RIP Poet Joanne Kyger (1934-2017), who passed away Wednesday, March 22
I once saw a clip of Jeff Bridges talking about Hal Ashby. He said, Hal had balls, “art balls,” to be specific.
Joanne Kyger had “poetry balls.” She was utterly confident about her work, her life, and unafraid of the boys on the intellectual playground around her.
She marches into San Francisco a college dropout, straight into the impossibly manly circle of Robert Duncan’s Magic Workshop, passing some unwritten test to become part of their esoteric gang.
Now inside their inside jokes and walking out on Beat poetry readings, she stands her ground, writes what will be her first book, The Tapestry and the Web. It’s one of the great poetry books, every bit as tall and strong as the lumberjacks from Black Mountain, whom she will outlive in more ways than one.
At the fearless age of 26, Joanne ships off to Japan with Gary Snyder. They get married and she acts the good hostess for Gary’s friends and visitors. Her book Strange Big Moon: The Japan and India Journals, 1960–1964, shows this slowly growing tiresome, a brilliant and true portrayal her time there, of breaking out of that tiresome place.
She is one of the first poets to plant stakes in Bolinas, CA, the town Ed Sanders called the “psychedelic Peyton Place.” She is pretty much the star of that show for two decades, personally and artistically, uncompromising in both her life and her work.
Patiently, she explains year after year as every single interviewer asks her, what was it like to be a part of the “Beats?”, the “San Francisco Renaissance,” or “the Post New York School,” that she was none of those. She stood up and out of those frames in her own singular space.