Joanne Kyger In Willits
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
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.