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
to my porchlight?
I may have left it on
through the night
I may have burnt them out
when the wind
the window glass
I step out of the house
hoping for the smell
and waking up the earth
for further signs
of your presence
for the swallows
rushing up ridge street again
the sun sets late for the
‘you’ are everywhere
it’s wonderful and
but not location
that’s my point
of sadness (the impaler)
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
“watching for the red gold line of morning
record the bobbing heads
of lavender flowers (wind off the
over the shoulder
as you said
“a wonderful density
Or in lines from your sketches
of Blavatsky, “but of course
this is not the end.
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.
is equal to
is equal to
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
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
To: Anne Waldman
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!
To Joanne Kyger
Re: you there Scorpio
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
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:
Poem After Reading Joanne’s 2012
oh larry, remember?
it says on the first page.
and you were there I knew
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
- 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
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
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
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.
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