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J A C K E T   #   E L E V E N   |    A P R I L   2 0 0 0  


Charlie Vermont

"Vertical Portrait of Joanne Kyger" -
a poem and a letter


[ed. note - I found "form/id/able" when I was scouring the little magazine collection at SUNY Buffalo's Poetry/Rare Books Room last year. It was published in the first issue of Big Sky, edited in Bolinas by Bill Berkson from 1971-78. In A Secret Location on the Lower East Side Berkson writes: "When I arrived, the literary community in Bolinas numbered fewer than a dozen people, mainly poets like Joanne Kyger who had been associated with the Spicer and Duncan circles in San Francisco, plus a couple of prior interlopers from New York, Tom Clark and Lewis Warsh." I asked Robert Creeley who Charlie Vermont was, and he'd miraculously just received an email from him after being out of touch for some time; they'd been friends in Placitas, New Mexico. Thence my brief correspondence with Charlie Vermont, now an M.D. living in Arkansas, began.
      When I first encountered "form/id/able" it seemed to suit to the Joanne Kyger I was trying, archivally, to "find" (or, we might say, "produce"): impossible to surmount in that as much as I wanted I could not make her appear whole, and yet she was everywhere, publishing many of her own poems, appearing in others' poems, effecting the lives of many poets and many places. Her fracturedness, in part, derives critical attention that prefers to the cast shadows of Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg, Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer, and though not so intimately connected to Joanne, the large shadow-casting Charles Olson, whose presence and poetics causes a disturbance in trying to see any women of that generation with any clarity. Despite the encounter with this critical insistence to overlook Joanne Kyger, she was in a very real sense vertical in my mind, standing among and moving between the poets of her generation. She was not as they say "marginal" in any way - maybe just a tad left of center.

- Linda Russo]


Vermont poem


Dear Linda Russo,

I hope you realize that I did not know Joanne Kyger terribly well. You asked for the context of the poem in Big Sky. I was a young poet and like a lot of others spiritually seeking. At the time many of us were seekers. Joanne had been doing it a long time. She was sane when many in the vicinity were not. Late sixties, early seventies. Poetry was my link to the planet. Started in New Mexico moved to the northwest. Gary Snyder's poems. Worked in the log woods, hiked and camped in the back country. First near Mt. Saint Helen's and then Eugene. More of a dawn runner than acid flake. Moved to San Francisco for the company of poets. Bolinas was to poetry much as Key West might have been to literature when Hemingway was there. Except it happened to be Robert Creeley. At that time, there were not a lot of women who stood in their own right, not as there are now. So Joanne was one of the many pioneers. Bolinas was mecca. And the poets are here. Monarch butterflies, Bill Berkson, Tom Clark, Bob and Bobbie Creeley, Joanne Kyger. Aram Saroyan and also Jim Carrol (best before) methadoning. In the city Andrei Codrescu, Ken Irby, Kell Robertson, Lewis Warsh, Tom Veitch, Hilton Obenziner, Alice Notley, Ted Berrigan and sundry visitors. Sign of times: Ginsberg, Snyder, and Bly read at Berkley against the war for love and the environment. Ferlinghetti thought Huey Newton was poet. Bob Dylan sang a duet with Johnny Cash. So "Blowin' in the Wind" was one of the anthems of the civil rights movement and integration did come hard to the South. Johnny Cash dressed in black was a redneck icon. So it was like the polar reaches coming together. The Greatful Dead did the full . . . in the land of the dark the ship of the sun is driven by . . . And Charles Manson was interviewed in Rolling Stone. Diana Di Prima sat za-zen at the zen center. I met Joanne and everybody else in Bolinas through Bob Creeley. Joanne was an adult who was living a different life than the average person, so she made other choices more believable. She was not in awe of the great ego-maniacs abounding during those "expansive times." I think the quote is "Thou Art the Most Do Do Fantasy of Heaven." Of course our library facilities in south Arkansas are somewhat limited so I can't check it out.

Recently I thought I solved the koan "the sound of one hand clapping" watching an amputee,but back then I thought that if one could hear the sound of one hand clapping then the world in an orgasmic flash would be transformed to one of redemption salvation etc..

I remember Joanne coming into Intersection, a place where poetry readings took place. Three of us were playing bamboo flute, rather atonal bamboo flutes. She asked us to stop playing having a sense of propriety. I also remember her expressing disappointment that I had not gotten more involved with the Indians in New Mexico and their magic. I remember the waterdrum in a teepee, but that's off the subject. Years later I found out that Joanne had been married to Gary Snyder. I'm sure she has touched many people's lives. What did she teach? A disciplined openess.

Sincerely yours,

          Charlie Vermont, MD


J A C K E T  # 11 
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