Joanne Kyger in the Review


From the Archive

Photo: Elsa Dorfman.


We were sad to learn that Joanne Kyger, whom the San Francisco Gate calls “a leading poet of the San Francisco Renaissance and a rare female voice of the male-dominated Beat generation,” died last week at eighty-two. In an illuminating 2014 interview with The Conversant, Kyger discussed her process and, memorably, the role of psychedelics in her work:

I participated in several peyote ceremonies and in February of 1959, while taking it with some friends, I had a quite unpleasant experience of massed black energy intercut with animal faces. The fact that I was unwisely taking this trip in my apartment, which was over a bar in North Beach, and was not feeling well, added to a very unstable sense of “reality.” This “black energy” resembled an animal, which I later named, hoping to focus it. A wild animal, which I paid attention to whenever I saw it or saw mention of it. For years I was afraid of stepping over some edge into a loss of self or schizophrenic duality. Living in Japan and seeing the guardian warriors outside the temple doors with their fierce animal-like expressions, I finally realized they were protectors. Fear creates a wall one can be afraid to pass by. If they scared you off, you didn’t have enough courage or knowledge to enter further. I think I was fearful of the energy of the animal self, whatever I thought that was.

The Review published Kyger’s poems in the late sixties and early seventies; digital subscribers should check out her work in our Spring 1966Summer 1970, and Spring 1973 issues. Below is  my favorite, “June 7 … ” 

June 7 …

June 7. To get a head start

Yea, but I’m too old
Yea, but I’m growing too old
To wait around this long

Nobody wants to sit with me

Forgive this interlude for a while: I became infinitely
glamorous and careless, like the best memory, of past

I often tell women’s secrets to men

It was open, in the clear gray, morning. Babies
cries, and a dog barks, birds shrill from the top
of the trees.
I’m going to run away from all this.
I am going to enter into another dimension.
Oh my little head and hope. I am projected
ahead. I will realize the continuum from the past.
I will not be abusive, I am smitten in glory.
I am full of hopeful rushing. On into
the high out rocking waves.