the radical poetics he was advocating, one that did away with the old world methods for the new perspective of the 20th Century. What Williams proposed then is still radical despite being marginalized and disparage in the institutional canon.
A further irony is that it took René Taupin, a Frenchman, to grasp the significance of Kora In Hell and by extension Williams’ later innovative work. In his 1929 L’influence du Symbolisme français sur la poésie américaine (1910-1920), a time when Williams was receiving little or no critical attention, Taupin writes that “Williams knows more about the work of the imagination than any American poet today,” and that perhaps it was Williams who had come up with the formulation that would become the basis for American modernist writing. He had no difficulty in positioning Kora In Hell as the seminal text for a uniquely American approach to modern poetry and seeing the text as probably the most important in the evolution of Williams’ poetry, that in the composition of Improvisations, [Williams] had posed all the relevant artistic questions of his day, and in its writing, had brought himself into intimate contact with his means. Williams makes no bones about delineating these means in the texts of Improvisations as well as in the original 1920 Prologue to Kora In Hell (omitted in the 1957 City Lights edition). The poems of Sour Grapes and subsequently in Spring And All and The Descent Of Winter would illustrate his means, his gift, his talent, his genius, his vision.
Williams’ influence is hardly insignificant in modernist American letters. He is the subject of numerous and laudatory biographical/critical studies that get to the root of his supreme importance in the development and direction of modern poetry, certainly in the Anglosphere. Yet he is still denigrated as a minor poet, dismissed by the likes of Vendler and Bloom, and paved over in the institutional curriculum of entrenched academe and the sentimentalized techni-centric workshop/wokeshop where students (future poets?) are taught to write meaningful captions to their selfies and pass them off as poems. Lip service is paid to Williams by including his “wheelbarrow” poem (Spring And All, “Poem XXII”) in anthologies without providing the necessary context, and without which the glaze of rain water and white chickens is rendered simplistic and superficial while so much depends upon its revolutionary complexity. Remarkably his poetry and his ideas about poetry have gone on to influence generations of American poets too numerous to name but would include, as just the beginning sketch of a very very long list in the generations that overlap my own, Paul Blackburn, Elaine Equi, Anselm Hollo, Joanne Kyger, Denise Levertov, Lorine Niedecker, Alice Notley, Kenneth Rexroth, James Schuyler, and Philip Whalen. (Add your list here.)
At the turn of the century of the visual cortex and dominant esthetic of the gaze, writers necessarily had to be freed from their subcategory and integrated into the greater field of creative individuals. The poet became the painter and the painter became the poet: colorful emotions, anti-narrative flights of fancy predominated the canvas and artfully arranged words and phrases in tandem graced the page. The poet manifests as artist, not simply a man or woman of letters—there are no longer such distinctions—participating in the breaking down and redefining of the arts in culture as increasingly more complex interpretations of the modes of the psyche. As Julia Kristeva observed, “The 20th Century saw another reordering of the esthetic until it got to the point that art became a continuous reordering of the esthetic as the process of signifying.”
Process over product in American modernist writing begins with Williams Carlos Williams who understood that visual bias, already well established in photography and the cinema as well as the plastic arts, would be the dominating influence of the new century’s art. The dynamic of the poem is its construction as a movement not only as a creature of the page but as the process of the unfolding of the imagination through deft improvisation that on each occasion rewrites the history of literature as a unique composition. Form is self-determined in that it is the result of imagination, improvisation, and intelligence. The poem must offer something other than the old syllogistic cul de sac. The poems in Sour Grapes were among the first steps toward dismantling the antiquated mechanisms of literature and are the rootstock feeding the diverse branches of American poetry.
Obviously much of what I have written here is the result of long held opinions and perceptions of the importance of Williams in relation to my own writing and to the vast entangled field of modern poetry. However, I delight in being joined in my speculation by others who have articulated their views and have done the leg work. Bruce Holsapple’s The Birth Of The Imagination, William Carlos Williams On Form (University of New Mexico, 2015) is one such study I feel fortunate to have chanced upon. For those not familiar with the material of Williams’ early groundbreaking work, Holsapple presents an informed exposition on the development of the radical esthetic at the root of modern American poetry. Readers better acquainted with the breadth of the Williams oeuvre will discover a brilliant, thoroughly considered refresher into the revolutionary vision of the new poetry by the foundational figure in modernist American writing. Recommended as a companion volume is Imaginations (New Directions, 1970), a collection of Williams’ seminal work of the 1920s, edited and introduced by Webster Schott. The 42 poems of Sour Grapes, found in The Collected Earlier Poems (New Directions, 1951), will no doubt surprise the contemporary reader with how current and fresh they remain.
Pat Nolan’s poems, prose, and translations have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in North America as well as in Europe and Asia. He is the author of over a dozen books of poetry and three novels. His most recent books of poetry are So Much, Selected Poems, Volume II 1990-2010 (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2019) and the thousand marvels of every moment, a tanka collection (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2018). He also maintains Parole, the blog of the New Black Bart Poetry Society as well as Dime Pulp, A Serial Fiction Magazine. His poet-centric fiction, Ode To Sunset, A Year In The Life Of American Genius, is available for perusal at odetosunset.com. He lives among the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.
Poetry, Art, Photos, Memories, Anecdotes, Interviews, and Essays on her Life and Work by friends, contemporaries, poets, and fellow writers, compiled and organized by Sara Safdie (with technical assistance from the Parole Officer)
Introduction Sara Safdie
(click on the bold type to go to a particular section)
Set One Ammiel Alcalay • Dawn-Michelle Baude • Michael Boughn • John Daley • Jennifer Dunbar Dorn • Mark DuCharme • Stephen Emerson • Kathleen Frumkin • Gloria Frym • Robert Grenier & John Batki
Set Two Anselm Hollo • Stefan Hyner • Alastair Johnston • Larry Kearney • Ku Yün • Nafet Le Renyh • Lewis MacAdams • Phoebe MacAdams • Duncan McNaughton • Genie McNaughton • Diana Middleton-McQuaid
Set Three Jim Nisbet • Pat Nolan • Alice Notley • Arthur Okamura • Kevin Opstedal • Simon Pettet •
Set Four Red Pine • Steve Potter • Michael Rothenberg- Joe Safdie • Sara Safdie • Edward Sanders • Miriam Sanders
Set Five David Schneider • Cedar Sigo • Dale Martin Smith • John Thorpe • Anne Waldman • Michael Wolfe
Set Six Art & Photo Gallery and Links to Videos and Miscellany
Introduction Sara Safdie
As I write this, it’s hard to believe that it’s been four years since my good friend, Joanne Elizabeth Kyger died. Her death came as a complete shock to me, even though I knew she was ill, but I never knew how ill she really was—nor did most people, including Joanne. It was hard to break the habit of thinking I’ve got to call Joanne to tell her about what I just saw or where I went. She came to me in dreams, often. In January I began to feel that I had to do something for her, to keep her memory present in all those in her large circle whose lives she touched. I have been truly amazed, though not surprised, at the response I got from so many of you, so I thank everyone who has contributed a poem, an essay, a memory, or photos that are gathered in this volume.
I especially want to give particular shout-outs to those who made this possible. To Alastair Johnston, who suggested I get in touch with Pat Nolan to provide the platform for this special edition of Parole, blog of The New Black Bart Poetry Society. To Duncan McNaughton who was kind enough to provide email addresses and suggestions about inviting people whom I might have overlooked. To Anne Waldman, Joanne’s good friend and poet-in-arms, who also provided email addresses, her own work, Anselm Hollo’s poem to Joanne, a series of emails between them, as well as enlisting the aid of her Naropa assistant, Caroline (Swanee) Simpson. To Donald Guravich, whose loss is probably the greatest of us all, who also helped with email addresses, suggestions about contributors, and the photos he has shared here. Finally, I want to thank Pat Nolan, whose generosity in time and spirit has made this all possible.
Thank you all so much for everything you’ve shared to make this the celebration it should be of the life of a great friend, a great poet, and an undying spirit.
Submitted to the membership on March 22, 2021 by the Parole Officer who would also like to thank the contributors for their effort in this tribute to Joanne Kyger. The amount of material collected made it imperative that the work be presented in alphabetic order and parceled out in sections so that everyone received a fair viewing and that the readers did not suffer from scroll fatigue. A special thanks to Sara Safdie for her diligence and to Stephen Ratcliffe for his treasure trove of photos. And last but not least, to Donald Guravich for his blessing.
In anticipation of arranging a reading for Joanne in New York in 2012, I began thinking about a project we might be able to do together that could fit into the Lost & Found chapbook format, using unpublished archival material that might shed new light on her life and times. Knowing that there was correspondence between Joanne and others we had recently published or were about to publish, namely John Wieners and Michael Rumaker, I began floating the project to her. On September 11, 2011, Joanne wrote:
Those dates sound fine!
Some of the correspondence I had with John was very arch and funny, circa 1965 etc. We had a close friendship and understanding over the years, having met in 1957 when he was doing Measure, and having enough energy to swoop through the poetry bars of North Beach every night.
A week later, on September 17, 2011, Joanne wrote:
I wonder if San Diego has all the letters catalogued—I sent them the rest of my letter and mss. archives last October. Up to 2007. Wieners would be lots of fun to do. The language is a little arch. I did send carbon copies of my letters TO people, but am not sure who—that would have been in the 50’s and 60’s. Letters to and from Philip Whalen is another possibility, but those too are fraught with style. A sampling of correspondence, and replies, might be lively, if it didn’t pose too many editorial decisions.
By January, a plan started to emerge:
What a great idea to use the Rumaker and Wieners’ correspondence. We were close friends during that time, and YES, so young and brash and screwed up, but loving most minutes of it. Do send the scans when you have time.
By the end of January, excitement started building:
What a rush of the late 50’s North Beach scene. I often typed letters on the book order sheets at my job at Brentano’s which entailed using carbon copies. I don’t know what happened to the copies of the missives I sent to ‘Pip’ Wieners, I thought there might be some in the Mandeville Collection which I sold to them in the early 70’s. I don’t have a list from then. I love John’s tone. The letters to Michael certainly give a picture, I think they may have to be edited a bit to protect the shredded reputations of those still around… The ‘humor’ is very wicked, slashed reputations etc. This from a cursory look.
I’ll try and put them in some kind of order and get back to you.
The very next day, this came, with subject heading: “Giddy reading at dawn”:
I think this is after Ebbe [Borregaard], Michael [Rumaker], Jerome [Mallmann] and George Stanley were hauled off to jail in North Beach, after Ebbe gave a policeman the finger. Ida Hodes of the Poetry Center bailed them out the next day and they all returned triumphantly to the Sunday poetry group.
He told me to run run, or they’ll get you too. I got a taxi back to my apartment at 949 Columbus.
The evening started out with ‘cocktails’ made at Michael’s suggestion of Rhine wine and gin.
We did have some kind of dinner, and then went out on the town, which was North Beach a few blocks away.
Who are the roving gang in the archives–and where are Michael’s letters?
Cheers from a very cool dawn,
As we got into details of the trip, by the end of February, Joanne wrote:
I also have a few other John Wiener’s odds and ends to send. A poem he wrote for me, in 1972, which may be from a time later than what you were looking for; and a long account written on the bus, of going to the dentist after he had swallowed one of his teeth. It was written on the inside of my paperback Hart Crane poems, in 1958.
At some point, a letter from John to Joanne answered a question I had about a reading I went to, where I had, as a teenager, taken pictures of the readers, including John, Denise Levertov, Anne Sexton, and Ron Lowensohn, at the Charles Street Meeting House in Boston. I knew it was tied to a political event and always thought it took place in 1969, on Moratorium Day, in protest against the American War in Vietnam. But John described another event, in 1970, for the Chicago 7, and Joanne wrote: “John’s letters are like messengers of the moment, replayed and replayed.”
By mid-March we had a series of letters, but were creeping closer and closer to the deadline. In “the middle of the second day of storms,” Joanne wrote:
Sometimes it’s difficult visiting a 23 year old self. I thought Michael Rummkaer, at times, needed ‘cheering up’ mmediately. And I was charmed by everyone else’s letters. I’ll read through them again to check for redundancies. And Thank you for all the attention you’ve given this project —actually you created it!
We continued working through April, with back and forth commentary, filled with Joanne’s meticulous detailed thought and laser-like editing. At some point Joanne realized that the event planned in New York would include a “reunion” of sorts with Michael Rumaker and, given that they had been out of touch for decades, this entailed some sense of uncertainty. But they began corresponding and by the end of April Joanne wrote: “It’s been great hearing his Enthusiasm for the series. He wants to have a good time, and that sounds like the right attitude.”
And a good time certainly was had, as an enthusiastic crowd gathered to hear Joanne and Michael Rumaker read some letters from those we collected for the chapbook, and talk to each other, after all those years. I treasure the time we had, whether that week in New York when Joanne was my houseguest, or on visits to Bolinas. I deeply miss her unfaltering clarity and uncanny ability to respond directly to the world in her own inimitable way, and there is still much to learn from her work and how she carried herself in the time she had.
“Joanne Kyger’s poetry terrified me”
Joanne Kyger’s poetry terrified me, although I didn’t know why. I first encountered it in the early ‘80s when she delivered a lecture at New College of California. Drawing on Michael Harner’s The Way of the Shaman, she described the shamanic journey via a visionary hole in the earth—I was astonished at how matter-of-factly she delivered this information at a time when hyper-rationalism in the poetry community was ascendant. Three days later, I ran into her at a Bill Berkson reading. I told her that “I went down the hole.”
Joanne gave me a look that eventually I learned to recognize—an intense, anticipatory pause she savored before replying—though at the time I worried she didn’t believe me. She asked what happened, and that was the start of a 37-year friendship. Soon, I joined lively roommates in Duncan McNaughton’s Bolinas house as part of a permissive intellectual community with Joanne at its center.
Those were difficult times for me: I was processing everything life had lobbed my way. Joanne had no patience for self-pity. “That’s not interesting!” she snapped when I explained my feelings. It was one among many vital lessons. Once when I poured wine into a clay cup, Joanne snatched it away and found a glass. “You must see the wine,” she said. “Respect Dionysus.” The lessons kept coming, everything from Robert Duncan’s mysticism and the “de-meter” of her prosody to the finer points of anal hygiene. She helped draw up the list of participants for The White Rabbit Symposium and Jack Spicer Conference on one hand, and explained the superiority of a salt spoon to a shaker on the other. Turkey buzzards, men, the necessity of scarves: I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Joanne was the mother I never had, but she picked up slack.
When I moved in with Joanne’s friend, Alastair Johnston, in Oakland, a new pattern was established: visiting Joanne and Donald in Bolinas, when Joanne would heap the table with books, fill my head with ideas, and insist that I learn something, anything, about the natural world. Over the years, that pattern solidified: returning to Bolinas from France and visiting Joanne and Donald. Returning from Egypt, Lebanon, Italy, wherever. Joanne was a lifeline, an anchor. Each time we exchanged gifts. I brought a jacket I’d found for her in Beijing, salt from the Camargue; she gave me earrings, bracelets, scarves, her latest chapbook or broadside, the Bolinas Hearsay News. The gifting ritual was born of Joanne’s generosity of spirit, her drive to inclusively connect with others, to mark meaningful occasions with mementos that concretized the transience of life as surely as her poems.
Occasionally, I reckoned with Kyger’s books, publishing a review of Again: Poems 1980-2000 in First Intensity (2002). But I delayed immersing myself in the entirety of her work; I was saving it for when I was ready. That moment came in 2015, when I was living in Las Vegas and realized Joanne wasn’t receiving enough attention for her contribution to American poetry at the moment when her health was fading. I got a Huffington Post editor on board for an On Time (2016) review, but when it posted, the lines excerpted from her poem were yanked flush-left to the margin, ignoring the open-field prosody essential to sound and interpretation. I phoned Joanne to apologize. “I’ve had this problem my whole life.” Her voice was wistful; I realized that, given the tyranny of the left margin, indeed she had (the layout in the review was later corrected).
Next, Jennifer Burke and I began the Herculean task of assembling Joanne’s Wikipedia page, which entailed piecing together a biography as well as familiarity with as many of her publications as I could get my hands on. It took months. During that process, I discovered much about Joanne’s family, training in philosophy, lovers, travels—the life she’d lived before I met her. I also realized that what frightened me about Joanne’s writing was the white-hot truth at its core. I was angry with myself for not having seen her books, journals and letters in a tight web of controlled continuity, for not reckoning with Joanne’s phenomenological project writ large.
The Wiki page occasioned frequent correspondence and calls, including a delicate loop when Joanne refused to be associated with either “Bolinas” or “Buddhism.” This refusal was problematic, first because Joanne clearly is associated with Bolinas and Buddhism, and secondly, from a technical standpoint, Jen and I needed the links to authenticate her page. She wouldn’t budge. I knew she was refusing to be pigeonholed, as she had throughout her life; I also knew that other scholars and readers would come forward to grapple with her work, and that the Wiki foundation needed to be solid. I argued that omitting Bolinas and Buddhism called into question anything left in, and she relented.
The last time I saw Joanne was in fall 2016, when, at the age of 82, she flew to Las Vegas for the Vegas Valley Book Festival. I’d worked to get Joanne and Jim Nisbet invited so we could have a reunion in the Mojave, along with Kathleen Frumkin and Jim’s wife, Carol Collier. When I showed Joanne the guestroom, she gave me the look. “Well, it’s a start.”
For the next thirty minutes, Kathleen and I moved furniture, changed bulbs, dug in the garage for lamps, fetched different bedding, and arranged plants and flowers until we’d made Joanne comfortable. She was nervous at being away from Donald, when I so desperately wanted her to feel at home since so many times over the years she had extended to me that very privilege. I noticed that she positioned herself near the statues of Buddha and Bodhisattva in the dining area. I made sure that she ate from the lacquer bowls she spotted in the cupboard and requested.
Joanne gave, I believe, her last reading at the Writer’s Block Bookshop; many people in attendance were discovering her poetry for the first time. They crowded onto benches, stood along the walls. She chose poems mostly from On Time, a book—like many of Joanne’s—dealing with death, or the “transit,” as she corrected me during discussion of the endless drafts of her Wiki page. Her reading was sober. No jokes, no asides. The poems were chiseled, cut from marble, so deliberately did she read them. Their truths made the crowd roar.
“It wasn’t my best reading,” she said, afterwards.
“It was perfect,” I replied.
February 2021, Banner, Wyoming
The Gardener —for Joanne
Walking around in colored sheets mumbling prayers; the vegetables don’t care. Nor good vibes. It’s like that. The wind doesn’t whisper and the trees (or columns) huge and shaggy in wet gray air speak for themselves. Here spook. Don’t stream. Listen to the men in plaid skirts out by the oaks blowing into bladders. They dream of someone named, while beyond the sea devours edges of earth. Licks its chops. Dozens of others, each with a little wire in hand, crisscross the ground in search of the fluid beneath. The wires wiggle with delight, kirilian energy, or oedipal undertones. But they wiggle, you dig it? Trombones here, trumpets there, girls in short skirts waving flags. Each to a different drummer than the drummers. And oh those piccolos, off in a corner near the gardener watering the rugosas which are tough and hardy, capable of withstanding hard freezes, wind, drought, and salt spray from the ocean.
Earth bends with heaven’s shoulders Tamalpais dream of desire fades with the morning star at sunrise Every day prayers to Kwan Yin Yet at first apprehensive with marriage fire starting, chores, meals, but then wrote such deft flower poems and worked hard to take 100 breaths without a thought, Joanne Kyger sailing to study Zen in Kyoto and spoke to the end of her life “Donald san” as the Japanese with a charm sort of deferential, returned alone after four years in Asia coming at dawn to go under the Golden Gate Bridge, “Only Phil Whalen waiting when I disembarked.” But listening to the murmur of Mnemosyne there comes fresh subtlety of voice out of the air, whether of goddess or penumbra, but what the echo yields or its opera nor any word spoke anger Heard the voice and distance within the voice, shadow, occultation, but relaxed, unafraid she had lost her own dear place nor was there much time to celebrate inflection, adorable pitch of her thought beyond ambient sounds wind’s breath gulls’ screech cross Bolinas Lagoon phoned the off-rhymed echo from unrhymed space
Jennifer Dunbar Dorn
In her poem “Encircling Folds” Joanne quotes Robert Duncan saying he is “disturbed” by her work because “actually, buddhism isn’t part of the poem it isn’t a part of the imagination so you get a little homily in the middle of the thing.” She repeats
like a question mark hanging in space she drops another mystery into thin air:
What I want to know is which is the homily here and what the thing?
I love the way you write poems, Joanne so casually, so cool, in the moment like you’re plucking cosmic strings as you listen to waves roll in with the latest gossip wars without end on the radio a bird in the window, flowers, trees what you see and hear is all there is—pure Zen not a thing Robert Duncan is wrong your poems are true all the way through as are you who live on in them always.
You always gave exquisite gifts, Joanne, small delicate things—a shell, a tiny envelope containing a fragment of the Soledad Virgin on red tissue-thin paper. A miniature wirebound notebook with “Bonheur” and a 4-leaf clover embossed in gold on the cover its blank-dated pages way too little to write in—or so I thought— but today, thinking of you, I threw the I Ching and, dating the first page 2/23/21 drew the ideogram and wrote down the last line of commentary: “no blame, there are things more important than life.”
Cento: In Memory of Joanne Kyger
That individual will die in my back yard over the septic tank I don’t change your flamboyance into the neighbors’ lives, therefore living pressed to the earth. Just resting and dreaming
I saw him like a shadow rise I’m full of French ideals. Which happen way before the case of what passes by the eyes This is the ghost one I was referring to I am in Paul McCartney’s new house Elizabeth arrives his grace is of love and charm, as I have seen him from the blue of the farm house tile roofs on honeymoon, peeling slightly
How much time can I spend regaining these refreshing circumferences of the day.
Joanne Kyger in Flight
At dinner before a reading (hers), in the Bolinas shack I shared with friend Andy Berlin, she pulled a book off my shelf. Long ago. She’d driven down in the orange Datsun she called “Pumpkin.” The book was Hugh Kenner’s The Pound Era. “Hugh Kenner was my teacher,” she said. That made sense: UC Santa Barbara. Still, pretty fascinating, and what a span among those three. She also told me, grinning, that she was from Vallejo, CA, and so was Bugsy Siegel. This was, perhaps, a prank. I find no evidence Siegel ever set foot in Vallejo.
Joanne Kyger was a poet but she was also a person. I knew both. The identities overlapped in ways they don’t always. Certainly the poems coming straight from the quotidian in daily life, not entirely unusual. But there were also her readings. Everything sounded fabulous, crackling with vitality and surprise that might not even exist on the page. She was as brilliant a reader as she was a poet, and if you knew her for a minute or more, you knew she was dazzlingly quick on her feet, her brain answering each surrounding moment with the alacrity of a hummingbird.
And so at her readings. Did she always alter the poems? The sense of improvisation was strong, the question moot. But it was almost as if there were as many versions of poems as there were readings (a lot). She was renowned for this, of course. Also for her contributions to the readings of others. No tolerance for boredom and no feeling she should have any. More than once I’d be giggling next to Joanne at an hilarious aside she’d made at somebody’s reading, only to have heads spin and loud “sssshh” sounds issue. Some listeners actually thought her commentary wasn’t what the reading was about! Few readers objected.
A hummingbird, but maybe birds in general as well. For such a large personality, Joanne stepped very lightly. She was discrete (the -ete discrete), as in “clean around the edges.” When you remember Joanne’s demeanor, there’s a smile because so often she was laughing. I think she cultivated that—a sense of bemusement. She knew the world too well for that stance not to have involved some real work on her part.Once at Smiley’s Bar in downtown Bolinas, my friend Mo approached her as to a third party. He guilelessly asked, “Joanne, will you go over and cheer him up, he’s depressed and morose.” “I can’t, it’s too hard,” she told him.
Miss Kyger (in her quoting of John Weiners, ever etched in memory) was a Buddhist and at the same time, a hipster of the most virtuous kind. And she was what very few people are, a talisman.
THE MORALITY OF ATTENTION for Joanne Kyger 8.8.13
Count the words
funny little guy
you and your dopamine squirt
behind the scenes I see you going out in nature
I have you in my sight You spend more noise
eye of white
eye of newt
I go fight sharks You out me
What would Charles Olson say?
monopoly of the polis
of strangers gathered
The customer is iron the customer is always water
some kind of sentiment analysis
So, go count the woods
I saw your jaw as if a relative beckoned
why are we speaking through analogues which poets hate
because so pedantic and we are not referencing foot surgery here
at Blackhawk Bardo Plaza ducks sleep in the drainage pit at the bottom of a waterless pond on gravel
where can they go my heart is above my head
always go to the bottom of the page that is where you will discover the surface
no less than you
penny thrift upon the pylon
will harvest the moon
in the meantime I will be content
to pull weeds from the sidewalk
between places where we once lived
and welcome trousseaus of another order *
MIDNIGHT JOY (brain)
Oh you silly fossil that tells me what to do
We were all sitting at the breakfast table on McGee Ave. in Berkeley (so long ago now!) drinking coffee and Joanne had taken a fresh piece of paper to begin writing a poem (which she often did in the midst of lively conversation back and forth with other poets) at the table. There was an incident of spilled milk or was it coffee? on this “first page” on the table, and Joanne had not really written anything on it yet. So, she simply started a new page, “p.2,” that you see in the scan above, in which the spilt milk/coffee is included as part of the phenomena and structure of the poem in the field. So much like Joanne to let something impromptu like this, even accidental, become part of a poem, including the grease blobs on the page she delineates with her red pen. I think “page 1” ended in the trash as it was covered in milk and could not be saved. This was Joanne’s decision if I remember this correctly.
Remarks on Joanne Kyger Delivered at her Memorial Service, Bolinas, 22 July 2017
Conversation with Joanne: JK: How are things going with the new work? GF: I’m sick of it. JK: Why? GF: I’m trying to get the wars out of my writing. JK: Why would you want to?
This is classic Joanne, in the sense that she believed that anything belonged in a poem; the smallest thing and the global could enter the poem and be the poem. The daily had to enter. What could be more daily than war?
Can you imagine Joanne when Jack Spicer asked her, “What are your plans for poetry?” As a young woman in her early 20s, it must have been a daunting conversation, but she got right to work and never stopped. I like to think that she respected consciousness more than most of us. In any case, to me, the work knew itself, early on and continued steadily, with no guile and no bile. Well, maybe an edge here and there. She tells us, “Be in awe of the tiny things under your paws.”
A Kyger poem says whatever it has to say in the most plain, direct language possible in a poem. There’s the surprise of it! We don’t expect a poem to be so natural. In Joanne’s world, things are exactly what they are, not what they’re like or close to being like. Early on, she figured out a way to avoid poetry’s little helper, the figurative. Metaphor falls away in her poems even if it’s implied. So that she fulfills Spicer’s mandate, “We want to transfer the immediate object, the immediate emotion to the poem.” And . . . “words are what sticks to the real. And to paste a real lemon in it. The lemon to be a lemon that the reader could cut or squeeze or taste—a real lemon like a newspaper in a collage is a real newspaper. Poetry is a collage of the real.”
I could say that the totality of Joanne’s work is a mythology of a real life, a metonym for a poet’s life. “Prose invents, poetry discloses.” I feel grateful to have been alive in the orbit of her extraordinary disclosing consciousness.
From On Time, 2010, “Last Rays in the Garden”
They lasted a long time didn’t they those rays
Blurb for The Japan & India Journals, Joanne Kyger, reprinted by Nightboat Books, 2015
In language forever lucent, Kyger is always all present—natural, graceful, honest. One is never her student, though the work is sensei in dialogue with us. THE VERGE—is the only creative/truly creative/moment—when things have not yet condemned them/selves—by coming alive—to extinction. The Japan and India Journals introduce the reader to a mind and life of attention. Keep this book close to you as a cherished wedding ring.
How, he wonders, watching the apple blossoms drift across his path, can one ever repay all this grandmotherly love?
I met Joanne in North Beach in the spring 0f ‘64. Nothing really changed between us when she died, and if I’d opened my gate in the dark this morning and she’d been standing across the street I’d have felt nothing but recognition and a deep, unsurprising reinforcement.
I’d have said ‘Hi Joanne,’ and put up a hand, palm out.
The way it’s always been, I sometimes meet someone I know, immediately. We look at each other and there’s nothing in particular said, just the sudden and overwhelming sense of ‘Oh, there you are.’
I think it happened more in North Beach than anywhere else, and my first day there I met Joanne and Jack Spicer.
The events have the edge of what happens when you catch the eye of a meadow-cow by a fence. You look at each other steadily and there’s a deeply moving sense of ‘She sees me exactly as I am, and it doesn’t matter.’
From the moment we said ‘Hello,’ up in Nemi Frost’s apartment on Telegraph Hill, some things were understood. There were ripples over and under the table and a certain blankness of knowing, a kind of nod to how things are, when you notice.
Through all the years I knew her there were always four of us―in the company of others there’d be one of each, brittle and a little tentative, sometimes on the edge of irritation. When it was just the two of us, walking here or there, alone, as simply the people we knew ourselves to be, aspirants to an impossible understanding and moving through talk and presence with a minimum of strain and that occasional, seamless sense of allowed to be.
It was quite lovely.
The problem with the poetry has always been that we’re not quite up to hearing because that’s how we’re put together―of consciousness, the required unknowability of the universe, and the haunt that comes with it.
Joanne was a master to the degree that’s possible.
We had different obsessions and different dictions and saw the real arriving differently, but one thing was constant―the outside, right over there, and whether it was perceived phenomenologically (Joanne, mostly), or phantasmagorically (Spicer, mostly), it was the real, here and there and whispering in the rooms in the head marked ‘Open.’
I think there are only a few things worth saying about the outside’s willful poem and the first and most generative for me is that we need to be able and willing to write down what the poem wants to say when it wants to say it.
And Joanne was a master at making the necessary space for her floating, creeping, settling-in information. The only description I have for that is The Real Thing.
Getting old can open up the haunt a bit, and while it still won’t declare itself now, it clearly owns the mumbling-light landscape that says ‘Hey, yeah, I’m talking to you.’
Joanne listened and looked and heard and saw and did it in the fugitive ways that come with allowing oneself.
In North Beach, tough as it was, I found more of that outside, between and attentive that I’d find anywhere else. Sequentially, I met Joanne, Jack Spicer, Jamie MacInnis, George Stanley, Richard Duerden and Richard Brautigan. There were others, too.
In Bolinas―Terry Bell, Duncan McNaughton, Shao Thorpe, Bob Creeley.
Some would become close and some not, but what was always there was the recognition, the clear understanding that could run back and forth silently under a five chair bar table in the light from a neon waterfall―Hamm’s beer, from ‘the land of sky blue waters.’
Between those who were what?
Over the years what I’ve come to believe (not really―belief signifies a judgment I don’t honor) that those who, for whatever reason, had appeared with a premature and sort-of conscious sense of the womb itself. Of the previous, too, the particularities, the thrum―a shared a way of observing and staying private that let us know each other unspokenly, at a distance.
Joanne broke open in my head immediately. She listened. Her whole body showed it, posture and movement and a tremulous, tight-rope balancing of eye and mouth.
At Nemi’s, Joanne was sitting at the kitchen table in a morning wrap kind of thing. Coming in the front door the first thing noticed in Nemi’s apartment had been her enormous painting of Fred Astaire in mid-leap.
The second had been Joanne.
She was newly back from Japan where she’d been traveling with Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg, and she was living in a very small apartment on the back-stair landing just off Nemi’s kitchen.
God she was alert. Hungover but there, and for me the focus of the room. I was just off the plane from Brooklyn and I was babbling a little but Joanne as focus point had a serious talent for babble and time passed in an okay fashion. At one point Nemi said, ‘Larry’s in from Brook-lyn,’ with that slightly mocking Santa Barbara drawl she had. ‘He writes po-e-try.’
Nothing much happened.
‘Really,’ Joanne said to her cigarette and asked me to read something. Which I did. She said ‘Oh my,’ whatever the hell that meant. I didn’t much care because I’d been able to see her listening, and that was something to appreciate, and remember.
Later, I’d think I could tell when a poem had come in her head. There was a stillness and a little parting of the lips, a shift of attention from where to somewhere. It was deeply interesting. As she was, almost always.
The day wound around to afternoon when we all retired for what Nemi would call ‘trick naps.’ Then we had dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory and headed to The Bars. Nemi liked to say that, ‘Hey kids, let’s go to the bars.’
Gino & Carlo’s which was the bar, really, was full but not crowded, long and not very wide. There were pinball machines flanking the door, and pool tables in back.
There were two tables against the wall on the right and one of them had two guys sitting at it, observant maybe, maybe just bored. They were Jack Spicer and Graham Mackintosh. Again, I knew Jack right away. The feeling was ‘Looks like I’ve done something right.’ I was introduced and sat down.
Joanne was at the bar ordering and her head was like a searchlight. She was self-possessed and what? Maybe just possessed. I watched closely.
‘I see you’ve met Joanne,’ Spicer said, and I smiled and he smiled back. It was all okay though I was scared to death. My good luck was that I’d spent my teenage years drinking in Brooklyn and had my defenses in place.
Joanne was odd around Jack. She seemed almost afraid of him and spent a lot of time tapping her cigarette and looking up blankly before quickly turning her head.
Bright as a penny they used to say when I was a kid. Flippable might have been added to that, with some accuracy.
Joanne, I knew, was apprehensive, a bit distraught. She’d split from Gary Snyder in Japan, I think it was, and he was due back any day.
It all gets a little blurry, but every time I saw Joanne over the next few months I watched her intently. I read her book The Tapestry and the Web, and bits and pieces stuck in my head though I had the feeling that it was kind of a blue book handed in to god knows which teacher.
It wasn’t Jack, at least not on the surface.
Jack had died after falling in ‘66―one of the very few times I’ve cried as an adult. There’d been someone with him at the hospital most of the time.
I wasn’t there when Joanne came, but I was told that when Jack had started to raise his arm in greeting, Joanne had flinched and stepped back, as if he’d been about to hit her.
I don’t know what it was between them but it was deep and there’s no question in my mind that it probably involved Jack pontificating, being helpful, He had an acute eye and I always figured he’d found something in Tapestry in the Web that he’d thought was the poem, and had got buried.
Joanne had more than a passing familiarity with the terrors of Spicer’s rooms in the dark, and when his name would come up her voice would change, just slightly, as if a changed chemistry of air were affecting vocal chords.
They knew each other well, Joanne and Jack, but she was a bit afraid.
Gino & Carlo’s started to fade and sometime in the very early ‘70s a lot of us would end up in Bolinas, a town up the coast with a population of 400. Five years later there’d be seventy or so poets.
Joanne lived in a few places but finally got a cottage about two-and-a-half blocks from me and when I got up and the morning opened in a particularly blank way, I could walk over to her place and sit.
The things we talked about involved two very different transcribers―who we were, where we were and what the hell our obligations might be to poetry, to the poem.
There were four of us, as I’ve said, two in social settings, brittle and occasionally sharp tongued, and two by themselves, perfectly at ease and talking about where we were, what we were attempting, and how it was arriving.
Joanne didn’t belong to any clubs.
She had protective coloration, my god did she, but it was all bullshit―defensive flicks and jumps verbal and otherwise, occasional bits of Ginsbergian dogma, opinions so little real or central that sometimes I could just sit with my mouth open.
But none of it mattered and god knows she’d earned the right to any evasion she needed. The last time I saw her I was back in Bolinas, can’t remember the occasion.
I went to see her and she dressed a bit and off we went on the walk, the long hello/goodbye with the secret smile ending. We traced old paths on the mesa and went downtown on the steps by the tennis court and walked to the beach and headed out toward Duxbury. We must have been out for a couple of hours but there wasn’t a single piece of difficult time. Nothing but the real thing, the special knowledge of process, the flooding incoming, the threatening presences and the grace in crocuses and time itself, fictional and not.
She was kind and honest and a poet.
It was like having an invisible friend with an infinitely surprising mind and a deep, reflexive and embracing compassion. When the alcohol was almost finished eating me, she was the one place I could turn for the news of things as they were, had been, and might be. She kept me alive a few times, and she helped my twelve year old son, too. Because she could, because she chose.
I remember one afternoon when we were living in Duerden’s garage, waiting for the
house on Birch Road we’d just bought to let us move in, and I was out in the backyard with my son when Joanne and Lew Warsh came down the side-path and Joanne saw us and smiled and I swear she lit up the whole yard, the whole of the day.
It was like that with her, always―her eyes and mouth conjoining in their own bright secrets. It was a foodstuff. It was the poem in waiting and the willingness to wait, the information about to happen. Joanne at rest electrically.
During my early years in Amsterdam she sent me a copy of a new book, and when I opened it what I found on the title page was the most perfect inscription with which I’d ever been graced. It just said ‘Oh Larry, remember?’
Sitting with Don Guravich after her death, I was trying to describe how she’d helped keep me alive in the dark, and found my eyes filling up with an enormous pressure. Stupidly, I was embarrassed and hoping it went unnoticed. I should have rung the Bolinas school bell. I should have stood on the corner of Birch and Alder and said to anyone passing, ‘I loved that woman in every particular.’
Last night she was present all through my half sleep and, as I was waking, halfway out of the screen, the line that came was,
‘in the drawn-on gloves of the dead are the re-membered hands.’
‘it’s quarter to three, there’s no one in the place except you and me.’
Ku Yün Translation and calligraphy of Joanne Kyger’s poem ‘Night Palace’
The World of Transformation is Real or The Goddess Never Dies either… (…she rides off into the sunset in a red Mercedes convertible, a Janis Joplin song on her lips)
It was at a workshop during the One World Poetry Festival in Amsterdam 1978 with Franco Beltrametti (South), Reidar Ekner (North), and Nanao Sakaki (East) that i met Joanne Kyger for the first time where she personified the West with all the wisdom and humour she cud display so effortlessly.
The last time i saw her was in April of 2016 at a party at Jim Nisbet’s home after the reading at the Green Arcade Bookstore in San Francisco to celebrate the publication of Franco Beltrametti’s Collected English poems.
In between lay 38 years of friendship marked by a sympathy for nothingness that didn’t exclude anything and where manners made all the difference, manners and the white table linen, for the private was public and the public where we behave. It was pea stew from a light blue enamel pot with a hint of curry and instant pickled cucumber with sesame seeds. We almost got busted at the Austrian border and when the excitement had just ebbed away got caught in a snow storm crossing the San Bernadino Pass. In Riva S.V. she stayed up all night and cleaned the apartment of her host and back at the Boat we let Ting’s hamster escape while we sampled the local Riesling.
There was a roof to be shingled, and a fleeing porch to be reattached to the house, a kitchen counter to be refinished and all the while i was sleeping in the skew whiff shed struggling with a runaway blanket while the fog moved in thru the open door. Not just that roof beam set on the new addition wud have made J.D. Salinger blush, there was this taste of New York Zen, as in Bill Berkson, a sharp witted elegance, like the Tapestry which covers the chairs at Circe’s home and there was always the chance that one woke up in very different shape, not necessarily a pig, tho waddling off into the sunset definitely ranges among the higher teachings and always a cup of tea and always a stick of incense lit now to remember again my four bears and how one of them went thru the cabin when nobody was home …
P.S. Not as to put Decartes before de Horse, but that bear appeared again 1998 at the dinner after reading at the Lyrik Kabinett in Munich, when Michael Köhler, who raised a monument to the international poetry Avantgarde with his audio-edition S-Press, asked Joanne who’d taken that photo of Snyder, Ginsberg and Orlovsky in the Himalayas. Joanne looked at him with a squinting eye and asked, “Who do you think, the bear?“
The world as seen from Joanne’s kitchen window
A butterfly flutters by on a column of light. It’s almost night. The mud puddles on Evergreen Road reflect the sky at sunset. The great work will never be complete or left undone; The puddles on the path will neither be empty or filled. The night is so dark you can’t even see your reflection on Evergreen Road turning into a path. What can I tell you? She’s gone.
(transcribed by Phoebe MacAdams)
Happy Birthday Bolinas for Joanne Kyger
Good morning, Joanne. This country is two hundred years old. One green car. One white car. One convertible. The heart is a muscle, the heart is a door.
Dream 1: I am in a concentration camp. I am on the beach. The water is black. I am standing by the wire. I am talking to someone outside the wire. We are standing face to face talking. There is no difference between life outside and inside except for the wire. I am in the apartment of the commandant. I strip in front of an empty bed. I get in and make love to the air.
Dream 2: There is a car machine, stripped down. There is a driver somewhere. A voice says, “Now you have to make another one.” The second car will be identical to the first. A death’s head.
Dream 3: I go out of my house to the pre-shamanistic exercises. We do splits handing on our hands in preparation for the shaman movie. I am awkward. The woman teaching is a shaman. She has silver discs on the tops of her hands and on her palms.
