On Time by Joanne Kyger

OnTimeJoanne Kyger, one of the Bay Area’s major poets, delivers a real treat of truly diverse work in her latest collection with City Lights On Time: Poems 2005-2014. Fittingly, it includes work chronologically, which the poet Cedar Sigo calls “exquisite panoramic views of eternity.” Kyger manages to tastefully balance the political, environmental, the spiritual and the ironic through meditations on the passing time, all while echoing her practice of Zen Buddhism. And she’s pretty funny too …




If your Body is Ill, your Mind needn’t be

Joanna McClure can’t remember Emily Dickinson’s name
and tells me what Jess Collins used to say– 

“At your age, do you ever think about the hereafter?”
“Yes. When I go into another room and ask myself
                               ‘what am I here after?'”


Three of her works were recently featured on the Tricycle blog – a non-profit magazine that aims to make Buddhism more accessible. Though it should be stated that Kyger’s work can hardly be defined by a single genre or doctrine. Familiar names arise throughout On Time, such as Robert Duncan, Gary Snyder, and Philip Whalen among dozens of other first names, conversations, and dedications. On Time is as much about the personal world of Joanne Kyger as it is the ever-expansive world around us–as much about the global socio-ecomonic condition as the quiet mornings of Bolinas, where she has resided since the late 1960’s.

In a recent review of On Time in the Chicago Tribune, Jake Marmer examines this relationship between place and the world and the poet’s own personal perception of her place in the world, as part of her own tradition of resistance.

How does the Beat tradition play out in the new century? Not through nostalgia or stylistic memorabilia, but an adherence to ethics of resistance, set in motion by Kyger and the poets whose circle she was part of. Indeed, in a poem with a mouthful of a title, ‘I’m Very Busy Now So I Can’t Answer All Those Questions About Beat Women Poets,’ Kyger keeps up the searing legacy.

Here follows a poem with that timbre.

Overcast with the SF Chronicle

Reading the Datebook, the funnies

                       Sinking feeling
                                The echoing body

        approaching the dark night of the year
like a movie thriller

Nix on one columnist, let’s try another
       For the sake of privacy from WikiLeaks
              diplomats will get off the internet
                        says Jon Carroll
                                 and meet in large parks
                                          like Yosemite

Can you remember last night’s social situation?
        so worthlessly demanding and urgent

                           In Austria they loathe the death sentence
       They don’t want a Schwarzenegger museum
he put Tookie Williams to death in California

            Twilight here goes so quickly

“This is my original, constant and true self”
              upon seeing the morning star
                        on the 8th day of December

                        From here you begin

                                                        December 13, 2010

Enjoy this clip of Joanne Kyger reading this past April at the SF Public Library for National Poetry Month (she read with Bill Berkson. Kyger read from On Time while Bill Berkson read from his new collection, Expect Delays). You can pick up a copy of On Time in the City Lights Poetry Room, on our website, or ask for it at your local independent bookshop.

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