2 Cups Tea


From Boston Review:

Poet Joanne Kyger died last year on March 22 at the age of 82, leaving behind a long list of published and unpublished books, an enormous amount of fond goodwill among poets of her own and succeeding generations, and an almost perfect lack of fame. Robert Creeley, a good friend of Kyger’s and a tireless promoter of her work, described this paradox: “[T]he vacant generality of usual ambitions has never been [Kyger’s] interest. . . . She plays a far tighter game.” Documenting her “far tighter game” is the aim of this posthumous collection of Kyger’s writing, There You Are: Interviews, Journals, and Ephemera, edited by poet Cedar Sigo, her friend and former student. The book has the feel of a scrapbook and the weight of literary history: it includes poems written for Kyger by Anne Waldman, Joe Brainard, and Michael McClure; facsimile reproductions of letters to and from Philip Whalen, Charles Olson, and Lew Welch; photos and hand-lettered broadsides; pages from Kyger’s bird journal and from the Bolinas Hearsay News; and transcripts of interviews that often double as informal craft lectures. Through Sigo’s inspired curating, There You Are gets at two of poetry’s most pressing questions: how to ground poems in the lived life, and how to make “the intimate public.”

Sigo praises “the turning of perception made manifest in [Kyger’s] voice.” This quality is especially present in the journals and in the poems that seem to have been lifted from her daily writing. The poem “Sunday” shows her characteristic supple movement between registers, balancing a gentle, self-mocking inventory of the self with hard-nosed closing lines that make the poem’s stakes plain:

I know I do not suffer more than anyone
in the whole world
But this morning I had to have first thing
2 cigarettes, half a joint,
a poached egg and corned beef hash, 1 piece toast,
2 cups tea

Jung, Williams, shells, stones,
2 slugs rum, depression, rest of joint,
cigarette, 7 Up, and it’s only 10 o’clock
Because I wanted to write a poem
Because I want something to come out of me
You can’t try. I believe in life, I am living
now and for a moment the landscape
becomes clear.

This is not “morning writing” à la Julia Cameron, the routinized filling of pages to clear space for creative work. For Kyger, the banal record of her morning’s rituals of procrastination opens into nothing less than a theory of art: our appetites, addictions, and desires shape what we put out, as well as what we take in, and yet these processes of creative consumption and production threaten our ability to inhabit the present, fragile moment. A poem is residue or after-effect, as well as aspiration. Kyger always included date and time at the start of her journal entries, but beyond that she had no rules except to write absolutely for herself and without judgment, if also with considerable discernment. On the often spare pages of her journal, Kyger refined the practice of “the editing that goes on in the ear.” A mere five lines may suffice for the day’s work, but those lines must bear witness to the moment—and motive—of their making. “If you can’t read your own writing back,” she tells an interviewer, “it’s time to find out what or how you want to write things.”

“Public Intimacies”, Cassandra Cleghorn, Boston Review