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Joanne Kyger, Beat Generation Poet, Dies at 82

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In her “Night Palace,” from 2003, she wrote:

“The best thing about the past
is that it’s over”
When you die.
you wake up
from a dream
that’s your life.
Then you grow up
and get to be post -human
in a past that keeps happening
ahead of you

Brenda Knight wrote in “Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution” (1996) that Ms. Kyger’s poetry “is exemplary of Buddhist consciousness in Beat writing, of a sensibility for which wisdom is the greatest beauty.”

Ms. Kyger’s poetry appeared in about 30 collections, drawing a devoted, though relatively small, following.

“She has been a secret to the larger, more dominant official verse culture worlds,” Ms. Waldman wrote in an email, “but already has a palpable underground reputation, and I am confident it will grow.”

She added: “She lived within the most interesting alternative communities of our time. She was Buddhist; she was an environmentalist. She lived her ethos daily, modestly, below the radar, and with great attention to the natural world and the magic of the cosmos.”

Joanne Elizabeth Kyger was born on Nov. 19, 1934, in Vallejo, Calif., to Jacob Kyger, a Navy captain, and the former Anne Katharine Lamont, who worked for the city of Santa Barbara’s coroner and police and fire departments.

When she was an infant, her family moved to China after her father was posted there for a time, but she was largely raised in Long Beach, Calif.

Her first published poem appeared in her elementary school literary magazine when she was 5. She shared the title of features editor of her high school newspaper with Leland Hickman, who later became a poet and publisher of Temblor magazine. After graduating she enrolled in the University of California, Santa Barbara, but left a few credits short of getting a degree in philosophy and literature.

By then she had been drawn to Zen Buddhism.

“My own interest in Zen came about because I had been studying Wittgenstein and Heidegger in Santa Barbara,” Ms. Kyger told an interviewer. “Their philosophy just comes to an end saying you just have to practice the study of nothing.”

Ms. Kyger moved to San Francisco in 1957 and soon became a student of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, the Japanese-born monk who helped popularized Zen Buddhism in the United States. She entered a world of consciousness-raising hallucinogenic drugs, meditation and Eastern religion communal living.

Ms. Kyger had earlier marriages to Jack Boyce, a painter, and, in 1960, to the poet Gary Snyder. They lived in Japan for four years and were divorced in 1965, after she had tired of playing wife and hostess to other Beat guests, Ms. Knight wrote.

Ms. Kyger and Mr. Guravich, an artist, poet and her closest survivor, had lived together since 1978 and were married in 2013.

While teaching occasionally at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., and the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Colorado, Ms. Kyger became associated with the West Coast School of writers that also included Richard Brautigan, Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer and Philip Whalen.

She published “The Tapestry and the Web,” the first of her collections of poetry and prose, when she returned from Japan.

In that book she re-imagines Penelope’s story in “The Odyssey,” casting doubt on the received image of her as the long-suffering wife who fends off male suitors while waiting patiently for Odysseus to return from his adventures. Kyger paints her as in control of her life and even suggests that she had been unfaithful to her husband.

I choose to think of her waiting for him concocting his adventures bringing the misfortunes to him— she must have had her hands full

In a critical essay, Matilde Martín González wrote, “Kyger’s practice consists of re-imagining a more fruitful account of the story for framing her own life and career in the early 1960s as a woman involved in all-male poetic circles, no matter how benevolent to her.”

Ms. Kyger’s last collection, “There You Are: Interviews, Journals, and Ephemera,” is to be published in September.

Her travels in Japan and India provided grist for her witty and well-received nonfiction work “Strange Big Moon: Japan and India Journals, 1960-1964” (1981). In one passage, she recalled meeting the 27-year-old Dalai Lama, “lounged on a velvet couch like a gawky adolescent in red robes.”

“And then Allen Ginsberg says to him how many hours do you meditate a day,” Ms. Kyger wrote, “and he says me? Why I never meditate, I don’t have to.”

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