The Distressed Look, by Joanne Kyger
Coyote Books, 2004

Review by Alan Davies

Strange curved things fly through the air.

There's an almost fabled hunger in the way Joanne speaks - and in the things she speaks of.

The distressed look - that would be the look of one who knows. One who saw - and knows. Rare rare rare.

There's always going to be more terror than the world has a use for.

     "these are extraordinary times"      so we can do whatever we want ha ha

The world is just an excuse for tomorrow. (Ha ha.)

Joanne contrasts that with this

                      now the evening sky
            looks pretty clear
           was a history
     just happened

The history preferred (is it preferred? - or the only available history?) is the history of this moment. Though it gets expressed (language) as that.

      At least I enumerate with outrage
             At least I must articulate
                  At least I know what's wrong

Perhaps the history of the world is just the history of (all of) those wrongs. The available history. To right the past is to write it. To right the past (is it possible?) is to write it.

We live at the moment in a history of cul de sacs - that's what she seems to be saying - and that there are some within others - and that there's (apparently?) no way out of a single one of them. But to think our way out of them - that might work / that might be something (that would work).

What cannot be taken for granted (any more) has to be apostrophized (as it were)-

     'free' world
     'You' my government
     or let nature / 'take its course'
     Think of the myth of a place / 'conducive to creativity'


What can't (can no longer) be spoken (or even spoken to) can only be spoken of. Has the language failed us?

But still there is room for (her) gladness -

     It's winter in California
           with a light blonde spring
                attraction of blossom

and the self-reminder (too) -

     Oh stop me from going on
              like this when I wanted to give
     Homage to the Air
        that lies so still on this day
      and publicly unites
    with life's common breathing
                       like rain
                      which can't be owned
              yet is as original as the face
          of the body politic
     being born

Sadly - the rain can (can (the rain can)) be owned - as it is all over India (see Arundhati Roy's essays on same) (and elsewhere too) (and more of everywhere to come) - and that is a lesson that we're beginning to learn. We have to remember that rain (too) touches the ground.

What cannot be taken away from us is us. But lately even that has been taken away from us. So who is it that thinks they vote? - so who is it that thinks they think (anymore)?

Joanne speaks this pathological ruin. Not over it or through it or about it - she speaks it (so that it can have its own obverse (can it be reversed?) voice). No wonder we all be damned.

If thinking and writing and being were one - would things ("things") be any better. I think. Unity unites. But so few of us think so. There's so little to go on - (in that way / in any other).

We have to do things to make things change - that seems obvious. But change doesn't seem any longer to be a thing we can do. So where does that leave us? We might as well sit down - (same as it ever was / same as it ever was).

If everything is so fucking empty why does it hurt so much?! - that's what everybody wants to know. Don't-know.

There are no answers - but the concern to say so - that lingers.