Considered a major poet of the ‘San Francisco Renaissance’, Joanne Kyger was born in Year of the Dog in Vallejo, California. In 1957, after studying in Santa Barbara, she moved to San Francisco where she became a member of the circle of poets around Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan, and in 1965 she published her first book, The Tapestry and the Web. Since then, she has remained a significant though somewhat overlooked poet writing in a uniquely American vernacular.

I find myself returning to Kyger’s work all the time – the large volume that gathers her poems into a single volume, published in 2007 by the National Poetry Foundation, titled About Now: Collected Poems. And her most recent collection On Time: Poems 2005-2014, published by City Lights in 2016.

Cover of On Time
As I consider our current moment, its global stipulations, and history’s legacies, I return to her poems as they engage local environments next to their larger shapes and conditions. Attentive to breath and animated by perceptions, her poems turn on the signatures of voice and attend to time, place, being-ness, politics, the daily, myth, mystery, histories, and the natural world.

Visually and aurally shapely, her lines mix tone and mood as they muse, inform, and record; see her poem ‘Drop Stitch for a Chat’, for example:

A Poem: Drop Stitch
Always rich and provocative, On Time includes my favorite poem title ever: ‘A Great Vampire Squid Is Wrapped Around The Face Of Humanity’ (referencing journalist Taibbi’s observation of Goldman Sachs). Other lines may pointedly question global violence ‘Can you believe the amount of global war / we are more / than halfway into?’ or consider the nature of time ‘But when has the present ever been singular?’ Whole poems may observe and offer a synthesis of the personal and the political, the local and the at-large.

I leave you, Dear Reader, with a poem of hers that I read this morning in Toronto, the day after Winter Solstice 2016, a Kyger poem that serves as sustenance and metaphoric warning against participating in implicated compliance.

Early Breakfast

Best Book of 1950: A Natural History of Trees by Donald Culross Peattie
Best Book of 2015: Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo