''Everybody was kind of aggressively being a poet, and
aggressively being everything else, in such a heightened
- Lewis MacAdams
The list of poets who were living in Bolinas, or just passing through,
continued to grow as the seventies progressed. Joanne Kyger describes the
attraction the town had:
Bolinas offered an alternative lifestyle, one that was sought at
that time in the late 60s and early 70s. A small coastal town of
about 500 inhabitants at the time, it offered rural living, the
hippies versus the surfers for softball teams, and in large letters
painted on the sea wall NEW YORK REFUGEES GO
HOME…The pictures of those years have everyone sitting on
the ground, shoulder high long grasses, and long hair. On
Indian print bedspreads. We could sit all afternoon, with
bottles of wine and smokes, and conversation and poetry,
moving along with the path of the sun. Nobody sits on the
ground anymore. Bolinas was a destination point.
Two important and influential newcomers to this destination point were
Aram Saroyan and Duncan McNaughton, who both moved to town in 1972,
and became long term residents.
Saroyan has said that living in Bolinas fundamentally redefined his sense
of the role of a writer. His claim to fame as a poet was primarily fueled by
the controversy over his extremely minimalist one word poems. One of
these one word poems, ''lighght'', was chosen for a National Endowment of
the Arts Poetry Award, and later would be used in attacks on what was
argued to be wasteful use of NEA funding. Bolinas, Saroyan said, taught
him to expand his artistic attentions from the strictly artistic creation of one-
word ''objects'' to a sense of being a poet, attuned to artistic opportunities,
but at the same time ''tuned to a wavelength where art is secondary to life''.
''I began speaking as a citizen,'' he wrote in the Afterword to his book Day
& Night: Bolinas Poems (Black Sparrow, 1998), ''about all the things that
were important to me: my wife, child, family, friends, and community
…the psychic X-factor provided by Bolinas is exactly the sort of lightning
one waits to be struck by. In one fell swoop, it provided a new chapter in
my writing life…''
The community that so impressed Saroyan upon his arrival in Bolinas
was one that consisted of not only a great many of his literary colleagues
but one in which people of his own age, background, and experience were
''empowered''—they were in charge. Bolinas was, Saroyan said ''…very
liberating, full of pitfalls, magical, and a bit maniacal.''
''The same kinds of things that happened in Bolinas probably happened
in Papua, New Guinea,'' said Tom Clark, ''only all the centuries of
anthropological tradition which were required to build up the customs and
procedures in Papua, New Guinea, were all being created on the spot.''
Lewis Warsh remembers that, ''There was a lot of license—to be
yourself, to go nuts, to fall in love, to be depressed and not see anyone for
days, etc.—and a lots of support among ourselves, but there was also a
feeling in the air that conspired against all the positive energy, and, as
always, in all communities, it was the assertion of individual egos (who was
strong, who was weak) that raised the intensity level beyond the point where
I could stay there much longer than I did.''
''So much vibrated out from Bolinas,'' said Anne Waldman, it was ''the
most intense collection of poets in one place not around an academic or
university scene—so therefore more visionary, 'utopian'''.
Poet Harris Schiff, who was an integral figure on the New York lower
east side poetry scene, visited Bolinas often in the winter and spring of '69-
'70, while living in San Francisco. Schiff told Warsh, ''It's always good to
know a place like Bolinas exists—even if you don't live in it''' (quoted by
Lewis Warsh in a letter to Bill Berkson, May 15 1970).
''It was a scene of intense concentration. A community,'' McNaughton
says, '' It hasn't anything to do with sentiment or agreement in values. It
has to do with sympathetic coexistence in a single human fabric…We were,
many of us, living together, and that makes some deeper human sympathies
possible. There was no agreement at all, except the one of permission. That
is a very subtle matter and asks a thoughtful inspection.'' The essential
humanity of the town was remarkable. ''It was a way of life'', says
McNaughton, ''one was on duty all the time.'' Within this context of
permission the discipline was somewhat strange and it took some a few
years to understand it. Others never really did.
The motive force in Bolinas (to paraphrase Roger Shattuck's description
of the avant-garde in turn-of-the-century Paris) came from individuals
reacting to each other and occasionally discovering a common end, yet
never surrendering their integrity. They remained individuals, whom only
critics and enemies lumped together, in order to have a bigger target.
To some outsiders it seemed like an incestuous scene. A San Francisco
poet dubbed it ''a poet's ghetto''. Others dismissed Bolinas poets as
''zonked-out bucolics'' or ''lobotomized Fielding Dawson-types''.
The place in general was seen as nothing more than ''an asylum run by
the inmates'', as one frustrated member of the Marin County Board of
Supervisors claimed. Saroyan recalls that, ''Someone once said to me: 'It's
very difficult to identify the lunatic fringe in Bolinas'.''
But most of those who lived there obviously had a different viewpoint.
''It was a literate population,'' said McNaughton, '' there was a strong
feeling for the presence of poetry and poets. It mattered, unlike elsewhere.
The poets were held in esteem—an extension of the unusual
acknowledgement of poets for a long time in San Francisco. Not that poets
couldn't be assholes—just that there was respect for the poem.''
The Berkeley Poetry Conference (July 12-24, 1965) can be seen as a
precursor to the gathering of poetries that occurred in Bolinas, and there are
many connections between that event and the community of poets at
Bolinas, on many different levels.
One of the watershed events in the world of poetry, the Berkeley Poetry
Conference was organized by Richard Baker in conjunction with the U.C.
Berkeley Extension. Baker, who later was appointed abbott of the San
Francisco Zen Center, also organized a conference on LSD the following
year. The Berkeley Poetry Conference, structured around Donald Allen's
seminal anthology The New American Poetry: 1945-1960, featured
contibutors to that anthology, such as Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Jack
Spicer, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, Ed Dorn, Lew Welch, and Gary
Snyder. Among the many poets who read at the event were Joanne Kyger,
Ed Sanders, Jim Brodey, and Ted Berrigan.
This was a major gathering of poets and hundreds of people attended.
As in the Allen anthology, the several, divergent ''schools'' of American
poetry were represented: Black Mountain, Beat, New York—just as they
were to be in Bolinas. A great number of these poets eventually visited or
lived in Bolinas' even Donald Allen himself moved there.
Jim Koller and Bill Brown published a transcription of Charles Olson's
controversial appearance at the conference as one of their Coyote Books in
1966. Olson's presentation was viewed by some as a monumental nuclear
meltdown, and by others as a triumph. As Anne Waldman, who was in the
audience at the time, remembers:
I took a further vow to poetry at the Charles Olson marathon
event, for he read and spoke and raged and wept more than he
technically ''read.'' But Olson was powerful that night,
vulnerable, arrogant, bombastic, poignant, embarrassing. He
was the poet coming apart before our eyes, scapegoat, shaman,
doing it for us.... His friends were dismayed....
Something very Bolinasian in Waldman's take on Olson's performance,
''the poet coming apart before our eyes'', ''doing it for us'', rhyming as it
does with the concept of ''permission'' within the community, as Duncan
McNaughton and others have pointed out.
This permission was, however, something more than merely tolerance.
Was there a Bolinas poetic? Duncan McNaughton said, ''What poets did
there was their business.'' While it could be argued that there was no single
shared aesthetic, other than the poet's personal engagement with the poem,
there were distinct elements in Bolinas poetry that were common and invite
a closer consideration.
Any attempt to label or categorize the rich subtelties and multilayered
variances inherent in, not just Bolinas poetry, but all poetry in general, is a
bad habit promulgated by academics and critics. The designations of Black
Mountain, New York School, Beat and San Francisco Renaissance should
be considered as a kind of shorthand for those who may not be familiar with
the individual poets discussed. To characterize the poetry written by a
group of poets who shared similar motivations and aesthetics, in subtle
often complicated ways, within the context of a specific time and place, is a
textual challenge that does not necessarily lead to a neatly labeled package.
However, there would seem to be compelling evidence that among the poets
of Bolinas there were common aesthetic threads, and that these threads were
ultimately woven into the poetry written there.
A Bolinas poetic could be understood as a synthesis of the poetries
represented in Donald Allen's The New American Poetry anthology.
Donald Allen was no less than visionary, from his work at Grove Press, and
his editorship of the Evergreen Review in the 1950s, to the publication of
his landmark anthology in 1960, he championed the work of the non-
academic, underground poets who were writing some of the most important
works of the era. When he moved to San Francisco in the sixties he
established his Four Seasons Foundation which went on to publish Richard
Brautigan's novels and poetry, along with books by Gary Snyder, Philip
Whalen, Joanne Kyger and Robert Creeley, and many others. Allen was
appointed literary executor for Frank O'Hara and compiled The Collected
Poems of Frank O'Hara which was published by Knopf in 1971. He was
also the literary executor for Lew Welch, and published Ring of Bone: The
Collected Poems of Lew Welch under his own Grey Fox Press imprint. His
presence in Bolinas was significant and he was greatly respected by all.
The New American Poetry anthology presented an alternative tradition in
American poetry, one that had been ignored by the general public,
academics, and critics alike. Allen structured the anthology around the
several distinct ''schools'' within the subradar poetries of the time. These
distinctions were to be blurred, if not erased altogether, by the Bolinas
It is interesting to note that of the forty-four poets that were included in
the Allen anthology thirteen were either visitors to or residents of Bolinas.
A major influence upon Bolinas poetry was Charles Olson. Olson, who
had the important position of being the lead-off poet in Allen's anthology,
had numerous connections to the poets of Bolinas. As stated earlier, Donald
Allen's anthology, as played out on the stage of the Berkeley Poetry
Conference, could be viewed as a sneak preview of the gathering of poets in
Bolinas. Koller and Brown's Coyote Press publication of Olson's famous
(or infamous) presentation at the conference, was published shortly before
the two moved to Bolinas. Robert Duncan, who taught at Black Mountain,
and was a close personal friend of Olson's, later served as a mentor to
Joanne Kyger, Lawrence Kearny, and Ebbe Borregaard (who had also spent
time with Olson at Black Mountain in the fifties).
Olson himself visited Bolinas in 1968. Joanne Kyger, who at the time
was working in experimental television at the San Francisco PBS station,
arranged for Olson to be filmed reading his poetry for television. While
Olson was in San Francisco Kyger and Jack Boyce drove him up to Bolinas
to spend the day visiting Bill Brown. Kyger remembers that Olson had a
vigorous, animated discussion with Hal Chase about boat-building.
John Clarke taught Olson's Myth and Literature course at Buffalo in the
mid-sixties. Among his students were Lewis MacAdams and Duncan
McNaughton. Clarke also oversaw the Curriculum of the Soul series of
fascicles - seven of which were written by poets with Bolinas connections—
Lewis MacAdams, Duncan McNaughton, Joanne Kyger, Jim Koller, John
Thorpe, Robert Grenier, and John Clarke. Clarke's contribution being the
aforementioned mythologized treatment of Bolinas poets in the form of a
With the arrival of Robert Creeley in Bolinas the connection to Olson
was hardwired. Creeley was a direct link and as his poetry was affected by
Bolinas so were the poets there affected by the confluence of practice and
process, life and text, that he brought with him. The image of Creeley, high
on acid, screaming lines from Olson's Maximus from Dogtown, on the
Bolinas mesa, in this context, takes on a mythic quality all its own.
Olson's influence is to be noted as well among the younger poets that
emerged from the News York's lower east side. Lewis Warsh early on had
a deep interest in Olson and the Black Mountain poets, as he puts it:
These poets taught me that psychology, magic, history, and
dailiness could exist in poetry in equal measure. The New York
School poets sounded a bit too formal and rhetorical to me, too on
the surface —
Olson's theory of Projective Verse, ''A poem is energy transferred from
where the poet got it (he will have some several causations), by way of the
poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader. . . the poem itself must, at all
points, be a high energy-construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge…
ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO
A FURTHER PERCEPTION'', had a notable impact among poets on the
lower east side scene¯from Paul Blackburn, Amiri Baraka, and Joel
Oppenheimer, to the younger generation of poets such as Ed Sanders, Ted
Berrigan and Lewis Warsh. Anne Waldman has said that ''Olson was the
father of us all''.
(Lewis Warsh, The Angel Hair Anthology,
The hallmarks of Bolinas poetry include an engagement with everyday
mystery, with social critique, and transcendence, set against the imagery of
the place, within the context of the community, as factors in a very ''human
universe'' -and along those lines confronting the place, in particular and
general, and where that leads one, inside and out, is a direct offshoot from
Olson throws down a long shadow, but it is really in the mix of poetries
that one can begin to understand and describe a Bolinas poetic . The
dailiness and ''personism'' of New York poets such as Frank O'Hara were
also in play. Bill Berkson, who had spent a considerable amount of time
with O'Hara was an important link. The spirit of poetic collaboration that
came out of the St. Mark's scene was continued in Bolinas, notably by Tom
Clark, Lewis Warsh, Ted Berrigan and Lewis MacAdams. Creeley's In
London shows the influence of the New York School—possibly because of
Creeley's close contact with Ted Berrigan during the time those poems were
written. The use of humor which characterized not only New York School,
but Beat poetry as well, became an integral part of Bolinas poetry, as did
references to Buddhist and Eastern philosphy (an aspect of Beat poetry,
particularly that which was written out of the San Francisco North Beach
scene, as emblematic of a West Coast aesthetic).
The San Francisco Renaissance, as it has been called, from the occultism
and alchemy of the Duncan-Spicer circle to the Buddhist ''dharma bum''
and Native American influences that came through the poetry of Gary
Snyder, Lew Welch and Philip Whalen, were also important influences that
informed Bolinas poetry. The latter three poets had attended Reed College
in Oregon together, and all later relocated to San Francisco. Snyder, in
particlar, was a counterculture hero, for his poetry and radical eco-politics
as much as for the notoriety provided by Jack Kerouac's portrayal of him as
Japhy Ryder in The Dharma Bums—a novel that portrayed a back-to-nature
movement and lifestyle that 15 years later would be an important aspect of
the hippie counterculture. Welch was a formidable presence on the San
Francisco scene during the late sixties. He became involved with the
Diggers and taught a poetry workshop for the UC Berkeley Extension. His
readings were extraordinary events and his poetry was very much in the
spirit of the Bolinas poets. The refrain from his poem ''The Song Mt.
Tamalpais Sings''—''This is the last place. There is nowhere else to go.''—
was appropriated by the Bolinas Future Studies Center for use as the title of
one section of the Marin County Bolinas Plan. Whalen's characterization of
his own poetry as ''a picture or graph of a mind moving, which is a world
body being here and now which is history . . . and you'', encompasses day
to day perception, subjective phenomena, fleeting thoughts and attentions,
along with a free use of references from a prodigious reading list in Eastern,
primarily Buddhist, literature, the classics, and poetry from the Greek
Anthology to Allen Ginsberg. It is a dazzlingly rich, funny and open poetic
score that had a major effect upon the Bolinas poets, most of whom Whalen
had close and lasting relationships with.
The fusion of these diverse yet concurrent approaches to the poem
provide a loose frame of reference for the poetry of Bolinas. Flexible
enough to expand and contract, as the poems themselves do. This 1967
journal entry by Joanne Kyger is, I think, to varying degrees among the
different poets, acknowledging the blending of the major influences
discussed above, can be read as the underlying theory and practice of
The structure of poetry interests me. All its layers. I do not like
to see one image worked upon and developed, unless of course
it is very insistent; but to see the stray and often extraneous
seeming bits of image and fact brought to bear upon a loosely
scattered area which is the poem. The linear aspect of the poem
being merely a suggested voice line to take you from the
beginning to the end, but suggesting no such consecutiveness
in thought. The area of the poem is able to contain all elements.
For what one can recognize and adhere to is the continuity, no
matter how or where it comes from.
Robert Creeley has said that being in Bolinas made him want to get out
of some of his internal emotional rhetoric and try to confront the place. ''I
want to walk around here,'' he wrote in his poem ''Bolinas and Me…'':
look at the people, pretty,
look at the houses, stop in
the bar, get the mail, get
going again, somewhere.
The liquor store lights
shine out in the night,
and one is walking, going,
coming, in the night.
Holy place we stand in,
Creeley learned from Bolinas. The poems in his book Thirty Things, (Black
Sparrow Press, 1974), for example, are small but they have an absence of
preconceptions and emotional structures that is a marked change in his
As You Come
Similarly the short poems in Saroyan's The Bolinas Book (Other
Publications, 1974), speak in a straightforward, deceptively simple
language, directly to the people and the place:
As you come down
the road, it swings
slowly left and the sea
opens below you,
west. It sounds out.
No farther out
no nearer here
Xmas Poem: Bolinas
we'll get high
and go find it.
They say a
woman passes at
the edge of the
the corner, leaves
a very vivid sense,
of having been there.
THE BOLINAS SCENE (1)
Snapshots of Bolinas can be found in so many of the poems written
there, each with their own unique framing and composition. Bill Berkson's
poem ''Twilight Time'' contains the following list of Bolinas street names,
tracing the route he walks to the Clark home on Nymph Road:
It's interesting living in a community
Of people you know rather intimately
You can tell a lot from body posture
Or the fog in the air, what is going on here
There are a few birds
But many more stars on clear nights
THE BOLINAS SCENE (2)
Who am I?
Who are you?
Who is Lewis?
Who is Joanne?
And where is
is a town figure
of no small
THE BOLINAS SCENE (5)
by Bolinas, California—
all your friends there,
good doctors & nurses.
JOANNE KYGER'S WRITING DESK
Joanne Kyger's writing desk
I come over
Find you listening to The Beach Boys
LEWIS MACADAMS, JR.
player in town
is Lewis MacAdams, Jr.
Poet and photographer Gerard Malanga, an early player at Andy
Warhol's Factory in New York, and an important link between Warhol and
the St. Mark's poets, lived in Bolinas for several months in 1973. While in
Bolinas he snapped portraits of many of the poets and wrote several poetic
portraits of the place, such as this quick polaroid entitled ''10:00 pm
along on straight, starlit roads:
Brighton, Terrace, Ocean Parkway, Grove
& Juniper, Kale,
Laurel, Maple, & on
down Cherry, a little ways up Nymph
here to there
the days are endless
though they surely go…
the only thing happening
Malanga also contributed his own version of ''Things to do in Bolinas'':
is the ocean
outside this window
Tom Clark adds to this poetry of dailiness, as in these samples from his
poem ''A Sailor's Life'', which is a work consisting of a sequence of short
verses separated by asterisks:
go back to sleep
wake up again
tea with honey
water the plants
write this mornings poem
phone don allen
talk to flowers animals birds
see the sun
thank the boss for everything
go to the post office
that there may be some news from you
You're a piece
To capture Olson's directive ''ONE PERCEPTION MUST
IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER
PERCEPTION'' is to understand that poetry is continually revelatory. What
it reveals is the everyday world in which the poet dwells.
of the same person
I'm a piece of.
Who is Lewis?
Who is Joanne?
What'd Ed Sanders
After the rain
bloom too soon.
follow the downstream flow
to the store—difficult
of Charles Manson
A place where
the time of the year
is a color—
(in Green, Black Sparrow Press, 1971)
Again and again in the poems one finds that particular dailiness and
attention to the immediate world that surrounds one.
this is real this is true there
down the road.
Then there's a sense
of senses in a circle just
where they should be, that if
there's that real that bright
the haze and the clearness
have their real worlds their
blue plane people
walking past me like surfaces
the trees reflect in.
- Lawrence Kearney, ''from Songs''
It's a green uprising of weed & clover
A conversation rather than a confrontation with the place, as in this sonnet
by Ebbe Borregaard:
grass spears reaching higher each season
out of ground we tried to till but found
useless for want of constant sunlight
The light speaks thru green leaves…
- David Meltzer, ''From: Sefer Ha-Adam''
In Max Crosley's ''Epic Today'' the poet details a chronicle of a day in
Bolinas that works both from the inside out, and the outside in:
I am all that aspirations will contend
you, young of the east westward wending
It is for you I have been loved over & over
In alien temples, in homefields, where I was a rover
We have waited since the first celestial dawn
yr lovelyness to meet, the power of our Loving
as the principle law this univers abides
We luckt in its size & within us it is hiding
And I have waited out all my unthinking days
for yr glad light inbreathing, inothering my ways
As I tript on roots of misery & ate leaves of despair
looting the Stars for yr incandescent hair
See all the continuum knows the Cosmic Folly
which wld allow the human Ebbe no Angelic Dolly.
- Ebbe Borregaard, from ''27 Songs''
A black and ochre-fuzzed bee hovers and lands on the flower of a
weed as I'm out of the house, down to the end of the road. Having
paid my dues, I now live and walk in an unurban world where the
bees continue to collect pollen and I can make all the word honey I
try, here, now, on this path, down the cliffs off the mesa, to the sea
…the tide's in and the beach diminished…white foam up to my feet
as I pause to write…it just keeps coming…ankle bent on the
roacks…the cliffs faling…it keeps coming with its dirty angry waste
shaped motion…hear the birds faintly…but here, always the rhythm
to keen up the ears…
Turn off the beach, silence downtown…pick a nasturtium, eat it
(remembering e.e. cummings directive, ''perhaps it is better to eat
flowers and not be afraid'')…tart cabbage taste…raw burning in the
back of the mouth…take care of business…mail, pick it
up…groceries, pick 'em up…eat another nasturtium…burn, baby,
burn…surfers and young girls going to the beach…
a crow awkwardly walks down the driveway beside the restaurant,
between bushes of roses, through the roof and into the air, cawing
Smiley's, Snarley's, Scowley's…many songs…
Lewis MacAdams in his poem ''To Greene Street'' gives his take of
Bolinas as a fabled refuge, part of one's destiny, in a mythic sense:
… There is a place
The underlying mythic dimensions of the place and time, something that
poets are particularly attuned to, shows again in a poem by Berkson - it's a
short poem but it packs enough to fill a novel:
we can go to be well and act well, but sometimes
to get there we've got to kill somebody and then we've got
to go there all alone. I'm there now, and Agate Beach
tumbles with her moonstones. Sometimes
the whole continent trembles…
Like a mirror, a shattered mirror, each poet reflected his or her own
separate perception of Bolinas. Duncan McNaughton's poem ''Bolinas'',
from his book Shit On My Shoes (Tombouctou, 1979), is a poem about
marriage, although these lines would seem to offer a particularly concise,
distilled, and perceptive evaluation of the rigorous expectations within the
community of Bolinas:
man on fire
compulsion superceded by orders
What is offered by the poetry of Bolinas is, to use a quote from Robert
Creeley, ''the sense that poetry isn't a discretion, that it is ultimately the
realization of an entire world''.
yawning emptiness by service
resolute solitude by confirmation
adversity by purpose
In The Cargo Cult (Big Sky, 1972) John Thorpe embraces Bolinas much
as Charles Olson did Gloucester:
. . . I address Bolinas
Thorpe's remarkable range and command is apparent everywhere in his
poetry, from the use of early investigative historical data on Bolinas,
processed through a time warp that overlays facts about the early settlers
upon a contemporary view of, for example, the Bolinas lagoon, (another
link with Olson's methodology, but also with Ezra Pound, specifically The
Cantos), to the direct biography of his consciousness as laid out in a poem
like ''I Just Lost My Tension Again'', which lists the attributes and the
defects inherent in the condition of his existence.
as if it were a condition
to be occupied
as if it Arose
not after Frisco that monsoon of lights
but rather the unclaimed silt beach of
phonepoles, bridges, houses, shoes—a last outpost takes
out here, and the rest of the world a wake
of minor shocks not for a moment
to be received as
except of delay
or the question can a 'town' afford
to have lived less
than the men
There's a man in me who would prove. He is right but
The separation between those two sentences alters the meaning, slightly,
like a skip in a recording. Thorpe continues in a confessional mode, ''I
blew money. I lost things'', and adds, ''I feel like everyone knows me''—
perhaps suggesting that either they don't really know him, or that perhaps
they are the only ones who do know him, that he actually doesn't even
know himself? But Thorpe recovers:
There's a laugh which indicates simply I drink and I'm
too afraid to pay attention.
The self-deprecating tone that carries the narrative of the poem is turned
into a kind of nobility suggesting nothing less than triumph in the closing
I did very little. I had a central character by virtue of
that. Not as if I'd found a place they couldn't take away.
The conscious placement of the poet within the community, a
particularly Bolinasian concern, finds it's mythological split when a poem
like ''I Just Lost My Tension Again'' is read alongside another small
masterpiece by Thorpe:
I did what I wanted. And I brought two children into
this world. I respected the mystery and mastered nothing
I'm aware of.
I squat here, looking at the moon, deciding to appear.
