Nationality: American. Born: Oak Park, Illinois, 30 May 1936. Education: North Central College, Naperville, Illinois, B.A. 1958. Family: Has four daughters and two sons. Career: Editor, Otherwise, 1994–97. Since 1964 editor, Coyote's Journal and Coyote Books, San Francisco, then New Mexico and Maine. Also painter: individual shows—Dean Velentgas Gallery, Portland, Maine, 1989; Casa Sin Nombre, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1989; Alleycat Gallery, New York City, 1993. Since 1989 performer, combining painting, reading, and music. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1968, 1973. Address: c/o Coyote Books, P.O. Box 629, Brunswick, Maine 04011, U.S.A.
Two Hands: Poems 1959–1961. Seattle, James B. Smith, 1965.
Brainard and Washington Street Poems. Eugene, Oregon, Toad Press, 1965.
Some Cows: Poems of Civilization and Domestic Life. San Francisco, Coyote, 1966.
The Dogs and Other Dark Woods. San Francisco, Four Seasons, 1966.
I Went to See My True Love. Buffalo, Audit East/West, 1967.
California Poems. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1971.
Messages. Canton, New York, Institute of Further Studies, 1972.
Dark Woman, Who Lay with the Sun. San Francisco, Tenth Muse, 1972.
Bureau Creek. Brunswick, Maine, Blackberry, 1975.
Poems for the Blue Sky. Santa Barbara, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1976.
Messages/Botschaften (bilingual edition). Munich, Köhler, 1977.
Andiamo, with Franco Beltrametti and Harry Hoogstraten. Fort Kent, Maine, Great Raven Press, 1978.
O Didn't He Ramble (bilingual edition). Schwetzingen, Germany, and Brunswick, Maine, Bussard-Coyote, 1980.
One Day at a Time. Markesan, Wisconsin, Pentagram, 1981.
Back River. Brunswick, Maine, Blackberry, 1981.
Great Things Are Happening (bilingual edition). Schwetzingen, Germany, Bussard, 1984.
Give the Dog a Bone. Brunswick, Maine, Blackberry, 1986.
Graffiti Lyriques, with Franco Beltrametti. Milan, Avida Dollars, 1987.
Openings. Green River, Vermont, Longhouse, 1987.
Fortune (bilingual edition). Venezia, Italia, Supernova, 1987.
Begin with the Women Sitting. Richmond, Massachusetts, Mad River, 1988.
Roses Love Sunshine. Richmond, Massachusetts, Mad River, 1989.
A Gang of 4, with Franco Beltrametti, Julian Blaine, and Tom Raworth. Brunswick, Maine, Coyote, 1989.
This Is What He Said. Weymouth, England, Stingy Artist & Last Straw, 1991.
Grandfather Had Come A Long Way. Green River, Vermont, Longhouse, 1993.
A Dream, Starring Bill Brown. Green River, Vermont, Longhouse, 1994.
In the Wolf's Mouth: Poems 1972–88. Saint-Etienne-Valle-Francaise, France, AIOU, 1995.
Road Work. Green River, Vermont, Longhouse, 1997.
The Bone Show. Rete Bioregionale Italiana, Portiolo, Italy, 1999.
Iron Bells. Espinassounel, France, AIOU, 1999.
Shannon Who Was Lost Before. Pensnett, Staffordshire, Grosseteste Review, 1974.
If You Don't Like Me You Can Leave Me Alone. Pensnett, Staffordshire, Grosseteste Review, 1974; Brunswick, Maine, Blackberry, 1977.
The Possible Movie, with Franco Beltrametti. Saint-Etienne-Vallee-Francaise, France, COYOTAIOU, 1997.
Working Notes 1960–1982. Odisheim, Germany, Falk, 1985.
Gebt Dem Alten Hund'nen Knochen (Essays, Gedichte, and Prosa 1959–1985). Odisheim, Germany, Falk, 1986.
The Natural Order (essay & graphics). Green River, Vermont, Longhouse, 1990.
Like It Was. Nobleboro, Maine, Blackberry, 1999.
Editor, with others, Coyote's Journal (anthology). Berkeley, California, Wingbow Press, 1982.*
Critical Studies: "Eyes and 'I"' by Richard Duerden, in Poetry (Chicago), May 1966; "James Koller Issue" of Savage 2 (Chicago), 1972; Paul Kahn, in Montemora (New York), spring 1977, and Poetry Information (London), winter 1979–80.* * *
It is not surprising to learn that James Koller discovered contemporary poetry by reading Jack Kerouac in 1957, for his autobiography reads like a personal version of On the Road. There are many landscapes in his life—Illinois, the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, Maine—and there are many women in his life, but most of them are wives, and there are many children by the different wives. There are also many houses, simple and usually at least partly built by Koller, and even the poems range and seem to wander, looking for a voice, or perhaps they are looking for a tradition that could adequately ground and root his wandering voice. Yet there is an odd counterpoint between Koller's rooted connection to land and an ability in his life just to pack up and wander gypsylike, which makes one wonder if it was his early encounter with Zen and the beats that offered him a philosophy of paradoxes to live by, or if this comes from some purer American, Midwestern heritage. Whatever its source, Koller has the gift of a pioneer, accepting any landscape and finding it beautiful, as in the conclusion of this 1967 poem "Snow on Mt. Helena":
a whole world
& nothing ever dies, it's all here
on every road, behind every tree
growing out of the ground, a beautiful
diamonds & threads
my mind is filled with diamonds & threads
we go off in all directions, thru intersections &
a necklace to live in
In his essay "Message in My Poems" Koller says, "I see poetry as a celebration—a celebration of everything that exists, is alive, or has been alive (in any sense of the word)." It is easy for any poet to say this, but Koller does not mouth this Whitmanesque doctrine without a body of work to back it up. Seen through this manifesto, Koller's work is much more than a 1960s drug-inspired, sex-obsessed lyric. Perhaps because his work has seemed so bound to the lifestyle of the 1960s, critics have ignored the possible breadth and significance of this very American writer.
Certainly, trying to track down Koller's work itself and any writing about it is rather like looking for Bigfoot. Every reference work says that his magazine, Coyote's Journal, has existed since 1964, yet it seems to have been published only sporadically. Still, it has left a strong impression, a kind of whisper in the Grand Canyon effect. The importance of this journal to Koller's reputation is that it locates his sphere of influence. He is a poet who is almost purely the product of small presses and whose aesthetics and personal lifestyle are not congruent with a materialistic or institutionalized world. Writing programs and the idea of professional poets probably would not so much seem evil to Koller as silly or irrelevant. In the best sense he is a poet who has never sold out, though perhaps it would never have occurred to him that he could have done so.
Two slightly older contemporaries, both friendly acquaintances of his, Gary Snyder and Robert Creeley, are poets who come to mind for comparison with this elusive writer. Yet what Snyder has that grounds his work—the Zen philosophy and tradition—and what Creeley's work is grounded in—the Cavalier love lyric—are neither, at least in specifics, very important to Koller. There was a period in the 1970s when much of his imagery came from Native American sources, yet as important as this is to Koller, it is not a grounding for him. Rather, it is a familiarity, something with which he feels comfortable, at home. His work certainly expresses a feeling for animals. But Koller, if he is grounded, is grounded in people. He travels, one might guess, to meet people, not to get away from them. His autobiography is a bewildering array of names and names and more names. The events are important because of whom they were shared with. A place was important because of the people who lived there with him. In fact, Douglas MacDonald, in his introduction to the 1973 gathering of Koller's writing published in The Savage: A Chicago Magazine, quotes him as saying, "To me much more valuable than the poem is the man who wrote it."
The greatest paradox one might find in Koller's poetry is precisely that he believes in the man, the voice behind the poem, not the literary artifact itself. In spite of this he has a craft that moves him toward condensed, passionate lyric and revelation, such as this moment in the poem "Sitting Alone One Cold June Night before an Empty Whiskey Bottle, a Coffee Pot, & an Oil Stove with a Window through Which I Watched the Flames":
THERE IS NO KNOWLEDGE
THAT'S ANY KNOWLEDGE
THERE ARE LOTS OF PEOPLE
THAT ARE PEOPLE