Showing posts with label Joanne Kyger. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joanne Kyger. Show all posts

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Joanne in the Himalayas 1962, photo by Allen Ginsberg

e-mail to Linda Russo from Ron Silliman

Date sent:     Tue, 28 Apr 1998 05:00:30 -0500 (CDT)
Subject:      Re: Silliman on Kyger

On 04/27/98 20:10:48 you wrote:
>Dear Ron Silliman --
>you maybe recognize as a sometime poetix listperson --
>i've been only skimming posts lately (busy) but I was wondering if you
>could say more abt. Joanne Kyger being the most influencial progressive
>woman poet of the 60s - 70s. She's been important to me & it does seem,
>considering the scope of her work, that she *should* be important, but
>doesn't seem so considered. So i wonder if you'd be willing to tell me a
>thing or two, or maybe point me to something you've published re kyger.
>thanks --
>Linda Russo

Dear Linda, 

Been thinking about this myself over the past few days. Kyger's not in the [Paul] Hoover [anthology Postmodern American Poetry] or the [Douglas] Messerli [anthology From The Other Side of the Century] and absent even from Moving Borders [ed. Mary Margaret Sloan], an anthology I imagine as having been premised on precisely this sort of omission (though I argued over this with Margy Sloan, who simply doesn't know the work and doesn't have the historical depth I wish she had -- she told me that she was only using writers from the late '70s onward, so I was surprised to see Niedecker, Guest and Fraser, all of whom are contemporaneous with Joanne or, in Lorine's case, even earlier).
Joanne Kyger was a student of Hugh Kenner's at UC Santa Barbara in the 1950s who moved to SF where she became the only woman to participate as an equal in the otherwise remarkably misogynist Spicer circle. She married Gary Snyder and traveled with him to Japan (and, also with Gary, to India where they traveled about with Ginsberg). Back in SF she was also best friends with John Weiners and is the Miss Kits he refers to in his Scott Street journals. She worked for awhile as a TV producer for the local PBS station (this was 35 years ago, when such a job was not impossible for somebody just roughly creative and intelligent to go get), then moved to "the Mesa" which is a hill overlooking the ocean in Bolinas (there are two other neighborhoods to that small town, a section by the road coming in, neighboring -- literally -- a lagoon that's one of the great birdwatching spots in northern California, then the downtown itself, nestled betwixt the beach, the lagoon and the Mesa. During the early 1970s, Creeley and Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Lewis and Phoebe Macadams, Larry Kearney, Peter Warshall, Bill Berkson, Bob Grenier, Richard Duerden, Tom and Angelica Clark, were all living in Bolinas, a town with a population of just 300. Phil Whalen was there for awhile also before his duties in the Zen Center became full-time.
Joanne's influence on Grenier is palpable, it really is the connection between his fascination with Creeley (he edited RC's first Selected Poems), and his own later work which is so much about how thought emerges. 

Joanne has never ever been one to push her own work, but there was a time circa 1970 when every poet I knew owned a copy of The Tapestry and the Web, her first book (I have no idea where my own copy disappeared to -- I'm certain I never sold it, although it may have gone off in my divorce from my first wife back in '72). In 1975, Berkson published her second book, All This Every Day, and Kenward Elmslie I believe was behind the 3rd one, The Wonderful Focus of You, John Martin publishing Just Space (poems 1979-89) from his Black Sparrow press. There's also a chapbook that contains a poem based a local indian tale, Up My Coast and most recently a big book of her Japan and India Journals from Tombouctou. SPD would still have whatever is in print. There've been other chapbooks, I know. The National Poetry Foundation is talking about doing a big selected poems sometime in the future, although there needs to be (I hope) a book of the poetry since 1989. 

The very first poetry reading I ever produced, in 1974, was a benefit for a Bay Area prison reform group. My readers were Creeley, Kyger and Dorn and in the context of SF in that year it was very much a line-up of people recognized as equals. 400 people attended. 

I've written at some length about the disappearance of poets and how it reconfigures history into something unrecognizable to those present at the event. This isn't always bad -- Ferlinghetti was shocked to see that anyone was still interested in Spicer as recently as a year or two ago. But all too often it leads to this sort of erasure of a major writer. 

I don't know if you know Joanne's work. It has its closest affinities, I think, with Whalen, Grenier and, though I don't know how well she knows him, Anselm Hollo (Joanne has a terrific sense of humor in her writing, which may in fact actually work against her being taken as seriously as she deserves). I know that Bobbie Louise Hawkins has wanted her to come and teach full-time at Naropa for years, but Joanne (who has no visible means of employment, though she must live on very little money) seems willing only to do the occasional workshop there. 

She's one of our hidden treasures -- the poet who really links the Beats, the Spicer Circle, the Bolinas poets, the NY School and the language poets, and the only poet who can be said to do all of the above. 

