The Great Broadside Heist by 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: