Joanne Kyger, Novato, 1976 – 1

Still mourning Joanne Kyger, who died last month, we feature today an extraordinary piece of tape (early black-and-white recording), Joanne reading and talking at an event put on by the Bay Area Writers in Novato, California, in 1976. Joanne read with (then-fellow-Bolinas resident) Bobbie-Louise Hawkins. We’ll be featuring Bobbie’s half of the reading in the coming weeks, but, first, Joanne.

She begins with an annotated reading of her Pacific Rim anthropology-history poem, “Up My Coast”

JK: “There’s a collection of stories that were done in about 1910, they are excerpted from a milieu, kind of a Miwok story anthology, they’re very short stories and they’re all located in areas. And I live over at Bolinas, California, (and I guess there’s Miwok over in this valley (here in Novato) too). And at one point, (I was) trying to figure out what I was living on.       So I would go in and try to see what, like, two-hundred years ago was… So..  And that’s how I got into this collection of stories. This guy’s name is C. Hart Merriam. I also used the same text. Anyway, this book is now available, which is very nice, and it’s got Indian..Indian pronunciations for some of the main animal personages. So I’ll just read you my little resume.

Student: Do you want a pillow?

JK: Oh, I haven’t put the microphone on, I’m sorry. – I’ll read you a little resume of this cosmology – the Miwok.

Student; You know how to do it yourself!

JK: Sure, “do-it-yourself”!.  – Hoh Quileute is what they call.. Hoh Quileute is the Miwok. Miwok is, I guess the more broader terminology, and, more specifically Hoh Quileute goes up the coast (and I think is this area too – a coast) – “Up My Coast”

“First, there were the First People/And the First People got changed/into trees, plants, rocks, stars, rain, hail and/Animals/and then Animals made Our People”

And then Light – “Light comes from Sun Woman. Whose body/is covered/with shining Abalone Shells.” – (So there’s Abalone Sun Woman) – “She came across the Pacific/on a raft” – (that’s an interesting thing you find out – they didn’t even bother to come across the Bering Strait they just came across on a raft) –  “She came across the Pacific/on a raft./So did Coyote. Sun Woman kept on going.” – (probably too foggy out here!) – “Come back! Coyote sent some people to get/her back, She wouldn’t come back. So/Coyote sent enough men to bring her back/whether she wanted to or not,/ They tied her in ropes/and brought her back/to make light for her people. She was so bright/it was hard to look at her.”

“The people began to walk around and find things to eat/for now they could see.” – “Moon Man, Coyote Man, and Lizard Man made the People./They argued a lot./Moon Man gave People his head/but Coyote Man said he should have paws just like him/But how can he take hold of things/said Lizard Man,/thankfully winning his point,/and gave us/five fingers, just like his own./Coyote was pissed/and he’s still hunting the lizard. – (It’s really nice when you see a lizard, sometimes, too, you see those beautiful little hands).

“When the first person died, Lizard Man felt real bad/and set to work to bring him back to life./But Meadow Lark came/and drove him away saying/People no good. People smell./When they die, they better stay dead.” – (That’s a different kind of impression ofthis Meadpw Lark Man)  – “Robin brought the fire. He traveled/a long way to get it,/and every night on the way back/he lay with his breast on it,/ to keep it warm/It turned his breast red./he gave fire to The People/and put some/into the Buckeye tree/so they could get it whenever they wanted it/Just rub.the Buckeye stick against/a dry wood stick./This makes the flame come out./Humming Bird brought the fire too/just look under his chin.”

“Coyote was sitting on top of Sonoma Peak” – (huh? – I don’t exactly know what Sonoma Peak is. Do you know (what) some of you call Sonoma Peak?

Student: No….

JK: Yeah, it’s kind of mysterious, I know. I thought for a while.. Anyway, Coyote was sitting…there must’ve been a pretty tall peak around here, maybe it was Saint Helena, or something)  – Coyote was sitting on top of Sonoma Peak/and the earth was all covered with water./He got there from across the ocean/on his raft of tules andsplit sticks./A feather comes floating up from the wst too,/Hi! Who are You?/ And the feather doesn’t answer./So, Coyote tells him about his families and friends/and What’s Happening!/ And the feather leaps up and says/ I’m Falcon!  I’m Wek-Wek. Your grandson!  Wow!/ So they talk/every day/and after a while Coyote Man notices Frog Woman/always just jumping out of hand./ But the water/ started to go down after four days and it took her longer/to leap to the water so/Coyote Man Caught her/ And/ when he caught her, imagine his surprise!/ She was  his own wife!/ from over the ocean! Small world!/ Then Coyote Man. took a bunch of feathers of different kinds/ to the top of Sonoma Peak    and Threw them/ into the air/and the wind carried them off/and scattered them around/ and the next day there were people/ All Over the Land.”

“Coyote Man brought the big clam/ to make shell money/and planted it at Bodega Bay,/This is the place/and the only place/where the big clam/was in the beginning./ Where ever else you find it now,/the seed came from here./ The Tomales Bay people/got their seed from here too  – (Sometimes the Tomales Bay people say they started the clam)

“Meadow Lark Man can be a pain in the ass./He already said people/couldn’t come to life again on the third or fourth day/and he talks too much and gossips/and says awful things to the People./ He says, I know what you’re up to, you’re really stingy/you’re only dark on the outside/Under your skin/ you’re as white and mean as a white man.” – (mean ol’ Meadow Lark Man – he (sounds) like a Zen roshi!)

