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Joanne Kyger


Joanne Kyger was born in Vallejo, California, in 1934. After attending the University of California–Santa Barbara, she moved to San Francisco in 1957. There, she studied Zen Buddhism and joined a community of poets active in the San Francisco Renaissance, including Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Gary Snyder, and Philip Whalen.

She and Gary Snyder were married from 1960 to 1964. During this time, they lived together in Japan and traveled in India with Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky. In 1965, a year after their return to California, Kyger published her first poetry collection, The Tapestry and the Web (Four Seasons Foundation). In 1966, she married the artist Jack Boyce, whose drawings were featured in the book; they moved to Bolinas, California, in 1969 and divorced soon after.

Kyger was the author of over twenty collections of poetry, including About Now: Collected Poems (National Poetry Foundation, 2007), As Ever: Selected Poems (Penguin, 2002), Going On: Selected Poems 1958–1980 (Dutton, 1983), and Places to Go (Black Sparrow Press, 1970). She also published an account of her travels, Japan and India Journals, 1960–1964 (Tombouctou Books), in 1981.

Her poetry is known for its Buddhist influence and its natural imagery, often of the Northern California landscape. Of her work, Alice Notley writes, “Kyger’s major preoccupation is the attainment in quotidian life of that state where things and one are unveiled.”

Kyger is also known for her wide range of influence on future generations of poets and poetry movements. The poet Ron Silliman notes, “She’s one of our hidden treasures—the poet who really links the Beats, the Spicer Circle, the Bolinas poets, the New York School, and the Language poets, and the only poet who can be said to do all of the above.”

Kyger lived in Bolinas, California. She died on March 22, 2017.

Selected Bibliography

About Now: Collected Poems (National Poetry Foundation, 2007)
As Ever: Selected Poems (Penguin, 2002)
Again: Poems, 1989–2000 (La Alameda Press, 2001)
Just Space: Poems 1979–1989 (Black Sparrow Press, 1991)
Going On: Selected Poems 1958–1980 (Dutton, 1983)
The Wonderful Focus of You (Z Press, 1980)
All This Every Day (Big Sky, 1975)
Desecheo Notebook (Arif Press, 1971)
Places to Go (Black Sparrow Press, 1970)
Joanne (Angel Hair Books, 1970)
The Tapestry and The Web (Four Seasons Foundation, 1965)

Strange Big Moon: The Japan and India Journals, 1960–1964 (North Atlantic Books, 2000)
Japan and India Journals, 1960–1964 (Tombouctou Books, 1981)

By This Poet



        The grasses are light brown 
        and ocean comes in 
        long shimmering lines 
        under the fleet from last night 
        which dozes now in the early morning

Here and there horses graze
        On somebody's acreage

                Strangely, it was not my desire

that bade me speak in church to be released 
    but memory of the way it used to be in
  careless and exotic play

        when characters were promises
  then recognitions. The world of transformation 
is real and not real but trusting.

                Enough of the lessons? I mean
didactic phrases to take you in and out of 
love's mysterious bonds?

        Well I myself am not myself

    and which power of survival I speak 
for is not made of houses.

    It is inner luxury, of golden figures 
  that breathe like mountains do
    and whose skin is made dusky by stars.

O fresh day in February 
        Come along
with me under pine whose new cones 
                make flowers. In a mellow mood
        let's take anything
    and you're better 
in the peaceful flowing 
in the bech
in the bird who flys up 
    out of coyote bush,
    bob cat who crosses the road.

    For who could think I could see
the grace of other souls born, and reborn 
      before in crab shells
     snail shells, the head of a grebe
    molesin, new onions up. Drawn by 
your clever sleigh of tortoise
        I listen for the melody
        to sing along.