Kyger, Joanne

(1934– )
   The four-decade career of West Coast poet Joanne Kyger grew out of the San Francisco poetry renaissance and overlaps with several major Beat Generation writers. Kyger was active in the literary circles of the renaissance through her association with Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan and in the lives of major Beat writers including jack kerouac, allen ginsberg, diane di prima, and from 1960 to 1964 husband gary snyder. Kyger was born November 19, 1934, in Vallejo, California, to Jacob and Anne Kyger. Jacob Kyger’s career as a navy officer led to frequent moves for the family, and by her father’s retirement in 1949 Joanne had lived in China, Washington, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Illinois before settling in Santa Barbara, California. Kyger attended the University of California at Santa Barbara from 1952 to 1956, where classes with Hugh Kenner and Paul Wienphal encouraged her serious attention to poetry. She left the university and in 1957 moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, spurred by her interest in poetry and her self-admitted drive for adventure.
   In San Francisco’s North Beach, Kyger began to work days at Brentano’s Bookstore and to spend nights discussing and reading work with friends at poetry bars. In 1957 she met john wieners at the poetry bar, The Place, and through him met Duncan and Spicer. At Duncan and Spicer’s Sunday poetry group, Kyger encountered future husband Snyder in 1958. The Sunday poetry group drew the literary bohemians of North Beach and students from the then recently defunct Black Mountain College in North Carolina who had followed Duncan to California. Kyger was one of few women in this crowd, and although her work was encouraged, she described the meetings as rigorous: “They (Duncan and Spicer) would read what they had written, and everybody else would read what they had written. And you would be severely criticized. A lot of people would be so heavily criticized that they wouldn’t come back.” (Duncan, a founder of the San Francisco Renaissance, also encouraged the Beat-associated poets Helen Adam and Madeline Gleason.)
   Kyger began to study Buddhism and moved to the East-West House, a co-op begun by Snyder and other Zen students, where Kerouac, lenore kandel, lew welch, and philip whalen were occasional residents. In 1960 she moved with Snyder to Japan, where they were married on February 23, first at the American consul and then at the Daitoku ji monastery in Kyoto. The Japan and India Journals 1960-64 chronicles her life with Snyder in Japan, as well as their travels in India from December 1961 to April 1962 with Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky. She also worked on the poems that became her first book, The tapestry and tHe weB, published by Donald Allen after her divorce from Snyder and return to the Bay area in 1964.
   In 1966 Kyger married the painter Jack Boyce, and made a lengthy tour of Europe. In 1968 the pair purchased land in the community of Bolinas, north of San Francisco Bay, where Kyger has continued to live (she and Boyce separated in 1970). Since the 1970s Bolinas has been known as a liberal and arts-oriented community, attracting artists, writers, and editors such as Donald Allen, Whalen, and robert creeley. Kyger began to teach at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, at the Buddhist Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, with anne waldman and Ginsberg in 1975. While teaching at Naropa in 1978, Kyger met Donald Guravich, a Canadian writer and artist who joined her in Bolinas. Going On, Selected Poems 1958-80 was one of the winners of the United States National Poetry Series competition in 1983. Kyger remains active in Bolinas community and environmental issues and has continued her practice of Buddhism, and to write, publish, give readings, and teach.
■ Charters, Ann. “Beat Poetry and the San Francisco Renaissance.” In The Colombia History of American Joanne Kyger, Cody’s Books, Berkeley, 2004.
Poetry, edited by Jay Parini, 581–604. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
■ Friedman, Amy L. “Joanne Kyger, Beat Generation Poet: ‘a porcupine moving at the speed of light.’ ” In Reconstructing The Beats, edited by Jennie Skerl, 73–88. New York: Palgrave, 2004.
■ Knight, Brenda. “Joanne Kyger: Dharma Sister.” In Women of the Beat Generation, 197–204. Berkeley, California: Conari Press, 1996.
   Amy L. Friedman

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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