Andrew Schelling with Joanne Kyger

Joanne Kyger. Photo courtesy of Donald Guravich.
Joanne Kyger. Photo courtesy of Donald Guravich.

The following interview took place in August and September, 2011, by email. Joanne Kyger was in Bolinas, California, and I was in Boulder, Colorado. The reference to Peter Berg (1937-2011) in the interview was occasioned by a series of memorials. One of the foundational activists and writers on bioregionalism and watershed awareness, Berg founded the Planet Drum Foundation. He died on July 28. The exchange late in the interview on Pai-chang and the fox is a reference to Case 2 in the Zen koan collection Mumonkan. Various translations are available.—Andrew Schelling

Andrew Schelling: In your poetry you allow entry to animals—or I could say, “the animal realm”—more than any other poet I know. Animals and birds are familiars, though they are generally not domestic animals, and you do not use them as symbols or emblems. Deer, skunk, jay, hummingbird, and dozens of others including mice in the house and offshore mammals show up, and you often address them as people. One of your books, Up My Coast, is a poetic and projectivist recounting of tales collected by the unusual ethnographer and doctor, C. Hart Merriam. Those tales depict a time before the present world got established, when people were animals or animals people:

First, there were the First People
And the First People changed
into trees, plants, rocks, stars, hail and
and then Animals made Our People.

Joanne Kyger: Up My Coast was an attempt to write the history of part of this coast—“pre-invasion.” I am fascinated by the First People, a way of speaking of ancient history. An animistic path. Where finally Animals create the people we are familiar with.