O Great Tongue, do not abandon us. Our conversations make a difference. All I want out of life is to live in the grace of the Holy Spirit. The tone was honest and the words fell about in the length. The song is resilient. The song is a muscle. Birds fly over, grass moves in the breeze. Rational Mind, you are so stupid here in the morning, in the gentle aching where the door is open and the view is clear.
from Sunday Tombouctou Press 1983
the chemistry changes the black chemical earth becomes yellow earth the old sky, ethereal grey ethereal infinite grey
vast ceiling timeless grey
through this hallway of infinite depth one wanders errant like they say so many doors gleaming white so many rooms it’s a bit like a hotel’s hallway on an upper floor seemingly but perhaps the only floor if not, how does it communicate above or below one never reaches a stairwell though occasionally the hallway turns it never ends
now and then one tries a door there are people in the rooms some familiar alive or not others not who don’t mind that I come in in that way like a dream
everybody looks okay especially the dead although not as I remember them they look better healthier untroubled no one expresses surprise that I am there they hardly notice I guess they grow older dead though they don’t appear older until finally it’s enough and they lose the appearance of body what happens then is beyond me this hallway which is so like that of an old hotel in the States or Canada has its romance too its unaccountably erotic episodes or rooms one is suddenly in the arms of a total stranger however one knows by the quality of kiss that each lover knows you inside out this is a fantastic relief one’s embarrassment finally as it’s meant to be
this hallway of infinite timeless ethereal grey shining white doors must be emblematic of an innocence so vast one can only conclude that the sweetness of life is more real than all the illusions of bitter disappointment and cruelty
personally I’ve never encountered anything but extraordinary pleasure in those rooms while to walk alone through that ethereal hallway through melancholy is never sad
meanwhile in the usual world the black earth has become yellow
THE REAL THING CAME ALONG
There, now, cálmate, she said. Cálmate. I’ll explain everything.
Though I had heard about her and read her work, I didn’t meet Joanne until we moved to Bolinas in 1973. It was a wonderful time, full of listening, learning, becoming part of the community, of poets, painters, musicians, environmentalists, and long-time Bolinas folks. We did party quite a bit, though I was very often home early to relieve our babysitters of the care of our three pre-school and elementary school children. Once in a while, I was envious of the life that Joanne was leading, a full-time poet with a well-deserved reputation and no kids.
Joanne and my son, Dan, were born on the same day, which brought us somewhat closer in the circle of friends, though a double-birthday party at our house on November 19, 1977, left Dan a little put out. The perceived slight was overcome in time, and she officiated at his marriage.
Joanne did work, giving poetry readings nationally and internationally, producing wonderful volumes of poetry, teaching in the summer at Naropa and editing the Bolinas Hearsay News, the local, informal three-day-a-week newspaper, for many years. She also gave what she called journal classes, and I was lucky enough to be able to take one in the fall of 1993.
We met at Joanne’s house on Evergreen. I think it was either outside or in the main house, as this was before the shed behind the house was torn down and a new shed, more like a living room, was added to the property. There were twelve of us, some of whom were published writers, others who were interested in writing and were curious to take a class with Joanne.
She was an excellent teacher. She gave us reading and writing assignments. I probably have some notes somewhere, but I didn’t really want to recapitulate the six-week session. I remember that we read our writing assignments out loud and that some of us were praised, but not by Joanne. There was no sense from her as to what she thought of our writing, just a seriousness in teaching that made it a thought-provoking, pleasure to be there.
I have the compilation of our writings, that contains a list of contributors in order, but no one’s name is found on the pages of writing, which is mostly prose. And there’s a mysterious “she” at the end, after a page of gertrude stein demonstrating the difference between narrative and diary. Sarah’s pages are slipped in, unbound, at the end, the only one that is signed. It was very satisfying to have something to take away, the “Journal Class fall 1993,” purple cover copied from one of those black-and-white composition books from our school days. It is one of those curious items that the children will be glad to read when I, too, am gone.
I think of Joanne often, and I miss her.
February 14, 2021
Three For Miss Kidz
01/01/18 Joanne would say just put your hand to the paper and write the date & the time 5:55 PM Lucky Time Blown
03/30/18 Good Friday
Nine (9) Turkey Buzzards riding thermals Joanne Kyger I am thinking about you about Greg Hewlett about Russ Rivière about warriors & now “you got to give it up” bring it good just regular bombs good & funky to the Sewer Ponds 4PM
Joanne’s dark grey turtleneck cashmere sweater two sizes too big freebox sweater I sleep in she left us left us left us so much …….what time is it?
On page 269 of the Tombouctou edition of The Japan and India Journals, 1960-1964, Joanne Kyger reproduced a honey-do list handed her by then-husband, the poet Gary Snyder, towards the end of the book and their marriage. Some two pages, headed “Someday you really ought to try:” it reads, in part,
Fold your clothes in a drawer Don’t save everything Quit reading so much trash What about history and prosody?
Notwithstanding, and indeed, Joanne remained renowned among her friends for reading anything and everything. Madame Blavatsky? E.F. Benson? Freya Stark? Wilfred Thesiger? No problem. All of Agatha Christie? H. Ryder Haggard? Ditto and ditto. Vanity Fair? A subscription to the bitter end. I, for one, came to terms with the sub-voracity of my own reading when, with a sort of triumphant enthusiasm and, perhaps, the assumption that we were siblings circumvallated beneath a shot-raddled flag, Joanne handed me the Pyramid paper edition of The Yellow Claw by Sax Rohmer, which I found to be seriously unreadable. She may have been a little disappointed but, as goes self-adumbration, read on.
My first published novel, The Gourmet, appeared in 1981. Produced in an edition of 35,000, retailing at $1.95 per example, it materialized on twirly racks in drug stores and bus stations across the land and was firstly, and lastly, detected, in San Francisco, face out in a matrix of its confrères in a cigar store on Union Street, right up there with 14 titles by Louis L’Amour, 9 by Barbara Cartland, 6 by Danielle Steele, and, do not doubt it, the latest installment in the Executioner series. (At least six of its 435 titles were penned under the series-spanning ycleptic of Don Pendleton by my friend Steve Krauzer — a real pro.)
I heard about this fugitive sighting and, since the publisher had sent me but a lousy pair of author’s copies (welcome to the club) and, hell, I had ten bucks, but by the time I got down to the north side of Union Street, between Octavia and Laguna as I recall, the five copies were gone. In response to my query, the stogie-fellating grayling in a checked hickory shirt and sleeveless sweater vest on a riser behind the cash harvester unparked the damp snipe from the groove in his lower lip long enough to tell me: That’s it, bub. Even if they sell, they don’t get replaced. Them five copies? One week on the stand. By now, some or more likely all of their covers are on their way back to some warehouse in New Jersey, for credit, and their guts are in the landfill in Colma, for nourishment. Next!
The Japan and India Journals was published the same year. By and by, as is customary among authors of a certain camaraderie, Joanne and I exchanged books. Her inscription in my copy of The Journals, with its fabulous cover by Ken Botto, reads
So may we well worm/warm our further trails… Joanne
The cover of The Gourmet features a peroxide blonde in a tight red dress (a transvestite, in context) arm and arm with a guy in a trench coat wearing a striped tie and a fedora, withal constellated by the Chinatown Gate, The Golden Gate Bridge, and a trolley car. Sparing you its uppercase scarlet, the jacket tease reads, “A baffling case involving murder and kinky sex.”
“Oh,” said Joanne, clasping the pulp to her breast, “I’ve always wanted to know somebody who writes this kind of book.”
The inscription inked into her copy of The Gourmet reads,
Quit reading so much trash.
In 1983 Joanne invited me to read at the Bolinas Public Library. I hitchhiked from my home in Monte Rio to a bus stop in Santa Rosa, rode the bus down to San Rafael, and hitched the rest of the way to Bolinas. I wrote a little travel journal in the manner of Basho about my adventure. It was originally published in Andrei Codrescu’s Exquisite Corpse. In 2009 I published it as a limited edition handmade book titled Ah Bolinas! I sent a copy to Joanne of course. She replied: “Just a wonderful thrill to read…and the prints are so handsomely precise for the book and the text. We all enjoyed ourselves immensely. I read it out [loud] yesterday, just having returned from Oaxaca a few days before—to one of ‘Joanne’s great looking women friends’ who of course thought She should be the center of the quest. Tom Sawyer meets Timothy Leary is one of the great comments on Bolinas.”
Back at Joanne’s, we sit around the kitchen table sipping tea with a little of the creature in it. This is the first time I’ve really had a chance to sit down and talk with Joanne, someone I’ve known in passing for almost twenty years. I remind her of the first time we ever met. It was at a book party in San Francisco. I was a campus radical literary magazine editor then—shoulder length hair, ratty, patched Levi’s, cast-off Army jacket, I really looked the part. Joanne had come up to me and asked if I was one of those new “revolutionary” poets. I’m certain now that it was all in jest, but back then, being an ill-tempered young upstart, I mumbled an angry reply and cut short any opportunity to make friends.
On the mesa a lost world of mostly older single women
Joanne doesn’t recall the incident, but then why should she? She’s Joanne, after all, la belle dame sans merci, accomplished acknowledged poet on more than one continent, confidante of Gary and Philip, dowager of the local poetry minions, sponsor and patron of the literary arts, representative of the Muse on this muddy spit of land, promoter of esthetics, and so on. The list is quite long, and after a while, quite boring. It’s not like she’s the Virgin Mary or anything like that. But she has the presence and the posture and the stature of a great woman whose approaching grayness is the badge of her wisdom. I comment on her collection of little magazines. I collect them too, especially the ones with my poems in them. “Do you save them because you think they’ll be worth a lot of money someday?” At least we share a common delusion.
Jungle of entanglements gentle tigress digresses moon in mist
from Ah Bolinas! (Not My Hat Press, 2009)
you have no body even when it hurts so much some matter has arranged to be you hasn’t it then you go to the fortune-teller I went to sev- eral when young one even had a membrane over her iris but they didn’t understand me as well as I did oh I was just curious Remember
signs; what remember I remember my imag- ination houses I visit non-existent or a grotto no remember when Joanne got me to write a collaborative note with her and leave it in a tree for Donald Allen who was feeling bad we rolled it up a scroll tied with ribbon mostly she made me shy at some point I re-
alized, though, she liked human niceness more than I —the scroll — she liked surprise birthday parties what I liked was her voice I never knew what she and Bob Creeley were going on about I was 25 later she said everyone in Bolinas loved me I know that isn’t true and Philip loved her so much
did she really not know that? ‘batty inexor- able logic’ I’ve said all these things before Like when suddenly her aesthetic was chang- ing from Duncanism and Ted wanted her for the New York School some part of her joined it remaining Joanne but I remember that
moment when Ted, Bob, and Tom Clark all seemed to be courting her esthetically she had such brilliance and one wanted her to write like one she would always follow her voice — and Lewis Warsh ‘she’s becoming more autobiographical’—no she wasn’t she was doing mind/nature/voice partic-
ular to person/life finds expression as ‘that flicker’ bird as mind of no-god drifting coastal moment You were so beautiful and I’m remembering how right before Ted died he placed new books on shelf by bed, by Joanne, Joe Ceravolo, and Anselm Hollo and said ‘I have a generation’ b. 1934 I’m sorry I’m just crying
i.m. Joanne Kyger
originally published in Kenyon Review
“There are 4 voices in your poems but you should have at least 8 & one of them should be mine” – JK to KO, Nov. 2012
An email from Joanne Kyger to Kevin Opstedal – 6/16/13 Friday 14 June
Noon. The chainsaw gang on their third day next door. Three saws wanging thru the green big wood. Chunks. One pine trimmed Japanese style. One take down. Kevin called at 10am on his way to Bolinas for soup. Pretty quiet for a moment, just the ukulele music. 1:05pm Here we are. And here HE is. Hi Kevin. He drives a ’65 white Ford Ranchero pick up
4pm It is Flag Day. Any flag will do as long as it’s red, white and blue yellow, pink, & turquoise–in downtown Bolinas the museum, the appalling ‘park’–is this Camarillo? A Yater longboard we never went to see plus a brief walk in/walk out at Smiley’s. Did you see what I saw? I’m not sure I saw it myself, maybe I only ‘heard’ it. 5:45pm Four charcoal colored dinner plates from Ikea at the freebox in the Plaza, the real people’s park. 6:05pm I’m going to be 90 this fall. So please put in a hand rail on the way to the barbecue.
The Phone is Ringing for Joanne Elizabeth Kyger
She said “Everyone deserves to be a bodhisattva if only for one day”
But missing the evening of slack key guitar at Pt. Reyes
due to television or immigrant authority or elbows at the Food Bank I suppose we should opt for a bag of rice & some seaweed “You might feel bad but you won’t starve”
The “burden of opportunity” has a certain charm but I’m not sure that it’s the truth
These things must be sorted out So many sand pebbles to choose from agate, quartz, jade, glass, wood, iron, bone, styrofoam–
I’ll take the one that’s shaped like my heart
Let me know when you’ve found it
Joanne Kyger and Simon Pettet in Conversation
SP: Hi Joanne!
SP: First, how would you put together a sentence, if you were the ‘master (mistress) of all time and space’? 1
JK: I would issue an edict that all mandatory sentencing is over. I would advise discretionary sentencing when needed.
SP: Discretion, discretionary, distinction – ”discrete” – what a beautiful word! I look it up in the OED, and come across this (among other citations) – from Henry Peacham: ‘Raine or water, being divided by the cold ayre, in the falling downe, into discreet parts’. So just what are we distinguishing here. It’s all water, right? – and air? – or words? – so what do we do with them?
JK: Finding focus is like winnowing words ‘til a larger fragment floats to the surface, or drifts through the air and lands like a word in a book. Your recent book, for example, More Winnowed Fragments. 2 When did you start writing that particular book? Is it chronological? Do you write in the morning or the evening?
SP: I think of poetry as accretion – (just like Walt Whitman!) I love the fact that there is continuing presentations of, what is, finally, the same book. More Winnowed Fragments, (the title) is a little…dead-pan – ‘Here’s some more fragments, you might want to check out the earlier ones!’ I wish I were disciplined about my writing hours. Are you disciplined?
JK: If I write down at least one thing a day, I call that discipline. A “thing’“ can be a sentence, a dream fragment, or a telephone number. But it is “of the moment”.
SP: I think of that as accomplishment. If I can “accomplish” at least one “thing” a day, that’s good (if I get to accomplish more things, that’s good too!). I wish I wrote (sentences, a poem) every day, but I don’t. I write letters and scribble notes, but that doesn’t “count”, right? Do you think the epistle is a sad lost art? (‘now, with e-mail…’) Do you think we’re apt to squander? (our attention, I mean) –The Wonderful Focus of You (sic) 3 – you mean focus of attention?
JK:’The Wonderful Focus of You’ is the focus of the “other”. And when that other ONE is no longer in your life, all that energy and concern and heart has to go somewhere, so it can open out to include everyone – the mucho plural “you”. And, of course, I mean always a focus of the moment, in the moment. Much poetry I read now-days is so self-consciously poetic and opaque that I am never introduced to an interesting reality. It’s like writers are trying to hide themselves, as if the “self” is no longer of interest. The epistolary voice has such a personal confidence about it, one is always included. I mean if you’re writing a letter, it is to someone, you aren’t just whistling in the dark. Email has certainly engendered a kind of epistolary short hand literacy.
SP: …or epistolary short-hand laziness?
JK: I try to practice a kind of daily notational writing. I often don’t bother with the “I”, it takes too long. One “checks in” to the world of the written self. If I stop for too long I get anxious and think I have to reinvent the poetic voice again. I use my portable notebook for jotting in the morning. And then try and write at least one line, dated, on the computer I use in my studio.
We (Donald Guravich and I) were planning a trip to Veracruz last January-February (2006), but had to cancel it. It was a very stormy, wet winter here, and I wrote a daily line or two, which incorporated the weather damage, along with news of the U.S. administration’s current horrors, and including occasional hopefully illuminated states of mind, dream bits, and observations as to the state of ”nature” around me. I call it Not Veracruz. It is fragmented in that there is no narrative line that draws the piece together, except a daily chronology.
SP: Could you perhaps quote some fragments from it?
”I really can’t stand the ‘formality’ of ‘intelligence
Who really ‘cares’ if the eucalyptus have the smarts”
JK: (So) How many years does your More Winnowed Fragments cover?
SP: Oh a long time, maybe ten years? , it’s that “winnowing”, can a poem (every word, every line) “hold up”? I’m pretty tough with myself, I think, but for the best (at least, I say it’s for the best!). There’s a major proportion of attrition. I know, “hold up”? – to/for what?
JK: Do you “test” your poems by reading them at poetry readings to see if they “hold up”? I find if I can’t bear to read a poem anymore, it probably shouldn’t be in print.
SP: I find that, by the time it comes to a public reading, I’d better have some confidence in its worth, otherwise, crikey, what am I doing?
I often let poems “marinate” for a little while before I “re-discover” them, and then, how interesting, did I write that?. Well, manifestly I did, but…or, alternatively, did I really write that (and what on earth was I thinking)? Yes, I have scattered things in print that I’m embarrassed about. You too?
JK: Yes. But that was long ago, and those magazines are gone — except for the collection in that Granary book, A Secret Location on The Lower East Side.4
SP: Alice Notley in her review of your work 5 speaks of your “honesty” as perhaps your abiding characteristic. What do you think of that?”
JK: Well, are you attracted to poets who you think are lying to you?
SP: (Francois) Villon? Gregory Corso? – but wait a minute, the poem can’t lie, can it?
JK: Your reader will know if you “fake it”– i.e. if you’re a spin-master of verbal acrobatics. Laura Riding 6, back in 1938 in a rather profound flourish defines a poems as an ‘uncovering of truth so fundamental that no other names besides poetry is adequate except truth’.
SP: I like that, summoning up the essence, fundamental (but not fundamental-ist!)
JK: Laura Riding was also prone to pronouncements like ‘historical time has stopped with me’.
SP: Ah well then maybe I’ll reverse my opinion! What do you think about time-travel?
JK: I think it’s happening at this very moment.
1 Simon acknowledges that he’s “stolen” this as his opening salvo from Tom Clark’s wonderful interview with Ted Berrigan in United Artists 4 (re-published in Talking In Tranquility: Interviews With Ted Berrigan (Avenue B/ O Books, Oakland, CA, 1991). 2 Full disclosure. Simon’s recent book of poems, More Winnowed Fragments, appeared at the end of 2005, with a cover note from Joanne – ‘More Winnowed Fragments/Ah, romance, the hint of mystery/perfect, quirky interludes -/this is the lesson he comes to teach/Charmed in every wryly conceived moment’. 3 The Wonderful Focus of You (Z Press, Vermont, 1980). 4 A Secret Location on The Lower East Side: Adventures In Writing 1960-1980 (Granary Books/NYPL, New York, 1998). 5 Alice Notley – Coming After: Essays on Poetry (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2005 – the article on Joanne first appeared in Arshile 9, 1998) 6 Laura Riding in In Extremis: The Life of Laura Riding – Deborah Baker (Grove Press, New York, 1993).From The Argotist (2005)
Phenomenology. Consciousness. Existence.
Who is this “I” that experiences−and what does it experience (what is it experience- ing)? What is the relationship between the “inside” (note quota- tion marks) and the “outside” (note harmonious parallel, and further quotation marks), what’s really “important?” (again the qualifying rabbit ears, revealing the strictest attention to language, in the futile (it would surely seem to be?) practice to capture (register?) attention and awareness in this continually shifting (floating? dissolving?) world).
How might one be? How might one act (being and action being acknowledged as integral, one and the same, perhaps?)? What would one possibly need to say, or write, (given the truth, spiritual or otherwise, about the illusory nature of our perception of time and space)? What might this mean, then, a “Buddhist poetics,” (a life-and-poetry, a life in poetry)? Radical simplicity. Personal integrity. Non-invasive traces. The long-awaited publication of About Now, Joanne Kyger’s Collected Poems provides an exemplary demonstration. This is a beautiful (because recognizable, human) collection, a gathering, a life lived (could there be, is there ever, anything else?).
The literal title provides the key – the momentary, the present tense (the accretion of moments providing a narrative—an illusory narrative, it’s true, but, enough — a unifying, expansive, sympathetic, consistent, portrait). The discipline of writing, like the discipline of meditation (it is the discipline of meditation), permitting a natural, organic, growth (since the “now” is each and every time experienced (re-experienced) as new). It’s easy! You simply practice every day.
Dailyness, the quotidian, is Kyger’s patch, that is, it is the enviable grounding and locus of the poems (allowing the poet (mind) to range high and low, far and wide, without further need to justify, apologize, explain, etc. (all, derivative, secondary, acts)). Indeed, juxtaposition of the cosmically profound and the gloriously matter-of-fact (even, on first glimpse, the seemingly banal) is at the very heart of these poems, something of a signature trope. It is a laudably open-minded, truly democratic, stance towards “phenomena” that we see here, recognizing the primacy of the local, the immediate, the domestic (ah! Bolinas, California! ah! the world!)—of friends, visitors, the weather, of the fine art of deep gossip.
Sentience—we’re all breathing, we’re all feeling, we’re all experiencing (thus the thrill, the delight, not at all shock, of recognition). A good Buddhist, a good pantheist, Kyger recognizes the numen in all things—birds, trees, flora and fauna, the landscape, the ocean, even so-called “inanimate objects” (kitchen utensils?— Carl Jung used to greet his, she informs us, each morning (“Good morning frying pan—hello cup”). Kyger approaches the world, and the poem, in the same (respectful, reverential) way).
This attitude of mind, a graceful cohabitation with all things, allows for an extraordinary transparency in the poem as poem— the attainment of a seemingly autonomous free-floating thing, vivacity, pure surface. Objects (attentions) are seen, unimpeded —and instantly transmitted as seen, (as is the poet herself, a dis- tinctive presence), with a charming intimacy. The analogue might, indeed, be Zen brush-work. The particular skill here is focus. It’s—it’s true—a kind of magic.
Could be on Earth
anywhere and Time
focused on chopping
the tomatoes, chillies, and onions.
In another poem, she makes this analogy direct:
Stroke of brush in painting Pitch of tone in writing
Such ease and grace (such deftness) manifests itself (also) in a complimentary (exquisite) attention to both music (her ear, her poetic ear, is pitch-perfect), and the formal presentation of her carefully-scored breath-line (see, for example, in the lines quoted above)—or this, (from the last stanza of an early 2000 poem, written in Patzcuaro, Mexico, home-away-from-home for Kyger for many years now, “I Can’t Help It:”
There you go again Awakening The pure three note
song really listening Look I’ll do it for you once more To WAY wheet wheet
Here’s another Patzcuaro notation. The entire poem reads:
It’s so quiet you can hear
the wasps sipping water in the courtyard fountain
“Time and measure make up your voice / So keep it sparse to parse it.” I have refrained from quoting at length from Kyger, because, quite simply, each poem in this embarrassment of riches that is the Collected Poems has lines eminently quotable (whole stanzas, whole poems, whole sequences, in fact). She is adept at the miniature, but, as one of the original students of Jack Spicer (not forgetting her unofficial apprenticeship to Robert Duncan and, pre-eminently, Philip Whalen), she’s no slouch with the “serial poem” (Collected Poems is, I’ve been arguing, one big serial poem). Among the many remarkable long (longer) sequences included here are Joanne (1970), her “novel from the inside out,” Up My Coast (1980) (a redacting of Native creation myth)—
First, there were the First People and the First People changed into trees, plants, rocks, stars rain, hail and Animals and then Animals made Our People
Light comes from Sun Woman. Whose body is covered with shining Abalone Shells….
—the legendary Dharma Committee (1986) (witness here, but indeed throughout the book, her coruscating wit!) and several remarkable biographical-historical examinations—Some Sketches From The Life of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1996) (on Madame Blavatsky) and her distilled life of the Buddhist poet-saint, Milarepa’s teacher, Naropa (sweetly dedicated to Ted Berrigan).
These poetic peers and antecedents, this lineage (poetic and spiritual) is a central fact of Kyger’s work – reverence for the seekers, reverence for the ancestors (a further generative accumulation). Consciously, but humbly and gratefully, she takes a walk (writes) in their path (sic–the tao), in their footsteps. Simultaneity of time and space means that she’s right there, alongside them.
You know when you write poetry you find the architecture of your lineage your teachers
The book ends with a typical piece of sympathetic magic. Queen Lili’okalani, “the last Hawaiian Queen,” is evoked (in a kind of ars poetica)
“a soft rustle of bamboo quivering with the wind’s touch”
A tear, a sigh sure sounds
like poetry to me….
Her aspiration is Kyger’s too
“The expression of my thoughts in music as natural
and easy as breathing…”
I have neglected to remark on the groundbreaking early work (The Tapestry and the Web, Places To Go—wrestling with male hegemony—always wrestling with male hegemony!). Likewise, the great (truly great!) explicitly political later work (The Distressed Look (2004), originally published by Jim Koller’s Coyote Books, is one of the most clearly-articulated expressions that I know against the evils, twin evils, of Bush (American politics) and global capitalism
… Corporate capitalist oligarchies own the war Feel terrified? The “war”
Can go where it wants, when it wants with bizarre expansions
Endless war fear hysteria Great
There is never an end to profit. There is never enough There are no “acceptable losses”
when it means more “money” … and this, (from a poem, “Whatever It Takes”)
… Didn’t foresee
the horror of free global trade
terrorizing innocent patches of mahogany hillsides
—the tyranny of the shareholder is foremost—
So far from the Tao planes need to spy
to check the profit margin
Oh do me a favor and don’t rile me …
Long-time Kyger scholar Linda Russo provides a thoughtful, intelligent, and useful introduction to this volume (kudos to her), and mention should also be made of John Bryan’s (La Alameda’s) gorgeous and utterly-apposite cover-design (by the great Japanese wood-block master, Shiko Munakata, a pleasant first for these NPF Collected’s, yes?—usually, for all their immense value, dour, mildly forbidding, functional tomes—this (and the rest in that estimable series), of course, having no need for elaborate window-dressing).
What’s this I hear about them only printing 750? That can’t be true! That’s a serious under-estimation! Make sure you have one of the 750. Order yours now. This here, Joanne Kyger, she’s your sister! This is an essential book. I cannot (and she need not!) say it more plainly.
From The Poetry Project Newsletter #213 (December 2007-January 2008)
When Qu Yuan was banished, he wandered among rivers and lakes, he sang as he walked past the marshes, his body weak and his face forlorn. A fisherman saw him and asked, “Aren’t you the Lord of the Gates, what fate has brought you to this?”
Qu Yuan (340-278 BC) was China’s first poet. Chinese celebrate his death on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month by rowing boats to reach his body before the water dragons do and by making rice tamales to throw into the river as a distraction—or to eat with friends and loved ones. As Lord of the Three Gates, Qu Yuan was in charge of the religious affairs of Chu’s three most important clans as well as the education of their sons.
Qu Yuan answered, “The world is muddy. I alone am pure. Everyone is drunk. I alone am sober. And so they sent me away.”
The fisherman said, “A sage isn’t bothered by others. He can change with the times. If the world is muddy, why not wade into the mud and splash in the mire? If everyone is drunk, why not strain the mash and drink up the dregs. Why get banished for deep thought and purpose?”
Qu Yuan said, “I have heard, when you wash your hair, you should dust off your hat. When you take a bath, you should shake out your robe. Why should I let something so pure be defiled by others? I would rather jump into the Xiang and be buried in a fish’s gut. How can I let something so white be stained by common dirt.”
 The Miluo flowed into the Xiang which flowed into Dongting Lake.
The fisherman smiled and laughed and sang as he rowed away, “When the river is clear, I can wash my hat. When the river is muddy, I can wash my feet.” And once gone he was heard from no more.
A euphemism for serving at court.  A euphemism for retiring to the countryside.
The bio in the back of On Time, Joanne Kyger’s collection of poems written between 2005 – 2014, describes her as, “One of the major women poets of the SF Renaissance.” That is, of course, correct, but I would make a case for removing the word “women” from the sentence. While I’m sure the intention of including that gender signifier was to emphasize the importance of her position as a woman in what was largely a man’s world/boy’s club, its placement before “poets” in the sentence diminishes rather than enhances her standing. It reeks of “pretty good for a girl” condescension, unintended as that may be.
Joanne Kyger was one of the major poets of the San Francisco Renaissance coterie, period. She was a woman. She was a woman who, despite operating in what was largely a man’s world/boy’s club, became a major member of that club. But even that SF Renaissance signifier, while more accurate than the Beat Generation designation emphasized in her New York Times obituary and useful in placing her in time and place and lineage, seems unnecessarily limiting. In his introduction to As Ever, her selected poems released in 2002, Kyger’s longtime friend and fellow poet, David Meltzer, says of the atmosphere in the late ’50s when they first met:
“It’s important to remember (or realize) that those days were before literary academicians freeze-framed them into ‘movements or ‘generations.’ The slickest, surest way to defang dissent and creative doubt is to accept it and (ugh) incorporate it into glossy narratives circulated throughout institutional castle culture. (A big irony many tapdance around.) Even then, Joanne was a thoughtful and thinking (and self-effacing) poet of deep innate knowing. Her early work was distinctly complex, personal, and resistant to expectations.”
So how about something like this: Joanne Kyger was a thoughtful and thinking and self-effacing poet whose distinctly complex and personal work made her a major figure in the SF Renaissance/Beat Generation orbit. That self-effacing quality is what gives poems such as “Town Hall Reading With Beat Poets” and “Bob Marley Night Saturday Downtown” and “Fact Checking” their charm. Her poems are at once deep and learned yet casual and conversational. They are also often quite funny. She comes across as a poet who took her poetry seriously while not overly-concerned with being taken seriously herself.
There is more to her poetry than self-deprecating humor, of course. A great sense of reverence is on display throughout her work when engaging with mythological themes, her Zen Buddhist studies, interactions with the natural world, and considerations of the lives and deaths of friends. From the poems in her first book, The Tapestry and the Web, published in 1965, to the late work collected in On Time, Kyger’s writing displays a marvelous way of finding the mythic in the mundane and revealing the mundane in the mythic. Here is how “Pan as the Son of Penelope,” probably her best-known poem, begins:
Refresh my thoughts of Penelope again
Just HOW solitary was her wait?
I notice Someone got to her that
barrel chested he-goat prancing around w/ his reed pipes
is no fantasy of small talk. More the result of BIG talk
and the absence of her husband.
In his thought-provoking essay, “The Great(ness) Game,” David Orr discusses how Elizabeth Bishop’s stature has risen posthumously while her friend Robert Lowell’s once-towering reputation has been in decline. It would not surprise me to find Joanne Kyger’s stature ratcheted upward by a similar recalibration of reputations in years to come while those of some of her better-known male peers and predecessors in the SF Renaissance/Beat pantheon are demoted. As a stunningly lovely, yet delicate, voice like Billie Holiday’s or Karen Dalton’s would be difficult to hear when a big booming voice like Pavarotti’s was bellowing nearby, so, too, a subtle poetic sensibility, like Joanne Kyger’s, can get drowned out when there’s a big personality like her friend Ginsberg Howling nearby. Not to mention Duncan and Spicer and Snyder and Whalen and McClure and Berrigan and others. She moved in serious circles.
But life is life and death is death. Reading the books of dead poets after their time has passed and their legends have cooled is a different thing than reading the living. Sometimes the poet of the moment isn’t a poet for the ages. Tastes change and change again. Who knows what the literary landscape of the late Twentieth and early Twenty-first Centuries will look like to readers a hundred years hence. In his essay, Orr quotes a passage from J. D. McClatchy wondering about how Bishop could be claimed as the favorite predecessor poet of contemporary poets as varied as John Ashbery, James Merrill and Mark Strand. Orr takes a stab at an answer: “It’s possible, one might answer, because Bishop was a great poet, if we take ‘great’ to mean something like ‘demonstrating the qualities that make poetry seem interesting and worthwhile to such a degree that subsequent practitioners of the art form have found her work a more useful resource than the work of most if not all of her peers.’” I predict that Kyger’s work will be similarly deemed a useful resource by poets to come.
The Times obituary includes Kyger’s poem “Night Palace” but, for some reason, they did not format the poem, which was composed in projective breath units and spaced on the page in the composition by field manner, as written. That’s a shame. The spacing, in large part, makes the poem the poem it is. It’s not unusual to come across poems laid out in the composition by field manner for which reformatting them with a standard left margin justification doesn’t detract much from the poem. Sometimes it’s little more than ornament. This is not the case with “Night Palace,” a fine example of how much emotional information can be conveyed by spacing and placement on the page in the hands of someone who fully understands the approach.
Her poem “Elegant Simplicity” written May 22, 2007 ends:
Demons are more or less human in appearance Monsters are more animal like
The first soul or spirit that resides in a person is immortal
The second soul is the animal spirit you acquire at birth with a real counterpart animal spirit roving around in the world.
If it dies, you die That’s it.
Joanne Kyger’s real counterpart animal spirit died in March of this year, so that was it, but her poetry will live on and, I suspect, gain greater prominence in the years to come.
so soon? I needed more instruction in the everyday Cody lying luxuriously in the front yard belly up light wind blowing across the sagging tree dahlias you never had time for sadness so we’ll feel it for you vibrant one mocking one just space
Moon rose orange and flattened like sun at almost green flash sunset
the more it rose the more it flattened
branches dimming its top till no more was there. big, flat moon
till it disappeared into the mist.
3/1/21 for Joanne
“The World Was Spinning. She Was Right There With It.
… And she was.” She was a force of nature, engaging with all the world around her. Joanne was most at home in her home, the old Portuguese fisherman’s house she bought, just three rooms, a small bathroom with shower only and the gray-water system she installed, but lots of outdoor space. Super-Coot, her row boat, used to adorn the front of the yard, behind the hedge. The deer and quail that used to come and visit, but damned deer ate all the apples. She loved the quail and fed them. Later came the big “shed” that became the dining room and her bedroom when it became too much for her to climb up to the loft, or was a guest room on occasion. A one-block walk to the cliff’s edge, over the ocean. A short bike ride when she’d go to the Hearsay News’ office as the Wednesday editor for the community newspaper. Friends’ houses just a short walk away. The world she inhabited, her own habitat.
I fully remember the night I heard of her death. My husband, Joe, came in to tell me to put down the knife I was using to cut up that night’s dinner. I could tell it was going to be bad news, but didn’t expect that news. I called mutual friends, hoping they’d say it wasn’t true. It still doesn’t seem true.
Joanne wasn’t perfect, but she was always there, there with you. She talked a lot, especially on the phone, though she also listened carefully. She had this gentle way of sing-saying Spanish phrases, like “pus, pus,” or chanting/singing Native-American lyrics. Music was always in the background or part of the conversation. “Hit me with your rhythm stick, hit me, hit me,” as she’d say.
She was the most generous person I’ve ever known. All the gifts we exchanged on each other’s birthdays, chosen with care and attention: scarves, earrings, necklaces, toys, cat brooches. Generous in her hospitality, especially at her dinners, table formally set, cloths always ironed. Generous in her smile and laughter, especially with advice. She counseled me when Joe and I began dating that love was like a plant whose roots had to have time to grow for the plant to flourish. Generous in arranging a walk along Palomarin Trail with her and Donald to Bass Lake, where I found scores of friends waiting to celebrate my birthday. Joanne had planned it all. She was at my wedding. She was part of the fabric, no, the tapestry of my life.
The hour(s)-long phone calls, many times at 9:00 or 9:30, at the end of which we’d both say that we’d have problems pulling away the phones stuck to our ears. Sometimes she’d call around dinner and I’d have to cut her off to cook. Would that I could take back all those missed/lost minutes, especially when I was forced to turn down what would be her last Thanksgiving invitation because I’d had surgery on my lip that limited talking and eating. All now lost, along with her presence.
Joanne was the glue for the people who were lucky enough to be part of her world. She kept up on everyone, like the character Lucia in London whom she was smitten with, and then let us all know what was happening in each other’s lives. In a funny way, she kept us alive for each other.
So many occasions. Meeting her at a party at the Dosses’ after hearing her read for the first time in SF, Duncan talking to me outside during intermission with a giggly-teenagey laugh, just saying “She’s terrific.” How right he was.
The only time I’ve ever seen a “green flash” (a rare oddity at sunset) was with Joanne, on the deck of my little rental unit with a wide Pacific view. The same unit she’d come to, put a chair on the deck, unfurl the towel she brought along, and pull out the box of Toni permanent solution I was to administer in the hope that she’d be able to put some curls into her straight hair. We called it the Farallon Beauty Salon, ocean mist mixing into the chemicals.
Her presence at our little group, led by Duncan McNaughton, into the Koran. Our other reading group, held at Bob Grenier’s, where we would discuss various authors, including Olson. Reading her Japan/India Journals (Tombouctou version, which I was privileged to proofread), I understood how important Olson’s “Projective Verse” was to her poetics.
I knew she had been in a lot of pain towards the end. She called less and less frequently then, emailing to say that she wanted to finish the book she was working on. She also wrote how grateful she was to Donald for helping her and being tender to her in her diminished physical state. I just didn’t know how fatal it was. She never let anyone know.
One time, I followed her explicit directions. We were living in Seattle and told her that Gary Snyder was giving a reading there. She asked me to find a good pine cone on our property to give him. I came up to him at the end of his reading as he was signing books and told him Joanne had specifically instructed me to give it to him. In response he said, “Joanne is a good poet.” He then paused and corrected himself. “No, she’s a great poet.” A truly correct emendation.
For Joanne Kyger, 2021. “Gat, Gat, Parasam Gat, Bodhi Svaha.”
Edward and Miriam Sanders
Remembering Joanne Kyger
She loved the beautiful things you could find in the natural world She would arranger beautiful items she would find in natural places when we toured together —minerals, pods whatever was in the environment at hand for her traveling altars in her rooms
She was witty, funny, easy going non-judgmental fun to be with
She sent me 2 million year old fossil sand dollars from the beach in Bolinas
& she sent a slice of black obsidian that looked like when you cut off a slice of cranberry sauce, only black
I sent her back a black pegmatite specimen from a road cut above Boulder
& also she sent me beautiful pods which I could never identify, maybe lotus, from her travels.
—Miriam Sanders read at Joanne’s Memorial 11-6-17 at St. Mark’s Church
In Praise and Memory of Joanne Kyger
Joanne Joanne You came to a party at the Peace Eye Bookstore on East 10th In July of ’67 fresh from a visit to Europe You were radiant and beautiful standing near Julius Orlovsky &Tom Clark.
Always those years we referred to you as Kyger Kyger burning bright in the forests of the night.
For decade ’son decade I was amazed at your poetry! We visited you in Bolinas over the years where you were very active in town affairs & wrote for the Bolinas Hearsay News You helped protect your oceanside village from excess development.
Later when we toured Italy together in your hotel rooms you always set up a Buddhist shrine with holy items & images & incense to burn
We exchanged many emails for years all the way to your final months when you shielded your health from much of the world
Your books shine brightly —a fine stack of them glowing in our living room Kyger Kyger Burning Bright.
—Ed Sanders, read at Joanne Kyger’s Memorial at St. Mark’s Church. November 6, 2017
Because she was such an important and pleasurable poet, not many perhaps think of Joanne Kyger as a serious Buddhist; but she was. She studied and practiced the Dharma with discipline and insight from the time she encountered it—at college, in her 20’s, in the early 1950’s—until she couldn’t. She sat in Japan’s macho zendos with young Gary Snyder; she knew Ruth Fuller Sasaki there; she was one of the first Westerners—if not the first—to seek guidance from Shunryu Suzuki-roshi in Japantown’s Sokoji Temple, in pre-Zen Center days. She wore all this lightly, not making a big deal of it. She preferred, it seems, to demonstrate the effects such a life might ideally have on the character of a practitioner.
The most consequential conversations we had took place when she agreed to sit for an interview about Philip Whalen. At the outset of a biographical labor that would run to 9½ years, there were many obstacles, not least of which was that I lived in Germany. All the people I urgently needed to speak with were on the West Coast of the U.S., as were most of the papers I needed to consult.
Work began with a trip to California in March of 2005. As research goes, it was an extremely lucky visit, yielding much rich material. Joanne was the second interview I was able to do, and she told me straight off, “Set up a time-line. As you find out things, put them on the time-line.” It sounds elementary. Like a lot of what Joanne said—and no small part of what she wrote—the remark is deceptively simple. And again, similar to her work, the effects were profound. Actually doing what she said unwound many misunderstandings: facts I thought I knew, could not be true if I put them on a time-line. Contrariwise, dating things along a line brought previously unseen constellations of people and places into sharp focus.