“When People die their ghosts cross the ocean/over the path of the wind/ to the Village of the Dead. Sometimes/they come back and dance in the roundhouse/You can’t see them/But you can hear them” –  (That’s a pretty good wind sound. That’s about as close as we are to Miwok right now, I guess – Does anybody know any Miwok language? – This is somewhat accessible but barely probably )

I’ll just read some riffs from this last year  [1976]  – [ Joanne begins reading ]   ‘You can’t imagine how I sigh and groan and cry, sigh and groan and cry” – (this is winter-time) – “age-old creaks and groans, with nobody in the room”……… “groan and cry O Lord in Heaven, I’ve made a little fire for the comfort of my corpulent form/ loose and steady” –  (this is in November)

This is a piece I did for a dance once.  It was supposed to be on “The Bear”, so I did a bear destruction piece – [ “Destruction”] –  “First of all do you remember the way a bear goes through/ a cabin when no-one is home? He goes through/the front door. I mean he really goes through it. Then/he takes the cupboard off the  wall and eats a can of lard/ He eats all the apples, limes, dates,  bottled decaffinated/coffee and 35 pounds of granola/. The asparagus soup cans/fall to the floor.Yum! He chomps up Norwegian crackers/stashed for the water. And the bouillon salt, pepper/paprika, garlic, onions,potatoes/ He rips the Green Tara poster from the wall. Tries the Coleman Mustard. Spills/the ink, tracks in the floor, Goes upstais and takes/ a shit. Rips open the water bed, eats the incense and/drinks the perfume, Knocks over the Japanese tansu/ and the Persian miniature of a man on horseback watching/a woman bathing./  Knocks Shelter Whole Earth Catalogue/Planet Drum, Northern Mists, Truck Tracks, and/Women’s Sports into the oozing water bed mess./ He goes/down stairs and out the back wall. He keeps on going/for a long way and finds a good cave to sleep it all off,/Luckily he ate the whole medicine cabinet, inclding the stash/of LSD, Peyote, Psilocybin, Amanita, Benzedrine, Valium/and aspirin'” – (big bear!)

[Joanne shuffles papers] – hold on there – I seem to be on this Indian.. This is a quote from Jaime de Angulo – Have any of you ever read his work?

Jaime de Angulo with Achumawi medicine man, Old Blind Hall

Jaime de Angulo.. (he) was a man who came to California round 1910, he was a Basque and went up north and hung out with the Pitt River Indians and then went down to Big Sur, stayed around there for a while and was part of the Golden Age of anthropology in Berkeley which (Alfred)  Kroeber and some of the others started, and then spent the rest of his life in Big Sur where he got off on his own style of stories which are Pitt River Indian stories. This is from a little piece he wrote called “Do Indians Think?”,  which is a…

“ ..(The) psychic life of the community is a confused mass of thinking, feeling emotions perceptions, where everything is blended, warm, full of diffused gentle light and the rude contact with harsh material of life is softened and made tame by the traditional ritual and observation, collective thinking is safer –  (that was a collective thinking kind of riff )

– I met this Acoma Indian and I was trying to tell him about this piece I had read, and so I tried to talk to him for several hours   I said,  “You know, I’d  just read this thing called ”Do Indians Think?”,  whereupon he leapt to his feet and stalked off –  and I really felt terribly embarrassed. And so the next morning, as he was going down the road, I ran out..(by this time he had…), (I) knocked on his window, (I) had the book, and I’m pointing to this thing, like ,“Do Indians think?”. It’s an article, in this little book, “Do Indians think?”” – “Do Indians think?”. And the end of this story ends up like Jaime de Angulo’s giving this riff to this Indian friend of his and at the end the guy says, “But you still give me a headache!”. So finally the guy’s rolling up his window and I point to the de Angulo – “give me a headache!”. “give me a headache!”…

Henry David Thoreau  (1817-1862)

And here’s a  (Henry David) Thoreau quote that I like – “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone”.

and then “”Wilderness” – a word that has evolved from a perjorative term to a romantic civilization.. I mean, to a romantic  symbol – post-civilization

Simon Ortiz

This is a poem of Simon Ortiz’ who’s a Indian from Acoma, “A Birthday Kid Poem“, he calls it  – “Don’t worry about pain at the upper part of your hip/ Bone and flesh are ephemeral in the count of centuries after all..” – (there are three thousand people that speak his language now) –  “and your life is intermittent./Prefer to consider eternity at least that way you know/ that things continue the way/that life has been, a constant motion/gathering everything from the outer limits/ of the universe – wherever those are -/ into the core of the universe -/whatever that is – and all through the motion/ which is time and sequences/ you are passing through./Consider that instead and love/ yourself well and appropriately./Love your children and love your kinfolk./Love the mothers of your children./Love the small things./ Love the big things/Love things in the manner  that they should be loved/Be strong, humble and clear in vision/ and do not dream so fantastically/ that you lose the reality/ that dreams are/ that they are signals and roads/ by which to guide the reality of all the days that you are going through/Believe that things will end well for you/Believe that things will end well for all things/Believe that hope is useful even if at some times it seems useless./Believe, o kind, o god, believe./ Be cool now,/ Think of Coyote,/ Think of Magpie/ Think of all the things you love/ Think peace and humility and certainty and strength /It shall end well./It shall continue well./It shall be./It shall./It shall./ That’s the way things continue/That’s the way things become/Like a woman/Like a man./Be enduring/be enduring.”

Student: Why don’t we have a break and then do another turn?

JK: Sure.

Student (2):  I feel we can take a break for fifteen or twenty minutes..

JK:  Fifteen or twenty minutes? – why don’t we just walk around the room for a minute.

transcript continues tomorrow

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