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   What is  Poetry?  
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Joanne Kyger In Willits

Joanne Kyger in Willits

Introduction by WJ Ray, August 19, 2005

Thank you all for attending.

Joanne Kyger has agreed to read a few poems to supplement my introduction. I have written a speech that I will read parts of.

We fairly rush to our poets in times like the present, when a repulsive, criminal, official-think uses language to cloak the betrayal it has wrought. The poet on the other hand devotes his or her entire energy to be faithful expressing the fact of existence and making it eloquent.

I'd like first to thank the many people who contributed to this event and then to say a few words about our guest. First and foremost thank you to the Methodist Church for showing Christian charity towards these necessary First Amendment activities. Janice Gendreau my partner in the forums has been a full and equal participant and is invaluable, especially when the Iraq War began when we were frantically opposing the propaganda of that time. Sue Ellen Parkinson also worked to show that propaganda is not the right way to get down the road. Suzanne of Blue Sky Galleries and Janice offered the rugs, Kati Mulhausen the screens, Donna d'Terra the herbal bouquet, and she took a smudge pot around with Frankincense to cleanse the atmosphere. I don't know what it means but it seemed ancient. Sanhedrin Nursery and many friends provided the plants. Marilyn Darrow is the cashier as she was nineteen years ago when Gary Snyder was here. Frey Vineyards and the Purple Thistle were very supportive. Thank you Hal Wagenet for the sound system and Bill Bruneau and Tim Gregory for getting Andy Wright here to video the event, which I consider an historical occasion.

Jerri-Jo Idarius made the poster, a moonlit sea scene. We were in a quandary as to how to label Joanne on it so we asked her to label herself. This is a list of hers, followed by a few of mine: Pissed-off Poet; Plucky Poet; Normal Poet; Sturdy Poet; Born in California Poet; Coastal Fog Bank Poet; Not a Poet; Empty Poet; Tries Hard Poet; Writes Good Poems Poet; and mine: Fairly Good Dictionary Poet; Used to Keep Good Beat Poet; Sane Grey Poet@yahoo.com; Reward Winning Poet; Colorful White Poet; and Imperial Penguin Poet. [Her last suggestion, Poet of the Moment, got on the page.]

For my part I'd like to dedicate what I've done to the memory of Marilyn Hinchcliffe, who was the first bookstore owner in Willits, with her husband Hugh, in the very early Seventies. I was going to have someone drive her here for this occasion, but she died in her sleep last month, a sign traditionally of one's having lived a virtuous life. She played a joke on us because at the last minute we changed where Joanne would stay so that she could get some rest close to the church, and that home, Marcia Pratt's, is right next door to the house that the Hinchcliffe's lived in thirty year ago. To balance the mourning aspect, I wish to honor Paula Murphy who is going to have a child momentarily. She has done a lot to relieve pain for people in this town.

I liken Joanne Kyger to another Scorpio, Georgia O'Keeffe. She has gone her own way over a long career, not seeking fame but having an extraordinary effect upon poetry and people and is much admired by her peers. She is often described as a unique poet, not subject to the terms used for other poets, in a word indescribable. This linguistic impasse in academia usually occurs when someone opens doors of perception into fresh ways of being and feeling—major aspects of life itself, when you suddenly see life whole through another's eyes.

Her poetic path is the complexity of clarity, the poem itself being alive in the making. This form of creation requires great emotional depth combined with great skill to convey the experience.

She manifested very early as an original integrity with original verbal poise. Jack Kerouac called her the most sensitive person he ever met, since Jane Burroughs who died young. She resolved to study the whole of poetry so as to be prepared when the verge of inspiration came to her. She moves poetically from self to sound to existence to Mind to nothingness, which mirrors Mind back upon itself and travels up or down the chain of levels of consciousness to self, and the poem comes to aesthetic rest and emotional completion.

Her own Odyssey is embedded in the progress of the last fifty years of cultural America, first with the Beat Generation but transcending that era of renewal into a widespread insistence, mainly on the West Coast, and combined with rural efforts to simplify, upon the immensity of life, lived as itself, with at least the possibility to live in consonance with the rest of sentient existence—in any case, an outright refutation of the national state and human energy as explicit active manufacturers of death.

In walking away from that dark game, Joanne Kyger counts as a cultural parent, fostering linguistic and social commitment towards healing, personal responsibility and the practice of generosity. We need look only to the Pilgrims singing gathas along the open Indian road at the time of the Buddha, seeking refuge in the Dharma; the peripatetics and troubadours of Western Europe; or the vagabond children on our own highways to realize that the impulse to bring life back into balance, to purify karma, is as old as the race.

She has been influenced by the very long Buddhist tradition and its meditative practices, which seem to validate her style of creativity: self-reliance and spontaneous intuition. There is also humor, so necessary in the painful shift away from seductive materialism towards life focussed on compassion —because, in the American version of Buddhism anyway, there is no Mythic structure, no Ferryman at the shore, no Buddha, Guru, or Authority to bear one across the water to Enlightenment. You don't know that there is another shore, or that Enlightenment is not just another desire. It is the particular gift of our guest that she does not ask for any promise of certainty and makes her writing itself a medium of the passage, each glyph another figurative stroke towards purification—which is where we're all headed though we seemingly fade back into the moving Stream.

Poets have a special vocation on that passage, sending us back a Song now, that we will recognize later when we get there, if there is a there there. Poetry is word. Word is shaped breath. Breath is Spirit, which carries on unhindered over the water and does not drown. We are met here with a devoted sincere traveler who has made the devotional essence of that Song her life's work. Please welcome her and include her as one of our own: Joanne Kyger.

Joanne's Poems



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