Friday memorial for Kirby Doyle -- Beat writer, poet

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A memorial poetry reading will be held Friday for Kirby Doyle, a Beat era poet and writer whose lyrical, evocative verses and brutal, bleakly humorous prose made him a mainstay of the North Beach literary scene.

Mr. Doyle, 70, died April 5 at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco after a long illness.

"He was a handsome, big-smiled Irish American rascal," his longtime friend and fellow poet Michael McClure recalled. "He was an original Beat, loose- jointed, with a great laugh. His poetry was beautiful stuff."

Mr. Doyle was a native of San Francisco, a U.S. Army veteran and a self- admitted poor student.

"I failed every subject it was possible to fail in high school, and got kicked off the football team for smoking," he once said.

In the 1950s he was a culinary school student and an art major at San Francisco State University when he began dashing off poetry for the college literary magazine and several small reviews. In the late 1950s, he wrote a highly acclaimed set of 36 brief love poems published under the title "Sapphobones."

"Words like mad exotic birds fluttering/from my thorax/whipping my speech --

moist and gaudy feathers/gone from my lips upward -- " he wrote.

His friend, the writer and editor Neeli Cherkovski, called Mr. Doyle's verse "poetry without boundaries that -- in clear, concise, musical language --

expressed something timeless about the human condition."

Ten years later, Mr. Doyle wrote his first novel, "Happiness Bastard," on a long single roll of paper fed into a manual typewriter, in the same fashion that his contemporary, Jack Kerouac, wrote his famous "On the Road."

"Happiness Bastard" was a dark, humorous story of a love affair, loosely based on Mr. Doyle's own struggle with drugs and broken hearts.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Mr. Doyle abandoned writing for long periods, living alone on Mount Tamalpais and battling drug and alcohol addictions. In later years, Mr. Doyle worked on an epic poem titled "Pre American Ode" and a novella titled "White Flesh."

The poetry reading will be held at 7 p.m. Friday at the New College of California cultural center, 766 Valencia St., San Francisco.

This article appeared on page A - 17 of the San Francisco Chronicle


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