If anyone says I live in a town
Joanne Kyger's poetry reads as part dream journal, part daybook, while
displaying a truly astounding depth and range. There seems on the surface
to be a simple, easy flow that sustains her line, but there is more than that
flow, that direct notation lifted from, say, a diary entry, which, as Kyger has
written, is ''the part of the writer that stays alive while 'personality' seems
to be more and more a dried-up appendage of 'identity.' The 'individual' is
swept out to sea, a group location identity, a place, takes precedence as
voice.''. The ''place'' in her poems is most often Bolinas. Her method,
then, could be given in these lines from All This Every Day (Big Sky, 1975):
The sea is my order
I know sheet water
& when so, its been
coast, I am no damn
good for depth
rightly beyond that
dip at the end of the
beach before I stand
up to be pulled over very quickly very
cold, in, dense, I go back
what tricks did Mars try
before and the air is so
much wind you shout, lost
I tell my complaints.
Kyger notes the people, and the place, the natural world, and it's ongoing
conversations in way that is both intimate and private, while also standing
somewhere to the side, objectively observing:
I intricately recite the details of the day and the
possibilities of what they mean
Watching everything, everything happens. Inside the pace,
Nothing at all certain in the sweep of time, except that she is in it:
well, it's rhythm & pulse too, you meet others inside
this flow, of the day, the whole town moves, meeting
across each other, traveling for a while.
(from ''RCA Beach and Arthur Okamura'', in All This
when I invoke the moon
The poem above is from her book Joanne, (Angel Hair, 1970), described as
''a novel from the inside out''. It's a Bolinas book in it's locale, it's
sensibilities, and it's insideout references and sympathies:
it's the best I can find
and all of Bolinas
at my feet
what I wanted to say
was in the broad
form of being there
I am walking up the path
I come home and wash my hair
I am bereft
I dissolve quickly
I am everybody
With so many poets living in close quarters there were many
collaborative poems being written. Like Bolinas Eyewash by Berrigan and
Clark, several of these collaborations included Bolinas references, whether
directly or implied:
An Indian is
A very beautiful collaboration between Gordon Baldwin and Joanne
Kyger was published as a small book entitled Trip Out & Fall Back (Arif
Press, 1975). Baldwin remembers that Kyger said ''You draw the East, and
I'll write about it.'' He did a series of drawings, and gave them to Kyger,
who used the drawings as inspiration for her words.
If you want obedience
piss on the rug first.
The benefit of the
doubt has engines.
The only way to
make money in
Bolinas is to
- John Thorpe & Ebbe Borregaard,
from ''Friday Night Proverbs by Shao & Ebbe'',
published in The Paper, #7, Nov. 15, 1971
No more poems about inner nature
slimey or rambunctious, pure
I can't stand it
don't trust Aristotle (Ethics)
intellectual clarity I suspect
a great guy wearing a bathrobe over a Levi
-Bill Berkson and Joanne Kyger,
published in Big Sky, Number Five, 1973
Faded army blankets stretched over the tops of
some huge fallen eucalyptus trunks
might not sound like much of a house
unless you are from the outskirts of Rabat
but that's how we live in Bolinas.
What we call a Condo's three or four wrecked chevrolets
strung out along a dirt road.
We live in palaces constructed of mud
where it's so quiet you can hear the rats
piss on Kleenex.
- from Expeditions by Lewis & Clark
(Lewis MacAdams & Tom Clark),
unpublished manuscript, 1972?
The vibes are too high
Kyger and Lewis MacAdams collaborated on several plays for various
civic events. Probably one of the most noteworthy of these was the play
they wrote and performed at the opening of the sewer ponds.
They're Empire State high
I'm a ground hole watcher
Out my Bolinas window
- Joanne Kyger, from Trip Out & Fall Back, 1974
The sewer ponds were the town's alternative to the Marin county sewer
plan of the early seventies. The Kyger/MacAdams performance, as part of
the celebratory opening of the ponds, included breaking a champagne bottle
over a toilet.
At another celebration, for the dedication of a new park in town. The
park was on the site of the Tarantino Seafood restaurant which burned down
in 1974. When the debris had been cleared away the townspeople had
various opinions as to what should be done with the vacant lot. It had been
called People's Park, Tarantino's Park and Burnt Park. When the decision
was finally made to officially dedicate the park it was to be called Birth
Park. During his performance MacAdams, wearing goggle-like Adam Ant
sunglasses, dropped to his knees in what appeared to be a shamanistic
trance, and began to eat dirt. As MacAdams explained this performance
piece was about giving life to the dead, eating the dead dirt symbolizing the
transformance of life, as Burnt Park became Birth Park. The performance
was appalling to some, poetic and memorable to others.