The day I went to see her began in Davis, CA. where I had been visiting the Rare Book Room at Shields Library. That collection houses fifty years of letters from Whalen to his friend Gary Snyder—not coincidentally Joanne’s first husband. An early Amtrak from Davis to Richmond, followed by a long car-ride out to Bolinas, got us there in time for lunch, which Donald and Joanne had thoughtfully put together. During the brief, efficient clean-up, Joanne asked on the down-low if my friend was OK. She had seemed OK during the ride and lunch, though she’d spoken of enduring a painful break-up. Joanne had picked up the woman’s deeper, sadder vibes. Without preamble or explanation she simply asked my friend if she’d like a place to lie down, to just be, while we did our interview. My friend accepted.
At the end of the afternoon, several hours of Joanne’s patient, smart talk later, she bent down from her chair and pushed a couple of boxes of paper my way. They contained all of Philip Whalen’s letters to her, with copies of a number of her own letters to him. Though these had already been officially accessed by the library at U.C. San Diego, she told me that if I was quiet about it, I could simply take them, make copies, and get them back to her. It was a biographical goldmine. Given the wit and range of the writing, it was also a literary treasure. She just handed it to me; helped me carry it to the car too.
Eleven years later, I made another trip out near Bolinas, to read from the published book to any who cared to listen. Very few did that evening. Two friends of mine from the Bay Area wanted to be there, and undertook driving duties. Gail King. and Pat Nolan appeared, as did Donald Guravich and Joanne Kyger. A small crew, but a learned, talented, interested one. I thought we seven had a good time. The next day, Joanne wrote to say how much she’d enjoyed it. The reading was the last time I saw her; her elegant note the last I heard.
On The Way
Have the swallows returned
to my porchlight?
I may have left it on through the night
I may have burnt them out
when the wind shakes the window glass
I step out of the house hoping for the smell of rain twisted and waking up the earth the dust dispersed over again
longing for further signs of your presence mistaking bats for the swallows
rushing up ridge street again the sun sets late for the divers
‘you’ are everywhere
it’s wonderful and true but not location
that’s my point of sadness (the impaler) no hologram or talking back or ghost of a chance
but a small polished box we can sit beside
What is left to bring to moving pictures? a steady focus ability to unwind and rest the lever
the ‘I’ left hanging
“watching for the red gold line of morning to rise”
record the bobbing heads of lavender flowers (wind off the sea) over the shoulder as you said
“a wonderful density and appreciation of language.” Or in lines from your sketches
of Blavatsky, “but of course
this is not the end.
Oh no.” One is more in time so attentive to its wavering
her pacing, enveloping…
wanting to see.
4-17-17 – Marfa, Texas (for Joanne, again)
Dale Martin Smith
February Fox in Memory of Joanne
The foxes share people’s food and drink. They do not serve a single master. At the time there was a figure of speech saying, ‘Where there is no fox demon, no village can be established.’ (Rania Huntington, 2003)
She slept under a pear tree
snow had melted, grass and sun
shone bright on her
paw prints down the fence-line
now and then she’d arch her back
fur thick, black
forefeet reaching then follow
new patches of light
Who could work that day?
We sat near the dining room window looking
every so often to see black-tipped ears
smoothed back her head
nuzzled close to red fox body
After some hours I offered two big chunks
she gnawed one down, bit another in half
hiding pieces in the snow
cautiously at me
My teenaged son called out from a distance
“I love you, little fox” he said
and looked at me shyly
“Go on, say it—you love her too”
I did so I called
big fox love
Two mornings this week paw
and a little spirit
fox presence held to the yard We
look up often through the back window
snow and sunlight
SITTING ON JOANNE’S PORCH
It’s long past our bedtime and there’s nothing much left to think about
The success of the Japanese automotive industry
is equal to the failure of the American automotive industry or vice versa
The 10 Great Military Fiascos of History are equal to the 10 Great Peace Treaties.
The foot-prints coming curiously resemble the foot-prints going. That this is interesting
is equal to this being uninteresting. Its investigation is equal to
its noninvestigation. Its conclusion
is equal to its inconclusiveness. And thank you
is equal to its sweet rest tonight.
Email correspondence with Joanne Kyger. Permission for publication from Donald Guravich
To: Anne Waldman
Yes, we were having our climate change weather, broke records! Rene Franken of Demian bookstore in Antwerp emailed about trip there, but it’s only 10 days away, and I have a Bolinas class I’m teaching now, so I probably can’t make it . . . but a great invitation. Thanks for passing my name on. I take it Lawrence’s health is ok if he stays local? There was a clear and historically detailed obituary of Philip Lamantia in Friday’s paper. My friend Nemi Frost just called. He was her boyfriend for a while when she first came to San Francisco in 1958, John Wieners introduced them. She did a portrait of Philip called ‘Auto de Fe’. Only he was talking so much during the sittings that she could never see his mouth, it was always a blur. So she ended up by painting a little Clara Bow rosebud type mouth, which wasn’t at all accurate. (Much regards to Ed and all in Boulder. Have a good time at your party. Linda Russo is going to read in our studio tomorrow afternoon, thanks to Steve Ratcliff, who will show off his new baby boy, Johnny!)
Lots of xxxx Joanne
Anne Waldman To: Joanne Kyger Re: so much going on January 9, 2006 at 4:37 AM
Saw the GREAT show. Hope it can be a book. Wish Steve Clay was still in biz for something like that (costly). Home now to Boulder, yes very quick visit. To small dinner in Sausalito, not sure how we “did” or “came off.” Good to have Peter there, Lawrence. I wasn’t wearing the right clothes, alas. It was so HOT. Wish there had been room for more like YOU & Don!!! O yes I loved yr stuff, wonderful to see Bobbie JK portrait & Don & Franco.
Up til 2 am last night with Nick…fun but exhausted. And watched THRENODY & other footage. The city looked beautiful in the bright light of the day.
Did you see the Middle East Campus Watch (go to Google or website) piece on Ammiel Alcalay? References me, others, Poetry is News, Naropa, Archive..scary.
Later & love. Did agit prop with 20 students on the Mall last Sunday. Boulder is roiling with Ward Churchill fracas, clamp downs at CU. Wrapped up the summer catalogue—smashing.
Ed here. Party here Sunday.
Yes to April 21!! An honor (but place not generally available so don’t broadcast, ok?). I am going to be “trained” for radio work tomorrow at KGNU with Daron M. I keep telling students to “be the media” so I’d better get down to it too.
Ed has a new script & maybe shooting this summer with Daron’s help—fun.
Later & much love—wish I’d had more TIME there (never enough anywhere).
March 10, 2005 at 10:24 PM Joanne Kyger To: Anne Waldman <no subject>
Dear Anne, sorry to have missed you on this ‘quickie’ visit.The weather was nice and warm, though, wasn’t it. Bill B. said you might be able to see the Poetry Center exhibit at the California Historical Society—a kind of landmark for household art (in lieu of gallery and Museum) of the past 50 years in the Bay Area, which I thought very intimate social, and gossipy.
The waves have been very impressive for the past two days, big surge in attendance of surfing spots on the coast, especially here, with cars out to there from 7am on. . . .
I’ll be arriving NYC on April 21, Thursday, and it’s still convenient for you to lend a bed for a few days?
Hope all is well with you both!
Anne Waldman To Joanne Kyger Re: you there Scorpio
Dearest Joanne— How is your birthday month going?
Unseasonably warm days here—have been to the Elizabeth Murray show 3 times . . .
How is the new book coming? Saw the Orono folk a few weeks ago, they seem excited about it . . .
What is the gossip?
Did you get to the Creeley memorial out there?
Very sweet here—some moments of levity with Ron Padgett, John Yau anecdotes—Bob’s intimacy with everyone comes thru . . . Pen and Will so strong tho. Will broke down sobbing at the end…
I finished Joan Didion’s The Year Of Magical Thinking at dawn—an admirable job, but she might be interested in the Bardo perspective . . . also she seems to name drop a lot . . . Ed has been a fan of hers . . .
Have you seen the Berrigan book? We are celebrating here Wednesday with readings from it on Ted’s birth date (16th).
LeeAnn had a party for some Scorpios last night—including some of the Mayer-Warsh clan . . . thought of you. Lunch with Pat Padgett, another Scorpio, tomorrow . . . And Alice in town who turned 60 this month . . . Her virus is gone, hooray.
Ed got another clean Kat scan & I have more tests in a few weeks—head to Boulder Friday . . .
Much love to you both
From: Joanne Kyger Subject: Re: you there Scorpio Date: November 15, 2005 at 2:06 PM To Anne Waldman
Yes, Scorpio month is going very well, the weather is warm and no rains so far. I did go down to Stanford and was part of their afternoon 2 panel Symposium, in which we each presented a 10 minute (count them precisely) ‘paper.’
Marjorie Perloff did her exegesis / close reading of ‘Rain’ which she does so brilliantly, and which pleases her so much. It was held in the special collection room with some of Bob’s broadsides and books out. Limited seating for 80 maximum. Penelope and Hannah were there, the former looking very thin. Penelope read the same piece she read at St Marks, about Bob’s death, and in her introductory remarks, broke down. I don’t know if these memorials are cathartic or not, but they surely are emotional, and I hope the family’s duties in this respect are almost done. I was supposed to read Monday at the Poetry Center’s 3 hour memorial, but came down with some kind of respiratory wheeze so had Steve Ratcliff read Tom Clark’s poem about sitting on the beach with Bob, which I was supposed to deliver. I heard Bobbie was succinct and brilliant with Charles Olson’s piece for Bob, and a few remarks. I only got to talk with her by phone.
One of the editors at UC Berkeley Press is sending me a copy of Ted’s book, which I read in proof sheets last summer. It was an excellent visit with Ted. Alice and sons did a thorough and loving job of editing it. Give my greetings to Alice and a happy birthday to Ted’s spirit at reading. Nobody else like him.
Glad to hear the good news about Ed’s tests, and yourself, stay relaxed!
From: Joanne Kyger Subject: hello Date: April 14, 2008, 3:51 PM To: Anne Waldman
Steve Clay said he saw you the other day so you must be back. What a wonderful place to be! have been..
Just finished A BLUE HAND by Deborah Baker. She sent me a note apologizing for the NY Times Sunday review and any intimation that she may have treated me unsympathetically. I can handle it (except for the fact she has me rummaging through Allen’s rucksack to read his journal—when it was on the table for all (me) to see. Now my visitors will all want to lock their suitcases.
It’s that irritating practice of her biographical writing (and she is not the only writer to indulge in this) to tell you what her ‘subjects’ are ‘thinking’ and ‘feeling’ and their motivations. When it is all conjecture. And very intrusive. Lots of value judgments that reinforce the stereotypical characterization of the unwashed beatnik druggie ‘banging’ away at their wives (Neal). Gregory Corso’s dirty fingernails. And so on.
She is a very pleasant woman, and I think wanted to reflect some of what the Calcutta, and Indian community was experiencing with Allen’s visit. Perhaps the book is successful on that level, but the rest of her characterizations are overly simplistic, and Hope Savage remains a fragmented focus.
Lots of wind today, lots of sneezes.
Very best to you both!
From: Anne Waldman Subject: re: hello Date: April 15, 2008 To Joanne Kyger
Joanne—O my dear that black drip dry dress of yours is such a luminous detail in literary annals now. I agree with NY Times that the book is sorely lacking, missing really, the reality in your guys’ writing. The weave is good, keeps one on toes but essentially a re-telling of the journals sort of & irritating projection as you say on what you are all thinking, what motivates you . . . & reinforces the image: druggie, naïve, self-centered. I feel everyone as presented is not the humans I know. Today I am being interviewed on a docu about AG in India . . . One of the questions, How did AG’s trip to India lead to the founding of Naropa U? The legend continues. I am so happy I will finally SEE you in June, you living legend, you. Maybe we can have some drinkies at the Hotel.
What ever did happen to Hope S? I thought John Giorno had some news a million years ago . . .
Meditated with Tibetans yesterday at the UN. Forwarding photo of Chinese police with Tibetan monk costumes under their arms . . . Still jet lagged & off to Austin in the a.m. for work, will see Dale & Hoa & god daughter Naomi. Ambrose wants to record you reading poems. Is possible? Check out Ed’s website & the movie (I sent Donald info) . . . Ed says hi, he’s working on next project “Entanglement. “
Kalyanamitra: Joanne Elizabeth Kyger November 19, 1934–March 22, 2017
nerves are bee hive
cracks in the field composition
stay relaxed you said
“we think the squirrel that lives in the pine here is eating the Amanita that came up behind the studio.
He must be very stoned but haven’t seen him leaning at the glass door yet “
trying to reach you
come Kalyanamitra, come
with yr knack for animalia garden commentary
at loss here without you
$1200 to kill the emerald ash borer within-
are they serious?
who is the deadliest foe?
Death? so many friends
And you wrote::
“Two big raindrops just fell on the deck. Shortest rainstorm in California history.
Those fires burning, have plenty to eat, stressed and diseased pine forest etc.”
& for new years:
“be sure to visit Jai Singh’s observatory in India
and all those poets together at St Marks, what energy! “
[ *Kalyanamitra: the spiritual friend]
Some Words for Joanne (Michael Wolfe: 7/22/17)
I have a couple of things to say here today.
First, I have a week-old email here from Larry Kearney then in Athens, Greece.
It says: “Joanne was an everywhere bright thread for me—We seldom agreed except when we were alone (audience laughter here), and then the talk was simple and perfect. First bright day in SF, up on Nemi’s roof and everything just there, just perfect.”
And I have a short poem Larry wrote, with Joanne in mind, a few years ago:
Tap Root Poem After Reading Joanne’s 2012
oh larry, remember? it says on the first page. I do. and you were there I knew your face was kindly too through all the shift of shifting panes and the somnambulist glazier’s rerun film artistry so way out here today I’ll dig for you a hole in the meadow and put in there the meadow. [the man bends to the shovel and the stray gray earth at the same time.
And I have this to say, too:
Joanne’s first book, The Tapestry & the Web, was the first book of hers I read.