All best,
Ron Silliman

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Joanne Kyger
the Poetry Project
October 2013

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Joanne Kyger
for Public Access Poetry, 1978

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Joanne Kyger reading at UC Berkeley, 2007

Monday, July 09, 2007

In 1957, a 23-year-old Joanne Kyger arrived in San Francisco, having just graduated from UC Santa Barbara where she had studied poetry with Hugh Kenner, ready to partake of the poetry scene that had just begun to announce itself in the city that, even then, was called by its top newspaper columnist Baghdad-by-the-Bay. The legendary reading at The Six Gallery, where Allen Ginsberg had debuted Howl & the New American Poetry – or at least the Beat & New Western varieties of same – had their formal coming out party, had taken place the year before. It was not particularly a woman-friendly environment – only four of the 44 poets in the Allen anthology three years later were women¹ & Kyger was not among them. Undeterred – a word that would make a great title if ever she writes an autobiography – Kyger took off with Allen Ginsberg & Gary Snyder for India & Japan, came back to San Francisco where she & Fran Herndon were the only women to gain anything like equal access into the Spicer Circle, befriended John Wieners when he wrote his first great works, and then, in 1969, moved out to Bolinas on the Marin Coast north of San Francisco. Her associates in Bolinas at different times have included Phil Whalen, Robert Creeley & Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Tom Clark, Bill Berkson, Lewis MacAdams Jr., Robert Grenier, Stephen Ratcliffe and a whole host of younger Bay Area poets. The result of which is that, without ever being much of a careerist, Joanne Kyger has influenced more literary communities than perhaps any other single author. From the NY School to langpo, from Black Mountain to the Beats to more recent generations who’ve run into her during her teaching stints at Naropa, Ms. Kyger’s fingerprints are all over American poetry, and the consequences have been beneficial for virtually all concerned. Now the National Poetry Foundation has published About Now: Collected Poems, which is one of the great books of this or any other year.

A cornucopia at just under 800 pages, About Now appears to me to pretty much collect everything outside of the Japan & India journals. More than any previous volume, About Now makes evident the why of Joanne Kyger’s extraordinary impact. What is it about her writing that has proved so fruitful for so many different kinds of poetry? The answer is so very simple that Kyger announces it, literally, in the book’s title. To a degree perhaps matched only by the late Larry Eigner, Joanne Kyger is a master of the poem that what records whatever happens to be taking place right now. It’s a literary strategy that fits perfectly the Buddhist path that Kyger has taken ever since that first trip to Asia forty-six years ago. It also happens to be the closest thing imaginable to the I-did-this-I-did-that lyricism of the New York School, not that Frank O’Hara even once thought of himself as some kind of Buddhist. And Kyger’s approach similarly fits langpo’s sense that rigor (a) be real and (b) be based on life & the world rather than received habit. There is an entire theoretical discourse about immanence & absence one could spin around Kyger (Eigner as well) that would, if looked at closely, open up an entire generation of postmodern theory to the fresh air of actual practice. And Kyger makes all this look just so completely simple:

Bird family
boat going out to sea
all this
every day

Those last two lines turn out to be the title of one of Kyger’s earlier books, published by Bill Berkson’s Big Sky press back in 1975. Like the current volume, many of Kyger’s books propose a focus on just looking at what’s really there – Joanne; Trip Out and Fall Back; The Wonderful Focus of You; Going On (Kyger’s first big selected, published by Dutton some 24 years ago); Some Life; Again; As Ever – that it seems no accident that Kyger’s volume in the Charles Olson-inspired Curriculum of the Soul series, the topic she was assigned, turns out to be Phenomenological.

A second dimension, as important as the first (and something much more active in Kyger than, say, Eigner), is humor. Kyger’s not afraid of jokes, even when they take up the whole poem:


When people say they love me I tell them
Give me a loaf of bread – I loaf you!

Humor is precisely the dimension that invests depiction (& its kin description²) with personality. What Phil Whalen once characterized quite accurately as a “continuous nerve movie,” poetry without personality is rather a dull lens indeed. Consider what that cornball pun above brings to a simple equation of love with giving with the staple of bread – it invests everything with a sense of play & with goodwill. It offers boundless energy as well as a sense of forgiveness – you can be a complete dodo the people who really love you actually do. Vulnerability here is not risk. This isn’t a bad portrait of love at all in spite of all its silliness. Perhaps I should say because of all its silliness.

About Now chronicles nearly one half century of American poetry using just such simple tactics. While there are poems here that tell tales & some go on for pages (there are a couple even that border on becoming novels in the sense that Jack Spicer’s Heads of the Town Up To the Aether might be called a novel), Kyger’s exactness of vision remains her strong suit however she thinks to employ it. Consider the use of nouns & noun phrases in this three-line poem from 1995, how the first one hovers between cliché & description (that divide is, in a sense, the whole point), the second is a noun phrase that announces itself as metaphor, while the third – the door – is so matter-of-factly utilitarian & depictive that it snaps the other two into place. At least until you realize just how much of a metaphor sans ground it is as well:

The storm is upon us
Where is the wand of unawareness
Did I throw it out the door last night?

About Now is a volume on a scale with, say, the Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan. If you own one, you really ought to own both, alongside of course comparable volumes from Ginsberg, Whalen, Creeley, the forthcoming Jack Spicer collected, etc. The poetry of Joanne Kyger is not only vital for an historical understanding how all these different kinds of writing fit together, it is one of the shining monuments of a generation that has given us an extraordinary amount of pleasure. Who wouldn’t want to sip from this stream?


¹ Three of them close personal friends of Robert Duncan.

² The differences between which are worth thinking about, particularly if considered in moderately literal terms.