Trip Out & Fall Back

Trip Out & Fall Back by Joanne Kyger


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  • Chapbook
    Trip Out & Fall Back

    Trip Out & Fall Back by Joanne Kyger (1934–2017) was published by Berkeley-based Arif Press in 1974. A prolific and influential poet, Kyger was already recognized as a key figure of the San Francisco Renaissance when this chapbook, her sixth collection, was released. The chapbook features illustrations—on the front and back covers, as well as two interior drawings—by American artist and curator Gordon Baldwin who, along with Kyger, was part of the thriving artistic community of Bolinas, California, in the 1970s. The chapbook’s 15 untitled poems or sections—in keeping with much of Kyger’s work—are full of juxtapositions, dreams, a capacious sense of community, and devoted attention to daily life.

    Like her 1971 chapbook Desecheo Notebook, also published by Arif Press, Trip Out & Fall Back is a notebook-like poetic travelogue composed of social, geographic, temporal, and spiritual movements. “We left to the East in a drive away car,” the first poem begins. Departing on a cross-continental journey through Arizona, past “[m]y grandfather in a graveyard in Virginia,”  Kyger takes the reader to a “tree lined street” in Brooklyn by the brief poem’s end. With the archetypal American road trip narrative compressed into a single gesture, the rest of the chapbook turns to a more diffuse meander through dreams, memories, meditative moments, and ecstatic insights, with various locations (predominantly New York but also Indiana, New Hampshire, and Utah) making appearances.

    An expansive sense of space and questioning pervade the chapbook. She writes, “I have large dreams of beautiful patterns. // Clouds over Indiana / And we are under them.” Swerving between dreams, loft parties, and spiritual self-reflection, the title Trip Out & Fall Back puns on the geographical notion of trip—inverting the trope of the westward American road trip, as well as referencing other kinds of journeys, such as experiments with psychedelics and spiritual explorations: “So peyote made me very careful of the religious moment, and I knew these times to be timeless.”

    Contrasting herself with other literary residents of Bolinas, many of whom had lived in New York City before moving to the back-to-the-land community north of San Francisco, Kyger, a California native, humorously presents the ambition and anxiety of the city from a “grounded” vantage point:           

                The vibes are too high
                They’re Empire State high
                I’m a ground hole watcher
                Out my Bolinas window 

    Kyger playfully maneuvers through the uneasiness of New York’s hectic energy. “Oh tell me the story,” she writes, “Oh New York, grandiose and kind of place / I see your tiny green trees peeking up.” The emerging natural landscape is accompanied by a recognition of the community of friends, artists, and values that she carries with her, as portrayed in this light-handed invocation of Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion:

                Are you all this self awareness and ego? For
                sure, Chenrezig. Whether it was in my purple
                mini skirt from Lynn and my blue sandals from
                Phoebe, or the yellow beads from Bill, or
                Joe’s brown silk bandana. Or the book stores;
                or the Attaining of Intuitive Wisdom.

    Like the people named here—Lynn O’Hare, Phoebe MacAdams, Bill Berkson, and Joe Brainard—Kyger’s Bolinas neighbors appear throughout Trip Out & Fall Back. Themes of friendship and cross-genre experimentation play out in the background of these poems. For example, a bluegrass musician, a poet, and a visual artist appear in this five-line poem set in Bolinas:

                Peter Rowan and I are walking down Mesa Road.
                He asks me who are my teachers. I don’t want
                to mention Mrs. Hoefer across the street.
                I tell him Bill Berkson and Arthur Okamura
                are my teachers.

    While gesturing toward a New York School–esque sociability that foregrounds intimate relationships with writers and artists, such poems distinctly innovate on the tradition with koan-like circularity and subtly feminist resistance of hierarchy. Here, the suggestion is that Mrs. Hoefer, who may or may not be an artist or a writer, is a secret, unspoken “teacher,” alongside recognized figures like Berkson and Okamura. Kyger is repeatedly impressed not by monumental art-making but by how others move through the minutiae of everyday life. The illustrator of the chapbook, Gordon Baldwin, is singled out for particular praise in this regard—“Once when he walked into a party / half the room sighed Oh Gordon, like a breeze, oh / wonderful. The other half wanted to be introduced / immediately.”

    While Baldwin appears as a character in the poems themselves, his artwork also contributes an important visual narrative to Trip Out & Fall Back. Awarded a Rome Prize for his architectural drawings, Baldwin brings a whimsical element to the built environment portrayed in the chapbook’s illustrations. Fantastic architectural landscapes and dreamlike rooms with multiple doors evoke a sense of travel and adventure. References to Kyger’s poetic themes appear throughout; for example, the door on the front cover opens to a Bolinas-like shoreline, beckoning the reader to depart. Other illustrations suggest East Coast destinations and landmarks. One drawing shows a vertically aggregated Manhattan landscape complete with an underground subway elevator that seems to lead commuters to St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery and trees growing on streets suspended between skyscrapers. The other appears to transform Boston and Cambridge into a three-tiered bookshelf with volumes attributed to Massachusetts-based writers, including “Mathers” and “R Lowell.”

    Scholar Mary Paniccia Carden argues that Trip Out & Fall Back is part of a new genre that Kyger has created: the “travel chapbook,” which “proposes an ethics and aesthetics of selves in motion, even selves as motion.” Rather than locating herself aesthetically or geographically, Kyger is interested in constructing, as she writes, “a new map / in a delicate space.” This is a space “in which the obliteration of restraints / cause the room to become spaceless / hurtled far above the buildings.” It is between one coast and another, one day and another, Kyger’s poems greet us: “I love you all, / Joanne.”

    —Nick Sturm 

    Nick Sturm is a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming with The Poetry FoundationThe Brooklyn RailPENASAP/JThe Best American Nonrequired Reading, and elsewhere. His scholarly and archival work can be found at his blog Crystal Set

    Jessica Fletcher, a Poets House Special Collections Research and Writing Fellow, contributed to the conception of this project, as part of a joint program with the CUNY Graduate Center.



    Joanne Kyger

    In over 30 books of poetry and prose, Joanne Kyger (1934–2017) explored the particularities of place, time, and voice in “a lifelong commitment to poetry as a mode of presence in and awareness of the phenomenal world,” as Linda Russo writes. As a young poet of the late 1950s and 60s, Kyger was quickly recognized as an important new voice of the San Francisco Renaissance, and she would travel in circles of prominent poets associated with the Beat movement, the New York School, and Black Mountain College. She also became a central figure in the artistic and literary community of Bolinas, California, where she moved in 1969 and lived the rest of her life. Despite Kyger’s affiliations with these movements and communities, “she remains in a category of her own design and making,” Anne Waldman observes. Her genre-defying work brings together elements of the journal or daybook, travelogue, spiritual meditation, philosophical inquiry, and political-minded contemplations of ecology, history, and myth.

    Born in Vallejo, California, in 1934, Kyger is often described as a poet of both place and travel, and her early life was marked by various journeys across the U.S. and beyond. Her father’s naval career took the family to China, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, before they settled in Santa Barbara, California, when Kyger was 14. The family remained there for the next eight years, during which time Kyger attended the University of California at Santa Barbara as an undergraduate, studying literature and philosophy.

    Kyger’s immersion in the significant countercultural literary scenes of the postwar era began when she moved to San Francisco in 1957. This was the year that City Lights founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti went to trial to defend himself against obscenity charges for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, as well as the year Black Mountain College closed its doors, sending a bevy of young writers and artists to the Bay Area, where Kyger would make their acquaintance. She participated in the legendary Sunday poetry meetings held by Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan, and Spicer published her work in his magazine J.

    By 1960, Kyger’s path as a poet would range farther afield when she moved to Kyoto to live with Gary Snyder, whom she married. Together, they travelled around Asia, journeying through India with Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky. She wrote about the experience in Strange Big Moon: The Japan and India Journals, 1960-1964 (originally published by Tombouctou Books in 1981 and more recently reissued under its subtitle by Nightboat Books in 2016), and frequently spoke of its importance to her path as a poet and person. During this period, she also continued studies in Buddhism and wrote poems that would be gathered into her first poetry collection.

    Returning to the U.S. in 1964, Kyger commenced a chapter of rapid change in her literary life. The following year, she divorced Snyder; published her first book, The Tapestry and the Web, with Donald Allen’s Four Seasons Foundation; and participated in the famous Berkeley Poetry Conference, which included readings and lectures by Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, and other luminaries. More travels ensued—to Europe and New York City, followed by a return to northern California, ending in Bolinas in 1969. The coastal town became a destination for writers and artists—some temporary visitors, some neighbors over many years—including Alice Notley, Ted Berrigan, Joe Brainard, Bill Berkson, Robert Creeley, Tom Clark, John Thorpe, Lewis and Phoebe MacAdams, and Bobbie Louise Hawkins.

    Kyger continued to publish collections of poetry and prose with small presses, including Places To Go (Black Sparrow, 1970), and two books from Arif Press, Desecheo Notebook (1971) and Trip Out & Fall Back (1974). Other volumes include Just Space: Poems, 1979–1989 (Black Sparrow, 1991); Going On: Selected Poems 1958–1980, winner of the National Poetry Series (Dutton, 1983); On Time: Poems 2005–2014 (City Lights, 2015); As Ever: Selected Poems (Penguin, 2002); and About Now: Collected Poems (National Poetry Foundation, 2007), which won the Josephine Miles Award from PEN Oakland. She also taught at the New College of California, Mills College, and the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

    Joanne Kyger has been influential across generations, particularly to women poets who have sought alternative examples to the male-dominated lineage of the San Francisco Renaissance and the Beats. Poets engaged in ecopoetics have also found inspiration in Kyger’s deft considerations of nature and human presence within it. She died in March of 2017 and is survived by her husband, the artist and author Donald Guravich.

    Co-written by Suzanne Wise, Staff Writer at Poets House, and Jessica Fletcher, a Poets House Special Collections Research and Writing Fellow, as part of a joint program with the CUNY Graduate Center.

    Arif Press

    Founded by Wesley B. Tanner in 1971 in Berkeley, California, Arif Press published books and broadsides by leading figures of the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance and other major poets. During the Mimeo Revolution of the 1970s and 80s, Arif Press distinguished itself within the Bay Area’s thriving small press scene through its devotion to the fine press tradition, paying detailed attention to high-quality printing and artful design. Arif also boasted a top-shelf poetry list—releasing titles by Jack Spicer, Joanna and Michael McClure, Robert Creeley, Joanne Kyger, Anne Waldman, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Philip Whalen, and Bill Berkson, among many other influential poets. In 1991, Tanner brought this fine press acumen to Ann Arbor, MI, where he changed the name of his press to Passim Editions and lived for some 20 years. He has since moved to Louisville, Kentucky, and continues to work as a printer and designer.

    Born in 1947 and raised in Los Angeles, Tanner was self directed in his training as a printer, and he began that pathway early. In 1960, he took a printing class in junior high school. By the time he was 16 years old, he had a part-time job working at the print shop of artist Robert Alexander, who ran Press Baza. Through this employment, Tanner encountered members of the Los Angeles art scene, such as collage artist Wallace Berman, whose cult journal Semina published Beat poets alongside other writers.

    When Tanner moved to Berkeley at age 18, he quickly became immersed in a new world of poets and fine press printers. A few months after arriving, he attended the legendary 1965 Berkeley Poetry Conference, where he witnessed readings by Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Joanne Kyger, and other established and emerging figures of the period. This experience spurred him to seek out work by the authors that impressed him. Discovering that most of Jack Spicer’s books were out of print, he tracked them down in the Rare Book Collection of the library at the University of California, Berkeley, and he began to learn about the Bay Area’s robust history of fine press printing. He started to work in print shops and became part of the small press community, periodically working alongside printer Clifford Burke, a fixture in the countercultural literary scene as the proprietor of Cranium Press, which published Lew Welch, Gary Snyder, and others.

    In 1971, Tanner founded Arif Press, through which he began to experiment with book design and the publication of poetry. He published a poem of his own as a small book first and then released Actual Size, a collection of poems by his friend Scott Cohen, who later worked for Interview magazine. In that same year, Tanner also published collections by some of the poets he most greatly admired: The Red Wheelbarrow by Jack Spicer, Desecheo Notebook by Joanne Kyger, and a chapbook of previously uncollected poems by H. D.

    Over the next several decades, Tanner went on to publish numerous notable poetry collections and broadsides. Arif Press's titles include Ants by Bill Berkson with artwork by Greg Irons, & grammar & money by Andrei Codrescu, Trip Out & Fall Back by Joanne Kyger with artwork by Gordon Baldwin, and Sun the Blonde Out by Anne Waldman. After moving to Ann Arbor, Tanner published under the Passim Editions imprint such volumes as The Various Light by Anthony Hecht and Ultima Thule with poetry by Nicholas Christopher and woodcuts by Tanner.

    In addition to his accomplishments as a printer and designer, Tanner has taught at the School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan, and he has exhibited his work at the San Francisco Public Library, UCLA, the University of Michigan, and the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts. Through these contributions to poetry and the field of book arts, Wesley B. Tanner has enriched poetic history, and his work continues to engage the imagination with possibilities for the book form.

    Co-written by Suzanne Wise, Staff Writer at Poets House, and Jessica Fletcher, a Poets House Special Collections Research and Writing Fellow, as part of a joint program with the CUNY Graduate Center.

    Cedar Sigo reads from Trip Out & Fall Back

    On November 6, 2017, poet Cedar Sigo read from Trip Out & Fall Back as part of a memorial event for Joanne Kyger that was held at The Poetry Project and co-hosted by Poets House. The poems Sigo reads begins on page 16 of the chapbook. The video below was created by Steven Kushner (“Kush”) of Cloud House, an audiovisual archive and cultural center devoted to American poetry.

    In a related program at Poets House, Sigo presented a talk on the book he edited, Joanne Kyger, There You Are: Interviews, Journals, and Ephemera (Wave Books, 2017). He discussed his 20-year friendship with Kyger and the process of gathering the materials for the collection.