You can already hear her remarkable ear in this earliest work, the ear listening, in the writing, to the speaking of the lines, a voice refashioning ancient treasure: Penelope Kyger of Vallejo, in the Gold State, staking a claim.
Joanne, the Odyssean: she traveled and then she came home and brought Japan and India with her in beautifully scribed notebooks, woven into the fabric of her language.
When I think of Joanne, home to stay on the western edge of an empire she questioned to the end, I’m reminded of other poets, Greek ones centuries ago, at the western edges of another empire, whose work ran consciously counter to global conquest.
Like them, Joanne accomplished an alternative placement. She gave us a hearable, manageable center— not a monument to heroics on a hill, but a localized voice to talk about the living. Anyte and Nossis, Leonidas and Joanne… a human voice for human themes.
Joanne was a great neighbor in my 15 years in Bolinas, a serious big-hearted opinionated and forgiving neighbor, who put in her time and then-some being sure The Hearsay News came out on time, attending to the condition of the Free Box. Her chat had an edge, her dedication a strain of frivolity, her rules of the game included magnanimity: her many visits to my little bookstore in the dead of winter, with no clear purpose but to entertain, her biting wit and scholar’s seriousness had equal weight in my experience of her, those spectacles she wore when reading, the eye for detail.
A bird flits in and out of The Tapestry & the Web. On the first page it lies dead on the sidewalk, an omen, sidestepped. Later it watches. Then it tunes up. By the time it reappears on p. 45, the bird is taking over the household:
Look the bird is making plans talking to men in the room upstairs poking at crumbs in the kitchen using our toilet & whose rights do I worry about? Keep the house I’ll go bird— you keep this place at the very farthest wall pushing & scratching to get out thru the cracks in the batten where the light comes in after storms & the weeds tear thru in august all all has fled has gone flicked by & scratched the soil. & you claw foot fix it fix it I’m going.
We feel bruised today by Joanne’s going. But loss isn’t all this. It’s the having, not the keeping, that’s the measure. That we were fortunate to have her, and that she endured a lifetime. We’re sad, and we’re lucky. “The Lord gives everything and charges by taking it back.”
It’s still a bargain.
I watch you go. You go. I feel diminished, Though at the time The time we had was More than I supposed. The rose I set out in a vase Looks the way it did When you arrived here. Then the light drops, And with the light The way the flower looked And then my feelings.
We expect a feeling To continue, even when we Know it’s almost gone, Even when it’s hard for Him to breathe, For her to see, For me to watch you fading In the twilight. The music softens. The voices over there Across the garden Take on the colors of the west.
Somewhere a spade stands Sunken in a bean row. A car starts up and Drives away all night. Its headlights light A patch of country road, Not the distance Of the long night’s trip, Just ten or twenty yards In increments Sweeping enough darkness From the future To show the way A little at a time—
Over the water, Into another state, Miles and miles from the town Where we all lived Together, for how long.
The Great Broadside Heistby Steven Lavoie. A report of the Joanne Kyger Memorial, July, 2017 in Bolinas by the cofounder and co editor of Life Of Crime, the original Black Bart Poetry Society newsletter now poetry society columnist for Parole, blog of The New Black Bart Poetry Society. Click on bold heading to read the full report.
Ah Bolinas! A travel journal by Pat Nolan in which the poet travels by thumb and public transportation from his home in Monte Rio to the misty mystic enclave of Bolinas to read his poetry at the behest of the muse of the mesa, published as a limited edition handmade book with original linoleum prints, and bound the the traditional Japanese manner. Click on bold heading to read the journal as a pdf file.
Early Video of Joanne Reading Joanne Kyger, a Bolinas resident, has published more than 20 books of poetry and prose. Her collection, About Now was awarded the 2008 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles National Literary Award for Poetry. She was a co-presenter in the Bay Area Writers class with another Bolinas resident, Bobbie-Louise Hawkins . Although the Beat and San Francisco Renaissance movements were decidedly male-centric, these two powerful female voices are clearly central and vital components of the Bay Area literary scene. From Bay Area Writers. Click on bold heading to view video.
Joanne Kyger Reading at UC Berkeley A prominent figure in California’s poetry scene for decades, Joanne Kyger writes poetry influenced by her practice of Zen Buddhism and her ties to the poets of Black Mountain, the San Francisco Renaissance, and the Beat Generation. Her latest collection, “About Now: Collected Poems” is forthcoming from National Poetry Foundation. She frequently teaches at New College and the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. From the University of California Lunch Poems Readings curated by Robert Haas. Click on bold heading to view video.
Stephen Ratcliffe, Joanne Kyger, and Julia Bloch joined Al Filreis at Stephen’s beautiful home in Bolinas, CA, to discuss Philip Whalen’s poem “Life at Bolinas. The Last of California.” Click on bold heading to view video.
Some Notes & Addendum
Joanne’s Nude Refrigerator Photos taken on the occasion of Joanne finally getting rid of her old ice box, replacing it with a functioning refrigerator. Photos taken in front yard of her home. Bill was a very old friend of Joanne’s with whom she spent time in Japan (see Japan/India Journals) and a witty, wonderful, bright-colors painter. Ken gained some renown for his set photos of Barbie and Ken dolls; also an old friend. Bill Porter’s (Red Pine) The Fisherman will soon be published as an Empty Bowl chapbook.
Nafets Le Renyh is a professional dilettante who holds degrees from the Joanne Kyger School of Interior Refurbishments in Pömsthrowing and Moongazing, as well as from the Ed Dorn University of Katana Humoru in Blackpainting, Doom’n’Gloom, and Open Field Misguidance, and also from the Rainer Maria Gerhardt Institute in advanced desperations. He now lives along the banks of the river Rhine in the German south-west, where he spends his days tending to the grave of Townes van Zandt’s Pretty Frohlein or drinks tea with Sei Shonagon. He has been nominated for countless prizes and awards, most recently for the Golden Bandaid with Blue Ribbon from the National Pottery Foundation, but so far he’s been shied away from them all. Among his publications are the local telephone book and the manual Instructions for the Honey Collector or How to Turn Shit into Gold, A Beginners Guide to Everyday Alchemy published by Phantom House, Dobuy 2019.
Stefan Hyner, met Joanne Kyger in a bar in Amsterdam 1978 while he was travelling thru Europe with Jim Koller. He is a Buddhist layman living in a small hamlet outside of Heidelberg with his wife Marianne Steele where they grow flowering cherries and cherry plum trees.
Kü Yün, born as Chuang Che-fan, in O-Mei, Sze Chuan Province, in 1957. Joined the Buddhist order when only 13 years old and has lived as a wandering monk ever since. He visited Joanne Kyger in Bolinas for the first time in the early summer of 1983
Michael Rothenberg’s Big Bridge published a great little chapbook of Joanne’s titled The Real News. Click here to view.
Jonah Raskin, the author of American Scream: Allen Ginsberg “Howl” and the Making of the Beat Generation, wrote this upon hearing of Joanne’s passing in March of 2017 and wanted to share it.
Joanne Kyger (1934-2017): Memories of A Poet All Her Own
Joanne Kyger spent much of her life resisting and running from labels. Then, when she died at her home in Bolinas, California at the age of 82, on March 22, 2017, obituary writers immediately slapped labels all over her and her work. Sam Roberts in The New York Times noted that, “she was associated with the West Coast School of writers.” I didn’t know there was such a school. John McMurtrie in The San Francisco Chronicle observed that she was a “trailblazing Beat poet.” When I visited Kyger in Bolinas a couple of years ago she told me, “I don’t know where to stick myself categorically. I used to call myself a California poet to avoid the tag of woman Beat poet.” She added, “I’ve long since given up insisting I’m not a Beat, and when someone said that I was fundamentally a religious poet I had an urge to say that I was fundamentally a secular poet.” For fifty or so years, Kyger was something of a contrarian who adhered to her own inner clock and internal map. When I wrote about her for a local Marin County newspaper I said, “What Amherst was to Emily Dickinson and Brooklyn was to Walt Whitman, Bolinas has been to Kyger: a big backyard that has led to the beyond.” I knew that the link to Dickinson and Whitman was a bit of a stretch, but I wanted readers to sit up and listen and to realize that a rare and unusual poet lived in their midst and that at 80 she was still writing poetry, and still getting ready to write poetry by clearing her head. “If your mind is a messed-up closet, your poetry will be messed-up too,” she told me. “The point is to have a clear mind so that what comes out on the page is also clear.” So, she mediated and practiced Zen Buddhism that she learned when she lived in Japan with her first husband, Gary Snyder. Before then, she read philosophy and studied with the literary critic, Hugh Kenner, who have her a “D” in freshman composition. Decades later, she still remembered. Decades later, the “D” still hurt her. “I couldn’t spell,” she told me. Perhaps that’s because she was raised in China and for years spoke what she called “pigeon English.” Or maybe her spelling didn’t satisfy Professor Kenner because, after she and her parents returned from China, they bounced all over the U.S.A.: from California to Florida and to Illinois back to California. Her father served in the military. In the Midwest she found a home and escaped from quotidian reality in the public library where she discovered The Wizard of Oz. I like to think that there was something of Dorothy in Joanne: someone who traveled to far-off places, and lived in her own head and battled wizards and witches and survived. “ When we lived in Lake Bluff, Illinois, the library was close enough for me to ride my bicycle there,” Kyger told me “Reading was my great TV.” Then, in college, she discovered poetry that was “direct and conversational,” and there was no turning back. Poetry beckoned. She read it and wrote it almost every day. Kyger might have remained Gary Snyder’s wife and rubbed shoulders with Kerouac and the Beats. That was one of her fantasies, she told me. “Gary was interesting,” she explained. “But he was also a square.” After a few years, Kyger left Japan, came back to California, divorced Snyder and then settled in Bolinas which had become a haven for hippies, surfers, poets and single moms. Kyger fit right in. “Bolinas was perfect for me,” she told me. “In the 1970s single mothers created a community for themselves, their friends and their kids — for all of us.” Whenever she felt “shack-simple” she traveled to Mexico. “You can’t live forever on the delight of your neighbor’s gossip,” she added. “And long rainy days can be bleak.” More recently, as millionaires and billionaires moved into Bolinas she felt uncomfortable, but by then it was too late to relocate. When she first arrived in Bolinas she lived in a tent. Then she bought a house and filled it with books. That’s where I met her, though I had read her poetry long before then. In 2008, when I reviewed About Now: Collected Poems that ran to 769 pages I wrote, “From beginning to end, Kyger is a brilliant comedian; she’s whimsical, playful, even about serious and reverential subjects like Buddhism and the dharma. Her poems are almost always fun and sometimes funny in a graceful way to look at on the printed page, whether they go for pages, or whether they’re just two lines long like “Man get relaxed/ Woman get permanent,” or the silly poem titled “Love” that reads “When people say they love me I tell them / Give me a loaf of bread – I loaf you.” A lot of people told her they loved her. It’s easy to understand why; Kyger was beautiful in more ways than one. Now, years later, I remember her gracefulness and her elegance on the day when we sat and talked and drank cups of black tea. Indeed, Kyger wasn’t Beat or Zen or a member of any school, but something else, something all her own. When I interviewed her she wore black trousers, a black blouse, a black sweater, several silver necklaces and several rings, her hair arranged neatly in a bun at the back of her head. She might have fixed herself up special for the interview. Or maybe she dressed that way every day. That’s what I’d like to think.
Richard Levine Recalls My own recollection is of attending a reading Joanne gave at New College, on Valencia Street, about a year after Philip died, which was 2002. He had instructed his temple-heir Steve Allen very specifically that his large turquoise ring—the one Gary bought for him in Varanasi during that fabled “passage to India” in the early ’60’s (w/ Joanne/Allen G./and Peter Orlovsky)—that that ring should be bequeathed to Joanne. I volunteered for the job, which I accomplished at the reading that night, and which I attended with Jack Weller. Jack—at the time, a Dean at CIIS (California Institute of Integral Studies)—was interested in seeing Joanne as well, as they had both studied philosophy with Paul Weinpahl (“Zen Diary”/Spinoza) at UCSB during the ’50’s and knew a number of people in common.
I approached Joanne during intermission–she was both gracious and apparently thrilled at this gift from beyond. We noted that while Joanne was with Peter Warshall, I had been with his sister Jackie, which meant that we shared a mother-in-law for awhile. Beulah Warshall, the mother, was dear to me, literally from the playpen childhood era, but also a challenging piece-of-work from the Jewish mother standpoint.
In the early/mid 70’s Joanne came to 300 Page (the San Francisco Zen Center) for something, maybe to see Philip, and I told her that I had profited greatly by reading her letters to Phil, which were collected at the Reed library. Later he told me, laughing, that Joanne had complained to him that “some kid has been reading my mail”…
Stephen Ratcliffe wanted to add a few items from his personal trove of Joanne memorabilia, in particular her beautiful calligraphy.
Sara Safdie, erstwhile compiler and organizer of this Remembrance to Joanne Kyger, “had a poem that Joanne had written for me because I made a meal for her with pomegranate syrup, which she’d never tasted before. Today, while I was cleaning the trunk of my car, lo and behold, as Joanne might say, I found it.” Here it is:
Trevor Carolan has kindly offered up his Bloomsday interview with Joanne from 2008. The interview was first published in Pacific Rim Review of Books and has since appeared in Cedar Sigo’s There You Are collection e for Wave Books, and in Trevor Carolan’s New World Dharma: Interviews with Buddhist Teachers, Writers and Leaders (State Univ NY Press, 2016). Here is the pdf of that interview: JK Bloomsday Interview
The New Black Bart Poetry Society is not a school of poetry nor does it endorse or espouse a particular philosophy of poetry. The Society will entertain most any presentation on the art of poetry, its past, its present, and its future. Explications, delineations, categorizations, taxonomies, and various sundry groupings of poets and their work are of vital interest to the Society membership. See Conditions of Parole for more information.