Micro Essay – Kyger “seventy-seven…”

Kyger “seventy-seven…” response by Andrew Miller

Coming across Kyger’s poem “Seventy-Seven Beautiful and Adorable Things for Arthur Okamura’s 77th Birthday” was very interesting given its construction as a list, and it reminded me of some points that were made by my cohort member, Dameion Wagner, about how wide ranging Kyger is without ever being demoted to “jack of all trades … master of none.”

In Kyger’s interview with Lawrence Nahem for Occident, Nahem brings up the fact that Kyger has been involved in multiple media forms, including television and music. Here Nahem is curious if the integration of poetry with different mediums overpowers the poetry, or is somehow a distraction to it.

Kyger’s response is to say: “…I think poetry is strong enough. I don’t think some poets are adventuresome enough about the space they can make … poetry is storytelling and it’s acting and it is music too and it’s theatre.”

Why I bring all of this up is that I really appreciate Kyger’s range and I think that she was iconoclastic in this respect. Here in this same interview she talks about poetry being trapped on the page too long. Personally I think one issue I have is an uncertainty as to how to free myself from the page itself. Not that I’m unaware of the options – and boy are there ever options these days – but I’m unsure of my ability to make use of the outlets in a productive way. I’m unsure if my poetry “is strong enough.”

A good example of how this works could be drawn from the podcast Heavyweight, the “Milt” episode (season 2, episode 9). Host Jonathon Goldstein helps to reconnect his friend Greggor’s father, poet Milton P. Ehrlich with Milton’s estranged poet friend. Goldstein’s interest is in the blame put upon his podcast for ruining this friendship in the first place; but, of course, discovers it is significantly deeper than this. The culmination of the episode being that Ehrlich’s only emotional outlet is his poetry, and it is through a poem that the friendship is mended – both live on a telephone call, as well as in recorded performance as broadcast within the podcast.

For Kyger to have embraced early home video production and television broadcast as mediums for further poetic adventure, I think that if she were still alive and producing we would find her similarly embracing technologies such as online video, podcasting, and who knows what else. The Heavyweight example is likely a bit too on-the-nose though and I’d like to return to the poem I’m focused on itself, the one that brought this line of thought to life.

In “Seventy-Seven…” Kyger shows how something as basic as a list can be transformed into its own form of storytelling, the shape of an honorarium. I imagine her reading it out for Arthur Okamura before a dinner crowd or perhaps ahead of singing a drunken version of the Happy Birthday song. I find the use of two closely related adjectives: “beautiful” and “adorable” serve to shape the praise and highlight dissimilarities. For example, how lines 18 – 21 refer to the “disgustingly un-adorable” until broken by the “refreshingly beautiful” of lines 22 – 26 with both terms being reunited in line 27 the “Beautiful and adorable things that you never paint are unicorns and cherry blossoms”.

The repetition of the word “and”, particularly as the launching off point for so many of the list-item-stanza’s feels very spoken-word to me as well. Reading the poem feels like someone rushing to get in every last bit of emotion they feel for the subject. The reader learns so much about the energy of Okamura, and that energy transfers to the reader not only on an intellectual level, but very much in an auditory way.

Finally, lines 74 – 77 provide such power that I feel as if I am at this party – that I desperately want to be there:

  1. and terrific use of color
  2. to transform air [what?! That’s magic right there! APM]
  3. into this birthday celebration
  4. for without You we would have nothing to have a beautiful and adorable

party about

Kyger’s interview with Dale Smith & Michael Price for Jacket begins with a comment from Smith: “Your poetry is very much in your mouth. You hear the voice thinking and exploring, revealing…” which is exactly the experience I find myself having here.

Responding to the statement, Kyger says that: “It’s a physical voice, yes. I think that’s the best you can do sometimes, trying to “score” it as closely as you can on the page. … to get the little subtleties of breath and tone, or change of tone or character emphasis.”

This in a nutshell is the genius of Kyger and the thing I believe I am learning as the direct connection to our previous poet studies on Olson and Niedecker. Breath and tone … breath and tone.