Kyger, Joanne (Elizabeth) 1934-

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KYGER, Joanne (Elizabeth) 1934-

PERSONAL: Born November 19, 1934, in Vallejo, CA; daughter of Jacob Holmes (a career navy officer) and Anne (Lamont) Kyger; married Gary Snyder (a poet), February 23, 1960 (divorced, 1964); married John Boyce (a painter), 1966 (separated, 1970; died, 1972). Education: Attended Santa Barbara College (now University of California, Santa Barbara), 1952-56.

ADDRESSES: Home—Box 688, Bolinas, CA 94924.

CAREER: Poet. Teaches at Naropa Institute, Boulder, CO, and at New College, San Francisco, CA. Performer and poet in an experimental television project, 1967-68.

AWARDS, HONORS: Grant from National Endowment for the Arts, 1968; Bay Area Book Reviewers Awards (BABRA) nominee, poetry, 2003, for As Ever: Selected Poems.



The Tapestry and the Web, Four Seasons Foundation (San Francisco, CA), 1965.

The Fool in April: A Poem, Coyote Books (San Francisco, CA), 1966.

Places to Go, Black Sparrow Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1970.

Joanne, Angel Hair Books (New York, NY), 1970.

Desecheo Notebook, Arif Press (Berkeley, CA), 1971.

Trip Out and Fall Back, Arif Press (Berkeley, CA), 1974.

All This Every Day, Big Sky (Berkeley, CA), 1975.

(With Larry Fagin) Lettre de Paris, Poltroon Press (Berkeley, CA), 1977.

Up My Coast, Floating Island (Point Reyes, CA), 1979.

The Wonderful Focus of You, Z Press (Calais, VT), 1980.

The Japan-India Journals, Tombouctou Books (Bolinas, CA), 1981, published as Strange Big Moon: The Japan and India Journals, 1960-1964, North Atlantic Books (Berkeley, CA), 2000.

Mexico Blonde, Evergreen Press (Bolinas, CA), 1981.

Going On: Selected Poems, 1958-1980, selected by Robert Creeley, Dutton (New York, NY), 1983.

The Dharma Committee, Smithereens Press (Bolinas, CA), 1986.

Phenomenological: A Curriculum of the Soul, Institute of Further Studies (Canton, NY), 1989.

Just Space: Poems, 1979-1989, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1991.

Some Sketches from the Life of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Rodent Press (Boulder, CO), 1996.

Some Life, Post-Apollo Press (Sausalito, CA), 2000.

Again: Poems, 1980-2000, La Alameda Press (Albuquerque, NM), 2001.

As Ever: Selected Poems, edited with a foreword by Michael Rothenberg, introduction by David Meltzer, Penguin Poets (New York, NY), 2002.

10 Shines, Larry Fagin Press, 2003.

The Distressed Look, Coyote Books (Salinas, CA), 2004.

God Never Dies, Blue Press, 2004.

Contributor to books, including Rising Tides, edited by Laura Chester and Sharon Barba, Pocket Books, 1973. Contributor to anthologies, including The American Literary Anthology, edited by George Plimpton and Peter Ardery, Random House, 1969; and The World Anthology, edited by Anne Waldman, Bobbs-Merrill, 1969. Contributor to numerous periodicals, including Paris Review, Poetry, Coyote's Journal, Peninsula, Intent, Rockey Ledge, and World. Contributor to anthologies, including A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poets, edited by Czeslaw Milosz, Harcourt Brace, 1999; American Poets Say Goodbye to the 20th Century, edited by Andrei Codrescu, Eight Windows Press, 1999; Meeting the Buddha: On Pilgrimage in Buddhist India, edited by Molly Emma Aitken, River Head Books (New York, NY); What Book: Buddha Poems from Beat to Hip Hop, edited by Garch Gach, Parallax Press, 1999; San Franciso Beat: Talking with Poets (interviews), edited by David Meltzer, City Lights Books, 2001; and Beat Poets, edited by Carmel Ciuraru, Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.

Kyger's papers are deposited at the Archive for New Poetry, University of California, San Diego.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Collected Poems.

SIDELIGHTS: A leading figure in San Francisco poetry circles, Joanne Kyger was a member of some of the groups that formed around senior poets Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer in the late 1950s and fostered such writers as Richard Brautigan, Michael McClure, and George Stanley.

From 1970 on, noted Bill Berkson in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Kyger's poems have dealt with a number of set themes: Buddhist and American Indian figures and myths, the relationship of the individual psyche to the social-political life of the town, love and marriage, and travel." According to Berkson, during a 1974 panel discussion at Kent State University, Kyger "spoke of her change from what she termed 'the linear line': 'at this point the kind of space that interests me is the kind of space that vibrates its meaning. It's the one-liner or the sampler on the wall. . . . It just stays there for a long time. You can go back into the one line and it will keep giving off overtones.'"

Kyger lived and traveled extensively in Japan during her late twenties. Strange Big Moon: The Japan and India Journals, 1960-1964, first published in 1981 as The Japan-India Journals, chronicles four eventful years in Kyger's life in Japan. There, in the company of Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and her new husband, Gary Snyder, she began to study Zen and develop her poetic voice. In prose and photographs, Kyger recounts her early Buddhist practice, her meeting with the young Dalai Lama, and her observations of her own and her companions' experiences with drugs, with literature, and with a different culture. "Her journals are witty, amusing, razor-incisive, and at times touching and sad," remarked a writer on the North Atlantic Books Web site.

In Some Sketches from the Life of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Kyger presents a collection of a dozen brief scenes culled from biographies of Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy and an early pioneer in bringing Buddhist thought and practice to America. "Blavatsky's theosophy, along with associated movements of figures such as Krishnamurti, helped to form the spiritual ethos of the West Coast in the 1960s, fostering both Buddhism and New Ageism," commented Devin Johnston in the Chicago Review. "In turn, this religious climate contributed to shaping the San Francisco poetry community in which Kyger has long played an active role." Kyger approaches Blavatsky with seriousness and respect, despite the severe criticism, sometimes even ridicule, that Blavatsky and Theosophy have faced over the years. The biographical material adheres closely to accounts written by Blavatsky herself. The work "is written in the clean, flowing free verse which is typical of the poet, and provides for pleasurable reading in its sense of spontaneity," Johnston remarked.

"Kyger's gifts as a narrator are extraordinary," wrote a biographer in Contemporary Women Poets. "In fact, it is this technique that characterizes almost all her poems—a pattern marked by sudden cuts of consciousness, the narrative abruptly shifting in flight, not relying on startling imagery to signal changes of direction." A Publishers Weekly critic, in a review of Kyger's short poetry collection Some Life, remarked that the poet "inhabits a singular verbal space as engaging and essential as it is offhand and self-questioning."

As Ever: Selected Poems collects works from nearly four decades of Kyger's career, spanning the late 1950s to 2001. Many of the poems are infused with Buddhist and Zen sensibilities. Others are reminiscent of Beat poetry, observed a reviewer on the Shambhala Sun Web site. However, "there is absolutely no agenda here: it's fun and frolicking and heartfelt," the reviewer commented.

"Kyger's images are few: puns not essential; devices, tricks, syncopations unintended; diction comfortable," wrote the Contemporary Women Poets biographer. "Her poems are attentive to a spirit's needs, a deep-drawn aim within aimlessness."



Contemporary Women Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 16: The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983.


Book, September-October, 2002, Stephen Whited, review of As Ever: Selected Poems, pp. 79-80.

Chicago Review, winter, 1997, Devin Johnston, review of Some Sketches from the Life of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, pp. 114-116.

Publishers Weekly, June 26, 2000, review of Some Life, p. 72; June 17, 2002, review of As Ever, pp. 57-58.


Crooked Cucumber Web site, (February 24, 2004), interview with Joanne Kyger.

North Atlantic Books Web site, (December, 2000).

Poetry Daily Web site, (February 24, 2004), profile of Joanne Kyger.

University of California, San Diego Web site, (February 24, 2004), biography of Joanne Kyger.

Shambhala Sun Web site, (November, 2002), review of As Ever.