Stephanie Anderson with Joanne Kyger

March 13 Issue of The Wednesday Hearsay News
March 13 Issue of The Wednesday Hearsay News

This is a series of ongoing interviews with women actively engaged with small-press publishing between the 1950s and 1980s. It comes from a desire not only to preserve their accounts but also to draw wider attention to the vital role of women editors and publishers in the mimeograph revolution and beyond. In these decades “poems were bouncing off the sidewalk” (Maureen Owen), and this series traces some of those madcap trajectories. This conversation was conducted from December 2013 to May 2014 via email, while Joanne Kyger was in Oaxaca and away from the Hearsay archives

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.